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The Effect of Cycling on Your Body Shape

The Effect of cycling on Your Body Shape

If you’ve been wondering about the effects of cycling on body shape, you’ve come to the right place. 

I completely understand that many new cyclists are a little nervous about the effects cycling might have on how their body looks. 

But don’t worry! In this short guide, I’ll cover everything there is to know about the effects of cycling on the body, for both male and female anatomy, so you know what to expect. 

To improve the quality of the information found in this article, I spoke with Bill Gaylor, an ex-military physical training instructor (PTI) and owner of the well-known personal training company – Train Primal

Throughout the guide, I also include helpful videos showing impressive before and after cycling results for females and males.  

Alongside learning about the effects of cycling on the body, reading this guide, will also teach you several incredible effects cycling has on your mind. 

Table of Contents
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    The Effect Of Cycling on Body Shape

    There’s no debating, the effects of cycling on your body shape will differ from person to person.

    Some people will cycle further, some will push themselves harder, and then you have uncontrollable factors like sex and genetics, which will also play a large part in the effect that cycling has on your body shape. 

    To begin with, we’ll look at which muscles get worked out when riding a bike, and then we’ll look at the more obvious effects cycling has on the average body.

    Later in the guide, I explain the differences that men and women can expect from cycling and other benefits that cycling offers for your mental and physical health. Important stuff!

    What Muscles Does a Bike Work?

    Many new and experienced cyclists aren’t sure what muscles riding a bike work, so if you’re in the same boat, it’s no problem. 

    Learning which muscles are working when cycling will help you understand the areas of your body that you’ll see changes in if you stick to your cycling routine. 

    Below you’ll find the common and scientific names used for each muscle. 

    Main Muscles Used During Cycling

    Whilst most of the muscles in your body are active during cycling, as you can imagine there are several muscles which receive a substantially greater workout. 

    The table below contains these muscle groups, the scientific names of the main muscles within each group and the function they provide.

    Muscle Group Muscles In Group Function When Cycling
    Quadriceps
    • Rectus Femoris
    • Vastus Intermedius
    • Vastus Lateralis
    • Vastus Medialis
    Your quads are constantly working whilst cycling and produce nearly half of your pedalling power. Quads power the downstroke of your pedal motion and are most active at the 2 o'clock position.
    Calves
    • Gastrocnemius
    • Soleus
    Your calves work alongside your other leg muscles while pedalling and help stabilise your pedal strokes. Your calves provide a good amount of pedal power and are most active at the top of your stroke.
    Shins
    • Tibialis Anterior
    Your shins engage as you straighten your toes and push upwards at the bottom of your pedal stroke. As a result, shins provide less pedal power but help to adjust your foot angle during pedal strokes.
    Gluteal Muscles
    • Gluteus Maximus
    • Gluteus Medius
    • Gluteus Minimus
    • Piriformis
    Your glutes are most active when hill climbing or accelerating/sprinting on your bike. They are most active at the top of your stroke when pushing your pedals from the 1 o'clock to 6 o'clock position.
    Hamstring
    • Bicep Femoris
    • Semimembranosus
    • Semitendinosus
    Your hamstrings are constantly engaged whilst cycling and are active during your up and down pedal stroke. Hamstrings are most active from the 3 o'clock to the 9 o'clock position.

    Auxillary Muscles Used During Cycling

    Whilst, almost every muscle group is somewhat active during cycling, the muscle groups in the table below are less active, but provide assistance in several different ways.  

