Cycling as Leg Workout

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Aug 16, 2012 12:16 AM GMT
    So I've been riding my mtn bike for a while now, but I'll be getting a road bike in the next few weeks (need to do some more research).

    My goal is to make cycling my only leg workout. As it is, I don't work my legs out much so this will be a step up, not down.

    My question is this: Is doing one 50-60 mile ride each weekend enough to get results in my legs (i.e. size increase in calves, quads, hamstrings)? It'll be in the Texas hill country, so lots of ups and downs.

    Will I need to incorporate more frequent rides to see results? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    (by the way, I'm new to RJ and already meeting some great people)
  • FireDoor211

    Posts: 1030

    Aug 16, 2012 12:29 AM GMT
    If 50 miles a weekend doesn't do it then nothing will.
  • metatextual

    Posts: 774

    Aug 16, 2012 12:34 AM GMT
    will you be riding during the week as well? consistency really makes a difference in leg strength and stamina
  • DanOmatic

    Posts: 1155

    Aug 16, 2012 12:36 AM GMT
    Hmm. I'm not entirely sure you're going to get what you're looking for in the way of musculature from riding 50-60 miles a week, even if it involves hills.

    Lots of cyclists actually don't have big, beefy legs. What they do have are big, beefy lungs. They guys with the big legs are typically track cyclists, which is a very different kind of riding.

    Don't get me wrong--I think it's great that you're incorporating road biking. Cycling training is one of the most intense workouts you can do, and you'll get incredibly fit (and maybe even you'll find yourself riding a lot more than just 60 miles a week). But I think you should do some other leg strengthening exercises, too. If anything, just to get more power on your rides.

    I've got relatively big legs for a cyclist, but a lot of that comes from doing a lot of cross training as well as lifting weights.
  • barriehomeboy

    Posts: 2475

    Aug 16, 2012 12:42 AM GMT
    I'm an old really hot single guy with knee problems :-) I only use the bike to build my legs. It works.
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    Aug 16, 2012 12:51 AM GMT
    One bike ride a week is NOT going to get you the results you're looking for, period. You're either going to need to ride three or more times a week, or incorporate other leg exercises (squats, lunges, dead lifts, etc) into your routine.
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    Aug 16, 2012 12:57 AM GMT
    depends on if you have clips and do a lot of hills. cycling, while a great workout, mainly works out the quads. your hamstrings,glutes, etc... will only be engaged in special situations or with modified equipment.
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    Aug 16, 2012 1:26 AM GMT
    What is your goal? If it's size, then this may not be the way to go. Long rides, unless you're doing some sprint intervals or big hills, are going to primarily work type 1 slow twitch muscle fibers -- the ones responsible for endurance. More traditional strength training routines work the fast twitch fibers more, which give you more explosive strength. What works best for me, and maybe will for you, too, is a combination of the two. I try to mix up big, heavy lifts (squats and deadlifts) with high volume/lighter weight moves and I vary my cardio, sometimes doing HIIT and sometimes doing moderate paced exercise for longer periods. I was almost exclusively a runner for many years, and endurance exercise is, in my experience, mostly going to improve endurance. I didn't start to see the size and definition I wanted until I started moving heavy weight. Find the balance between the two and do what makes you happiest while still seeing results!
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    Aug 16, 2012 2:03 AM GMT
    Jeez, you guys are fantastic.

    Okay, so I've gathered from the majority of posts that I'll need to supplement my riding with lifting to see real size results in my legs. I was hoping the riding would do it on its own, but this shouldn't be a big deal. And riding out in the hill country has its own rewards (I'll let you guys know when I get my bike and invite you to see some beautiful Texas brush!).

    Calibro, looks like you're recommending clips. I'll look into them.

    BornJuly4th, SF79, thanks for the details!

    DanOmatic, thanks for the info. Also, I didn't know much about track cycling until I looked it up (just now).

    Metatextual, I think you have a point. Once a week might not be enough.

    Firedoor 211, sure would be nice if that was all it took.

    Barriehomeboy, I feel your pain. I've had shin splint problems for a while now. The low impactness (?) of cycling is a great way to work out outside without the pain.

    You guys all rock and any more info would also be greatly appreciated!
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    Aug 16, 2012 2:27 AM GMT
    Yes, you will see some changes if it is more than what you have been doing regularly.

    No, it will not build them in the way that you perhaps would imagine.

