Discover The Muscles An Exercise Bike Works

Discover The Muscles An Exercise Bike Works

We all know that exercising is good for your muscles - but which muscles does an exercise bike work?

Below, you'll learn about each muscle group, as well as which types of bikes affect them.

Upper Legs

The quadriceps (the four main muscles on the front of your thigh) provide the majority of the force for driving a pedal downwards, so it's no surprise that they also tend to get the most workout when you're using an exercise bike.

Meanwhile, the hamstrings are used primarily for bringing the pedals upward. However, hamstrings do not get the full potential workout when you bike normally. Believing they do is a relatively common mistake.

To get the best workout for your hamstrings, you need to use bikes that require cycling shoes. When you do, you're not just lifting your leg - you're pulling the pedals upward.

This works your muscles more and can help provide better results in a shorter period.

That said, avoid setting your bike to a difficult gear in the hopes of working your legs harder.

You will work them harder, but too much resistance puts you at risk of damaging your knees. It's better to stick with a gear that requires a little effort, but not too much. As you continue biking, you'll naturally develop the muscles to work on higher gears.


Glutes get a workout regardless of the type of bike you're riding, but the actual impact depends on the sort of bike you're using.

In general, bikes where you lean forward (such as spin bikes) provide the greatest workout for glutes, while bikes where you're sitting up (including upright and recumbent exercise bikes) have a lesser impact.

This does not mean you should always lean forward to get a better workout - exercise bikes are designed for specific postures, and deviating from these could put you at risk of injuring yourself.

Lower Legs

Calf muscles will get a good workout regardless of the type of exercise bike you're using since they come into play for both the upstroke and the downstroke. To get the best workout, you'll need to flex your feet throughout your ride and point your toes down when you're pulling the pedal up.

Fortunately, most cycling shoes encourage this by pushing your body towards the correct cycling motion.

Back Muscles

Your back muscles will get used at about the same rate as your glutes - the more forward your posture is, the better your workout will be.

This is one reason that spin bikes (which require you to support your upper body while riding) have been growing in popularity over the last few years.


Your abdominal muscles will get the best workout if you're sitting up straight or reclining. On exercise bikes, this means using an upright or recumbent bike, where you'll be able to emphasize toning your abs at the same time you're working on your leg muscles.

The reason abs get a workout is because they're part of your core muscle group.

Even when you aren't explicitly working them, they're used to help keep the rest of your body in the correct position. In other words, exercising them is something of a bonus for using other parts of your body.

Upper Body Muscles

Your upper body won't get a full workout while you're biking, but if you have to support your body, you can still get some benefits.

On the other hand, if you're on an upright or recumbent bike, you may be able to add upper body exercises to your routine. Common choices here include using weights, doing curls, or pulling down on elastic straps hooked to the ceiling.

Safety Warning: Only add upper body workouts if you are capable of maintaining proper posture on your bike. Failure to do so could put you at risk.

How Fast Will My Leg Muscles Grow?

In most cases... not very fast.

​​​​Working on an exercise bike is interesting because in most cases, your leg muscles will see little to no actual growth, even as they're getting stronger. This is entirely unlike mass-building exercises, where it won't be long before you can visibly see the difference in the amount of muscle you have.

Fortunately, even if you can't see the difference in your muscles, it won't be long before you can feel the difference. You'll be able to ride longer, do more repetitions, and handle the harder difficulty settings with ease.

That Said...

While standard exercises won't build up your muscles very much, certain exercise programs can help to add mass to your legs. In general, you'll build up muscles if you use your legs more.

This can be done through things like:

  • ​Pedaling with your glutes above your seat
    edaling with your glutes above your seat
  • ​Adding 'sprints' (where you pedal as fast as you can) to your workout
  • ​Standing while biking, rather than being in a sitting position
    tanding while biking, rather than being in a sitting position

​Spin bikes are the best for actually building muscles since they're designed to let you bike from higher positions.

As with any muscle-building plan, limit yourself to three days a week. Taking a day off between muscle-building attempts gives your body the time it needs to recover. (You can still exercise on those days, just don't do anything too intensive.)

The Impact Of Diet

Your diet is one of the most important parts of using - and strengthening - your muscles.

While you should talk to a dietitian if you have no idea what to do, there are a few different types of foods that you should be eating if you're trying to improve your muscles.

The most important are protein-rich foods like:

  • ​Beef (preferably grass-fed)
    eef (preferably grass-fed)
  • ​Eggs
  • ​Greek yogurt
    Greek yogurt
  • cutlery
    ​Wheat germ
    heat germ

​Protein alone can only get you so far, though. Here are some other foods that may help you:

  • Apples: Apples have a lot of polyphenols, which are important for preventing fatigue in your muscles and improving your overall muscle strength. In effect, these can help you exercise longer and harder.
  • ​Spinach: Spinach is high in glutamine. This is an amino acid that helps to encourage the growth of lean muscles, which are a significant part of what exercise bikes focus on developing.
  • ​Cottage Cheese: Cottage cheese is especially valued because it contains casein protein. This is a form of protein that digests particularly slowly, so it can help keep your body supplied with energy during the night. (That's a good thing!)
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    ​Brown Rice: Brown rice is another slow-digesting food - which means it can help provide energy throughout an entire workout session, rather than just at the start.

​Understanding the nature of different foods is a vital part of having a successful workout. Energy foods provide the fuel you need to keep going, and you want both fast and slow foods to ensure you have a steady supply throughout your exercise program.

Meanwhile, beneficial foods offer some positive impact on your body, especially in the areas of losing weight and building muscle.

Trying to maximize the growth of your muscles without these is like building a house without structural supports - you can do it to a certain extent, but it's not going to hold up over time.

Are There Any Other Benefits I Can Expect To See?

Yes! Muscle size is far from the only benefit you can get from an exercise bike. In fact, some people believe it's less important than another result: improved flexibility and range of motion.

Riding a bike tends to work various ligaments and muscles that aren't used for other types of exercise - and when muscles aren't used, they can significantly increase your overall level of stiffness.

Exercise bikes are also a low-impact form of aerobic exercise.

This helps to stimulate your entire body, allowing nutrients and oxygen to be delivered more effectively. Better circulation is linked directly to your rate of healing - and from there, to your ability to tone and grow your muscles.

The Holistic View

The most important thing to understand about working your muscles is that your body is not simply a collection of different parts.

Things that affect one part of your body will almost always affect other parts as well - to see the maximum benefits from using an exercise bike, you need a healthy diet, adequate rest, and a goal that has long-term, mid-term, and short-term benchmarks.

If you don't keep the holistic view in mind, you won't see the maximum benefits from riding - or worse, you could end up thwarting your efforts.


As you can see, there's more to building up your muscles than picking an exercise (or a machine) that focuses on them.

Different people have different fitness goals, so don't worry too much about what other people are doing. Instead, set up a fitness plan that helps you achieve your goals, whatever form they may take.

Exercise bikes are often a good way of helping you meet those goals, and as long as you keep the information here in mind, you'll be ready to achieve the maximum benefits of your efforts.

This post was last updated on November 4th, 2017 at 07:25 pm

About the Author Max Shumpert

Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.

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