    Muscle Group Main Muscles In Group Function When Cycling
    Abdominal Muscles
    • External Obliques
    • Internal Obliques
    • Pyramidalis
    • Rectus Abdominis
    • Transversus Abdominis
    Whilst cycling, your core stabilises you during pedalling and helps to keep you upright. In addition, your lower core helps to lift your legs for each pedal stroke.
    Arms & Shoulder Muscles
    • Biceps Brachii
    • Brachialis
    • Coracobrachialis
    • Anterior Deltoids
    • Lateral Deltoids
    • Posterior Deltoids
    Your arms and shoulder usage during cycling varies with each cycling discipline. For example, mountain biking utilises arms and shoulders more than road biking due to the increased amount of sharp turns and obstacles you traverse.
    Neck Muscles
    • Levator Scapulae
    • Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)
    • Trapezius
    • Erector Spinae
    • Deep Cervical Flexors
    • Suboccipitals
    Neck pain during cycling is felt by over 60% of cyclists. The bike you ride will alter how active your neck muscles are whilst riding. Aggressive road bikes tend to place increased strain on the neck as the trapezius and splenius capitis are constantly engaged to keep the head upright.
    Back Muscles
    • Trapezius
    • Rhomboids
    • Latissimus Dorsi
    • Erector Spinae
    • Multifidus
    • Quadratus Lumborum
    The muscles in your back, like your abdominal muscles, are constantly working to keep you upright and balanced whilst cycling. Depending on your bike's geometry, varying amounts of strain are placed on your back. Upright bikes place less stress on your back than most road bikes.

    The Effects of Cycling on Body Shape

    1. Weight Loss

    As you know, when we exercise, we burn calories. Cycling, running and swimming are three examples of exercise that all burn calories.

    “Is cycling good for weight loss?” This is a common and understandable question asked by many newcomers to cycling.

    Whilst I’d love to tell you that cycling will help you lose weight like never before, many other factors must be considered when answering this question. 

    Cycling for weight loss

    But to be brief, yes. If you get the other bits right, cycling is a sport that can greatly benefit you on a weight loss journey!

    It’s been confirmed in a recent study that participants who commuted by bike for 30 minutes each way lost an average of 2.25BMI units, which equates to roughly 7kg for the average person. [1] 

    I cover more on cycling and weight loss below. However, if you want to learn more about cycling and its weight loss benefits, I’ve put together an in-depth guide here, which provides several helpful cycling weight loss tips and tricks.

    2. Increased Muscle Toning

    Despite what many think, cycling isn’t only a leg workout. In fact, during cycling, you use nearly every muscle group in your body.

    Additionally, for those that didn’t know, there is a big difference between muscle toning and muscle growth.

    Toning tightens muscles and gives them shape, so you’ll maintain a similar size, but your muscle definition will be more obvious.

    A large part of body toning is burning and losing excess body fat to reveal the muscle underneath.

    Cycling body transformation female

    Obviously, your legs are the main muscle group that is worked out during cycling.

    PTI Bill Gaylor told me that you can expect gradual toning of the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves if you continue to cycle regularly. 

    "Toning takes time, and gradually, as you continue to cycle, you'll see the benefits, rather than overnight. Also, bear in mind that men will typically see results after 12 to 16 weeks, whereas it can take slightly longer than this for women."

    Bill Gaylor - PTI & Owner of Train Primal

    Remember to increase muscle toning, it’s essential to eat healthily.

    If you’re dedicated enough, tracking your macro and micro nutrition can be an excellent way to ensure you’re fueling your body correctly. 

    Eat lots of protein, get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water and you’ll soon see results!

    3. Building New Muscle (Muscle Growth)

    Muscle growth takes place after micro-tears form in your muscle during exercise. After exercise, the body enters a recovery period, filling in the gaps between the micro-tears with new muscle fibre.

    Hypertrophy is the scientific name for the process of building and growing muscles.

    Increasing your training intensity helps create more micro-tears in your muscles, meaning more room for muscle growth. Lower intensity exercise still makes these tears, just not as many.

    To build muscle, you should maintain a healthy diet and consume lots of protein. Someone looking to build muscle mass should aim to consume roughly 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per day, per kg of body weight. [2]

    Alongside this, you’ll also want to ensure you’re staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and eating plenty of food. For the average person, a 10-20% calorie surplus is required for muscle gians.

    Protein rich diet for cycling
    Eating 1.7 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight is a good place to start when attempting to build muscle.

    Now, as we covered above, your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves are all engaged and worked out during a bike ride. 