    If you are looking for a leg exercise that will build nice muscle with low impact on the joints etc.. go with swimming. Swim... use a kickboard... hang off the side of the pool and powerfully kick legs.. or run as fast as you can through the pool in water that is at least hip/waist deep. (Even though you are as cute as one, no baby pools).. This will build those things nicely and naturally. I would however incorporate a solid lower body workout. But yeah, try becoming a Merman a few days a week. Those stems will become tree trunks before you know it.. (with proper nutrition included of course.)
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    Aug 16, 2012 2:59 AM GMT
    Be sure to give you legs plenty of recovery time in between working them out and riding, especially if you're doing hill training.

    But if you want to ride a day or two after a leg workout, you can get on a trainer or on a flat road and spin at a higher cadence with a very low effort pedaling. Spinning out your legs will help with your recovery. Don't make it a hard ride though, it should be easy and no more than an hour, tops. No sprinting, no hills, just spin out the legs. Keep the heart rate in Zone 1.
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    Aug 16, 2012 3:00 AM GMT
    I love cycling, just need to get a bike so I can do it outside instea of stationary.
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    Aug 16, 2012 3:06 AM GMT
    Look at most cyclists legs and you'll find your answer. Cycling 50-60 miles a day is endurance which is more about your lung efficiency than brute force. (just reread it and see you said once per weekend - you aren't going to get the results you want this way)

    If you want big legs, you need to lift weights - squats in particular. Interval training/sprints on your bike will help and you'll notice that sprint cyclists have huge legs but they also work our their legs in the gym.

    Cycling will tone your calves really well though which is something most people don't realize. You're putting all that pressure on the front of your foot - working your calves.
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    Aug 16, 2012 3:15 AM GMT
    If you are switching from a mountain bike to a road bike, it will be MUCH easier to pedal. This means:
    1) You will go faster and can cycle longer before being fatigued
    2) Your muscles will be contracted LESS than what they were per stroke than they were with the mountain bike.
    3) Your leg muscles will actually get smaller over time.

    Frequent rides won't change your leg size. The only thing that changes the size of your legs is intensity, IE more weight that they have to push. This means ranking up your weight on squats, deadlifts, and leg press. Cycling will get your legs fit, but it mostly recruits the top of the quadriceps and incompletely recruits the whole thigh.

    If it were true that frequency of cycling, or cycling farther would build bigger legs, then people who walk or run miles and miles would have huge legs. On the contrary, they tend to have "fit" legs, but they are thinner than sedentary people legs because type I fibers are promoted, which are thinner. A sedentary person has more type 2 fibers from not training at all than an endurance cyclist. People who walk a lot do not have huge legs. The people who do have huge legs squat with weight and increase how much they can squat over time (or leg press, or lunge, or deadlift, or whatever it is they do, it is resistance training, not cycling).

    To the guy who said swimming builds big legs...that is incorrect. The kicking motion primarily recruits the hip flexors and extensors and the only thing that involves a press (where you could resist intense weight) would be pushing off the wall, which is a complete concentric motion in swimming with no eccentric action of the quadriceps. Swimming is to legs as cycling is to legs, but less so because you are only resisting water and the lever arm of your leg.

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    Aug 16, 2012 3:19 AM GMT
    Hey i've always had to do squats with the cycling and i do a lot more cycling then what your talking. It won't hurt you to do squats once a week. The main thing is you don't want to blow out your knees. So, do leg curls and calf raises as well. If you're knees start to grind a bit take the odd folic acid tablet.. and have fun riding..... its so therapeutic. All the problems of the world are solved with a bike ride.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Aug 16, 2012 3:19 AM GMT
    If you want to increase overall leg size, do squats. Cycling will make your legs strong, but you'll have long and lean muscles.
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    Aug 16, 2012 3:20 AM GMT
    oops i forgot... Stretch....
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    Aug 16, 2012 7:48 AM GMT
    I was 30 lbs overweight when I used to do 100 miles rides.

    Took an 8 year break cause I "thought" I'd blown out my knees from riding too much. Found out that wasn't the case. It was bike fitting that made them hurt.

    Now I'm back in shape, and just started cycling again a few weeks ago...back to 50 miles already, with 100 being my goal again soon.

    Point being, riding for a leg workout is futile. Sure it'll made your quads and calves stronger (and hamstrings if you do it right), but it doesn't work your entire leg.

    To get a balanced leg workout you have to work every muscle group.
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    Aug 17, 2012 11:01 AM GMT
    Hi mate

    There are plenty of opinions relating to your question on getting big legs from cycling.

    Check out the clip below for more info on the issue:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoWYhWWaJqE

    Good luck! Remember to start small and slowly build up intensity. An injury can ruin all your aspirations so play it safe and smart from the beginning.

