It's one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise you can do, but what is the effect of cycling on body shape?
What is the effect of cycling on body shape?
Cycling is an excellent way to build physical endurance, burn calories, and improve cardiovascular fitness, but it's important to understand that cycling isn't strength training. If you want cycling to have a significant impact on your body shape, then you'll have to incorporate other forms of training into your workout regime too.
Cycling alone won't give you the big thigh and quad muscles that you see on professional track cyclists like German Paralympic cyclist Robert' Quadzilla' Fosterman (who has 74cm thighs).
Track cyclists rely on power to achieve speed over short distances. Their large quad and thigh muscles don't come from cycling but from intense strength training sessions off the bike and in the gym.
The Bicycling website writes that recreational riders or those taking two or three indoor cycling classes a week 'don't have bigger thighs than non-riders'.
Women are often worried about developing large thighs from cycling, but the reality is that achieving that look requires more effort than just riding a couple of times a week.
Long-distance cyclists often have leaner bodies because their muscle mass supports endurance over speed. Unlike their track sprinting counterparts, they don't require that instant burst of speed and power.
It's not to say that cycling regularly doesn't impact body shape but that change is also often dependent on several other factors, including gender, diet, the intensity and type of riding a person does.
Cycling is a great way to burn calories. If you're maintaining a calorie deficit in your diet and looking to lose weight, this could represent a significant change in body shape. We've included a section further down in this article about cycling and calorie burn.
What muscles does cycling tone?
Cycling predominantly targets the lower body. The effort goes into rotating the pedals, which rotate either a wheel or a fixed flywheel. Cycling uses quads, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles. It also impacts the upper body, albeit to a lesser extent, by using the triceps, biceps and deltoids. Outdoor cyclists use their upper body strength to stay upright and stable in the saddle, especially over rough terrain. Using the core's stabilising muscles can also help turn on the abs.
The terrain and weather will impact what muscle groups outdoor cyclists use. One of the benefits of a stationary bike is that a rider can set the resistance to ensure an efficient and consistent workout. Riding on a completely flat surface outside (or using very little resistance indoors) makes the exercise easier but less efficient.
It's better to attempt a hill climb outside or let your instructor ramp up resistance.
If you are interested in developing larger leg muscles, you should supplement your rides with weight training. You can try squats, deadlifts, lunges and leg presses for bigger calves and quads and achieve more power when you ride.
The effect of cycling on female body shape
Women are often worried about developing large muscles from working out. If only it were that easy. Women have around 20% less testosterone than men and more body fat, so they have to work a lot harder to see changes in their body shape.
Testosterone is a crucial element in muscle growth. Women are at a disadvantage, and it's why it's easier for men to develop muscle definition. The Sport Coaching website lists an English study that found during the same period; it took women twice as long as men to lose weight.
Female athletes and professional track and racing cyclists have more prominent leg muscles because they integrate strength training into their routine. This does not happen accidentally and is the result of many months heavy training. Women worried about getting 'bulky' can rest assured that whilst cycling will make them feel fitter and stronger and help support a weight loss regime, it's not going to turn them into a bodybuilder. Although, adding strength training into an exercise routine is recommended.
Recreational riders and women going to indoor cycling classes may find that they develop a leaner body shape—depending, of course, on calorie intake, ride intensity and time spent on the bike.
Cycling is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, so it's also important not to get so hung up on body shape but to appreciate that fitness is its own reward.
Cycling and calorie burn
Both indoor and outdoor cycling are effective ways of burning calories. Maintaining a good speed on a bike requires a lot of energy, whether it's rotating a heavier flywheel, turning up resistance, riding up a hill or rocky terrain.
According to the Health Line website, there are a few differences between calorie burn for indoor and outdoor cyclists. Indoor cyclists can maintain speed more easily because there are no obstacles to avoid as there often is with outdoor cycling, and there are no weather or terrain changes. But outdoor cyclists can enjoy the natural variations and undulating topography of their environment, making riding more challenging and exciting.
The Health Line website also states that a rider's weight plays a role. It refers to an article by Harvard University stating that a person riding moderately (between 12 to 13.9 miles per hour) weighing 125 pounds (approx. 8.9 stone) can expect to burn 210 calories in 30 minutes. Equally, someone weighing 155 pounds (11.7 stone) could burn up to 260 calories.
Of course, this also depends on the intensity.
Is cycling good for weight loss on the stomach?
Whilst cycling is an excellent way to burn calories, it's important to remember that you can't spot-reduce fat. Cycling does not target stomach fat any more than it can leg, hip or chin fat. If you're looking to reduce fat on your stomach, you should ensure you're not consuming excess calories and exercising sufficiently.
Cycling does help boost metabolism though, which is key to calorie burn and overall weight loss.
Is indoor cycling good for weight loss?
Indoor cycling is a great way to lose weight if a rider maintains a calorie deficit—the calories consumed are fewer than calories burned.
According to Insider, the average indoor cycling class burns around 350 – 600+ calories depending on the intensity. This may depend on the type of class you're taking, your current level of fitness and how much resistance you're using. It also depends on the number of calories consumed throughout the day.
Does cycling tone your bum?
Cycling doesn't tend to do much for your glutes unless you're standing up from the saddle during hill climbs or in class. If you're looking to tone your bum, it's worth adding a regime of squats, deadlifts, and lunges to your routine. Bike Race Info has a great explanation of this where it explains how to activate your glutes when you're cycling. You can also include several other exercises to help engage the glutes, including squats, lunges, box jumps and deadlifts.
What's important to remember is that too often, we look at the butt or bum as an aesthetic. We want it to look good in our leggings or gym shorts, but the glutes key in supporting us daily, and many of us aren't aware of how little we engage them correctly. Poor gait, lower back pain, knee pain and misalignment may be caused by ignoring the glutes.
Does cycling tone arms?
It may depend on the type of cycling you're doing. Road biking, for example, often requires the rider to lean forward in the saddle over the handlebars and to hold that position can help strengthen the arms. Balance is often crucial in outdoor cycling, too and using the arms to maintain a steady position can help tone them.
You may find that if you're becoming leaner from cycling, the definition already there is just now just easier to see.
Cycling can help change body shape by burning calories and resulting in weight loss or by helping build muscle in the lower and upper body. However, for a dramatic change in body shape, cyclists will need to add strength training, especially if they're looking to increase power for speed over shorter distances.
If you're looking to change your body shape and fitness through indoor cycling, then we'd like to introduce you to the RE:GEN. It's an electricity-generating indoor smart bike that lets you create and keep clean useable power and Sweatcoins as you workout.