    Whilst the muscles in your legs receive the most stimulation whilst cycling, they won’t become tree trunks overnight. 

    Despite what you think, track cyclists that you see in the velodrome, with humungous legs, build most of their muscle in the gym lifting big weights. Their chunky legs are a result of years of dedication and intense training.

    Most people who take up cycling for exercise will see gradual toning of their legs, and if exercised thoroughly, their leg muscles will slowly grow if supported by a protein-rich, healthy diet. 

    Cycling legs before and after
    Road cyclists tend to be slimmer than track cyclists as the need to be able to endure long distance races, rather than shorter sprints.

    It’s also important to consider that different cycling disciplines target other muscle groups. For example, in fast-paced downhill mountain biking, your core and upper body receive a good workout whilst fighting to steer and balance your bike as you avoid and cross obstacles. 

    In contrast, road cycling does not target your upper body in the same way and focuses mainly on the muscles in your legs.

    That said, you’ll still achieve muscle toning across your whole body if you stick to cycling long enough and eat properly to support your goals. 

    "When pedalling, you're constantly working your core to raise your knees. So you'll always be working your abs when riding a bike."

    Bill Gaylor - PTI & Owner of Train Primal

    Below you’ll find several cycling before and after transformation videos, which show what you can expect from different styles and intensities of cycling. 

    First, we start with female cycling before and after before moving on to male cycling body transformations.  

    Remember, everyone’s body will change differently when it comes to your physical structure and weight loss. 

    Read this guide for essential cycling for weight loss tips. 

    Female Body Shape Changes After Cycling

    As you’ll know, women and men differ in many ways.

    Genetics and hormones play a massive role in how our bodies look and work. However, it’s also important to remember that it’s entirely normal for people of the same sex to vary; no two people are the same!

    Women tend to store more body fat than men in their hips and legs and, on average, have a lower metabolism than men. 

    So on average, it will take longer for women to see the same results as men. But it’s not impossible, and with enough dedication, you’ll see the result you’re looking for. 

    Watch the video below for some incredible before and after cycling photos and plenty of helpful tips.

    female cyclists body

    This first video is from the well-known cycling YouTuber Katie Kookaburra. She explains her 35kg cycling weight loss transformation and the effect of cycling on the female body shape that she experienced.

    An excellent watch for anyone interested in female cycling body transformations. Katies also shares many essential tips from what she’s learned from cycling in this video.

    As I already covered, on average, women hold more body fat and have a decreased amount of lean muscle compared to men. This means they’ll generally take slightly longer to begin to see results than men.

    However, after 12-16 weeks of cycling 4 to 5 days a week for roughly 60 minutes, you should begin to see changes in how your body looks and feels. 

    If you stick with your routine and implement a healthy diet that supports your goals, you’ll begin to notice muscle toning and, depending on your routine, gradual muscle gain in the legs and strengthening of your back and core.

    Cycling Legs Before and After Female

    This video from Ryan Eliz shows another incredible female cycling body transformation. 

    Ryan explains that she managed to drop from a waist size of 12 to a 6 in six months.

    Ryan explains that her size 12 pants were getting very tight, but now she’s a size six waist. Over six months, Ryan lost over 41 pounds, a massive visible change. 

    Over her six months of cycling, Ryan noticed:

    • Slimming of her arms (2 inches)
    • Slimming across the waist
    • Slimming across the hips
    • Flatter stomach
    • Fat loss on the back
    • Toning and muscle growth in upper and lower legs

    Male Body Shape Changes After Cycling

    Regarding male cycling body transformations, Lepedaler, the American cycling YouTuber, achieved impressive results over a year. 

    Lepedaler takes his cycling seriously and frequently competes in road races, alongside commuting to work and following a strict training programme. 

    Alongside this, Lepedaler also implemented other physical activities to increase his overall fitness.

    As you can see from the thumbnail and video above, Lepedaler lost 27kg over a year. A very visible transformation with a considerable decrease in body fat. 

    After a year of strict training and commuting, Lepedaler lost lots of surface body fat and became lean. His stomach has flattened to reveal his abs, his arms are slimmer with increased muscle toning, and his legs have also slimmed down whilst maintaining strength and visible toning. 