    Cheers.
  • stratavos

    Posts: 1831

    Aug 17, 2012 11:28 AM GMT
    as some extra advice, I use my bike for getting around in the city, mostly because I don't own a car. It is the only leg exercise I do now, and before that I was a figure skater (wonderful for the lower body).

    If you want to gain size by biking, you're going to have to change this routine entirely. Treat it like you would weight training, in other words, "only bike if it's going to take you an hour or less to get to your destination" (for one way travel, feel free to double it when remembering return trips).

    Another thing I've done with this is always keeping the bike as close to it's highest gear as possible. It's a constant resistance, and really tedious to start up from all the city stop signs, but it helps with development and maintenance of your legs.

    You might have to tighten the handlebars, and/or fix the ball bearrings in the petals more often, but you will see results.
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    Aug 18, 2012 3:10 AM GMT
    FireDoor211 saidIf 50 miles a weekend doesn't do it then nothing will.
    That depends on how hard you ride.

    If you ride really really slow like the average person who uses a bike for primary transportation, it won't accomplish a damn thing.
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    Aug 20, 2012 1:58 AM GMT
    So you guys are pretty persuasive. I started doing squats on Friday and I'm incorporating them into my workout routine. A buddy of mine played rugby for a while and does a pretty heavy leg workout. He's giving me pointers and keeping me from having my kneecaps shoot off like a champagne cork.

    I still have plans to get a road bike, but I think I'll postpone it for a bit. I already do tons of stuff outside and I'm not quite ready to throw down a grand on a new sport. At least not yet.

    You guys rock. Thanks for the advice.
  • DanOmatic

    Posts: 1155

    Aug 20, 2012 2:02 AM GMT
    When you get ready to start road biking, let us know if you need any info or pointers!

    When doing squats, pay close attention to your form. That's more important than the amount of weight you're pushing. Definitely be kind to your knees (and lower back). I see so many guys loading up the squat bar with way too many weights and their form is terrible--and their knees will pay the price.
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    Aug 20, 2012 2:15 AM GMT
    paulflexes said
    FireDoor211 saidIf 50 miles a weekend doesn't do it then nothing will.
    That depends on how hard you ride.

    If you ride really really slow like the average person who uses a bike for primary transportation, it won't accomplish a damn thing.


    I would argue that no matter how hard he rides, 50 miles (either in one day or 25miles per day over two days) is NOT going to make much of a difference if he's then resting for the next five or six days. That's WAY too much recovery time for any meaningful muscle growth.

    Good to hear he's heard the wisdom of incorporating other leg routines, and squats are a GREAT start.

    And OP, if you're concerned about the harm squats can do to your lower back, you may want to consider front squats, where the bar is held on your chest as opposed to your shoulders. I do these with wrist straps and haven't had lower back problems regardless of the weight I'm lifting as it seems to ensure better form.
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    Aug 21, 2012 6:16 AM GMT
    BornJuly4th said
    paulflexes said
    FireDoor211 saidIf 50 miles a weekend doesn't do it then nothing will.
    That depends on how hard you ride.

    If you ride really really slow like the average person who uses a bike for primary transportation, it won't accomplish a damn thing.


    I would argue that no matter how hard he rides, 50 miles (either in one day or 25miles per day over two days) is NOT going to make much of a difference if he's then resting for the next five or six days. That's WAY too much recovery time for any meaningful muscle growth.

    Good to hear he's heard the wisdom of incorporating other leg routines, and squats are a GREAT start.

    And OP, if you're concerned about the harm squats can do to your lower back, you may want to consider front squats, where the bar is held on your chest as opposed to your shoulders. I do these with wrist straps and haven't had lower back problems regardless of the weight I'm lifting as it seems to ensure better form.
    50 miles in one day, or 25 in two days, or 1 mile in one day...can all have the same effect, depending on the energy expended.

    If that one mile is all uphill at a steep gradient, it could be more of a workout than 50 miles on a flat surface...even if the speed is relatively high.

    Five days to recover from an intense 50 mile ride is not uncommon, and is actually recommended. In fact, I did a very intense 50 mile ride last weekend, then this weekend I had to stop after 20 miles cause I ran out of steam...didn't fully recover from the last ride.

    And when I say "intense" I mean HIIT for the entire 50 miles (5 miles of regular, 1 mile of hardcore full energy pedaling, high gear, standing on the pedals, fast as possible). It wasn't even a surprise that I was worn out this week.