In your quest for fitness you may head off to the gym and overlook the old bicycle you have in the shed. You could put that bike to use.

We all know that cycling is a fantastic exercise, benefiting both your overall health and fitness. As an endurance sport, cycling can be exceptionally good for cardiovascular fitness while also helping with weight loss.

The truth is, cycling is an excellent alternative to the gym. Read on to learn more about how cycling helps tone muscles, improve physique, and body image.

Cycling can help to improve muscle tone in the areas of your legs, butt and stomach.

Which Muscles Does Cycling Tone?

We all know that cycling is a fantastic workout for our muscles, but which muscles do we exercise (and tone) while we’re riding a bike?

Leg muscles used while cycling:

  • Quadraceps muscles (front of thighs)
  • Hamstrings (rear of thigh)
  • Calf muscles
  • Hip flexors
  • Gluteus Maximus (your butt!)
  • Plantarflexors of the foot
  • Dorsiflexors of the foot

Upper body muscles used while cycling are mainly for support and stabilisation, but this is still a great workout:

  • Abdominal muscles (internal and external)
  • Arm muscles
  • Chest and shoulders
  • Muscles of the back

Competitive Cyclists Always Have Fantastic, Toned Butts!

We’d all like a little more lift and tone to our rear, and cycling is an exceptionally good activity to tone your gluteus maximus muscle.

Your gluteus maximus are responsible for the initiation of the downward phase of the cycling pedal stroke, and are therefore worked whenever you’re pedalling.

  • You can help to improve your muscle tone by heading for the hills and getting out of the saddle. Steep hills force you to work harder to start each pedal stroke. Riding uphill is hard work and will place large amounts of stress on both your glutes and thigh muscles, giving them a hard workout and stimulating muscle damage. This leads to improvement in strength and muscle tone once your muscles recover.

Cycling to Tone Calf Muscles

Cycling works the muscles of your calf (soleus and gastrocnemius muscles) through the action of plantarflexion during the pedal stroke.

Plantarflexion is effectively the same action your feet create when you stand on tip-toes. This happens in the points of the pedal stroke which correspond to five and six on a clock face, as your foot flexes and your toes point downwards.

Your calf muscles only play a small role in cycling, but the benefits you get in will be well worthwhile. You’ll want to dig out those shorts or short skirts to show off your legs!

Cycling to Flatten Stomach and Abs

Many of us have a layer of adipose tissue around our mid-sections, stopping us from achieving a flat stomach. Cycling helps by burning calories, which can lead to weight loss.

While cycling doesn’t use your abdominal muscles as a prime mover, it does require your abs to keep you stable as you pedal. Your abdominal muscles form part of the body’s core muscle unit, which provides a stable platform for riding and allows you to use your upper body for support and smooth steering.

Your abdominal muscles (and the posterial muscles of the abdomen) contract isometrically to provide stability. These constant contractions help to tone the abdominal muscles. They also improve abdominal muscle strength and endurance.

How to correctly activate your abdominal muscles for cycling:

  • To ensure correct form while you cycle, tense your stomach muscles to pull your navel inwards. Pull your stomach in tightly and downwards slightly, towards your pubic bone. Try to maintain this throughout your cycling workout and after a short time it will become your natural cycling posture.

Get the Most Out of Cycling

Follow these tips to get the most out of your cycling exercise.

  • Make sure your seat height is set for comfort. Your knee should be bent slightly at the base of the pedal stroke, when the foot is at a right angle to the floor
  • Always build up cycling volume slowly, to avoid injury.
  • Try to maintain a cadence of 90-120 rpm, as this will put minimal stress on your joints.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable riding outside, use a stationary bike or take a spinning class.
  • Make sure you dress right for the weather. There’s no logic in cycling if you can’t keep warm or feel uncomfortable.
  • Take your muscle toning to new levels by using clip-less pedals. When your foot remains clipped into the pedal, your muscles are in control of the whole pedal stroke which leads to a better toning effect.
  • Hills are your friend in your attempt to improve fitness, strength, and muscle tone. Don’t be afraid to get out of the saddle!
  • If you’re struggling for comfort on a spin bike or your own bicycle, consider this cheap and easy comfort fix. A gel saddle cover can enhance comfort and you can easily move it from bike to bike.