    Cycling Before and After Male

    Another male cycling before and after transformation video, and this time it’s Ryan Forde. 

    Over several years, Ryan lost over 35kg, which he is happy with, but he says he still hasn’t quite reached his goals.

    To begin with, Ryan was competing in local triathlons but quickly realised that he didn’t enjoy running or swimming as much as his time on two wheels.  

    Watch the video below for some awe-inspiring cycling body transformation pictures. 

    Ryan states that he didn’t set a time limit on how long he wanted to take to get to an “ideal weight” because, in his words, “the fact that I was out exercising was far more important than the number on the scales”.

    A  healthy and realistic approach will keep you motivated, rather than solely focussing on your weight and other metrics.

    Ryan’s before and after cycling transformation also proves that it’s easier to lose weight or make progress if you practice and invest in exercise that you enjoy!

    Male vs Female Cycling Body Transformation - Summary

    All in all, what you get out of cycling, regardless of sex, depends on how much you’re willing to put into it!

    Every person has a different genetic composition. Some will burn fat slower, while others will gain muscle faster. 

    If you want to see results and changes to the way your body looks and performs, the most important thing to remember is that consistency and discipline are key to these goals. 

    "Any aerobic exercise can help you to lose weight. Cycling is one of the best methods as it's low impact so won't put as much strain on your joints and running."

    Bill Gaylor - PTI & Owner of Train Primal

    Yes, on average, men will see results slightly sooner than women, but as long as you keep working towards your goal, you’ll see results. 

    Again on average, it will take most men 12-16 weeks to begin to see changes in their physique. Women can be slightly slower with a 14-18 week average, but many factors, including your workout routine, diet and sleep, will play a part in the speed and volume of your results. 

    Cycling For Bigger Legs

    Everyone has their preference and an individual starting point. For example, some newcomers to cycling will be unfit, while others will already have a good base level of fitness. 

    Every cyclist will also have a different set of individual goals. One of which may be cycling to bigger legs. 

    When beginning cycling, it’s common at first to see a slight size reduction in your legs as you lose body fat and become more toned. 

    Some cyclists may then want to increase the size of their legs and grow the muscles in the lower half of their bodies.

    Cycling for big legs

    Having large legs allows cyclists to increase their acceleration and their top speed.

    Speed and acceleration are essential in sprints and indoor track racing, which is why many cyclists in these events have much bigger legs than multi-stage race competitors, who tend to be leaner.

    PTI Bill’s Top Tips for Getting Bigger Legs for Cycling
    • Add weight training to your exercise program
    • Control your diet, eat sufficient protein and maintain a caloric surplus
    • Focus on lifting heavier weight for less reps when weight training
    • Consistency and discipline is key for muscle growth and results
    • Make sure you give your body sufficient time to recover after training
    • Get plenty of sleep (7-9 hours per night)

    As I’ve already mentioned, cyclists that you see with tree trunk thighs almost always implement weight resistance training into their exercise routine.

    It’s possible to increase the size of your legs through cycling alone, but by adding weight training such as squats, deadlifts and leg presses to your routine, you’ll maximise muscle and strength gains in your lower body. 

    If you stick to the tips in the table above, you’ll improve your recovery rate and see muscle growth. 

    Cycling For Weight Loss

    Female cycling muscles

    Weight loss is part and parcel of exercising. Cycling is an excellent form of exercise for everyone, especially if you’re trying to shed a few pounds, and this is for several reasons.

    As much as I’d love to give you miraculous weight loss advice, unfortunately, weight loss is a gradual process that takes both time and dedication. 

    "If you want to see dramatic body shape changes, add strength and resistance training to your workout schedule."

    Bill Gaylor - PTI & Owner of Train Primal

    Because there’s a lot to cover on this topic, I’ve put together a guide which includes all of the key details and hacks you can use to improve the results you see in the mirror. 

    Below you’ll find several helpful cycling weight loss tips, but if you’re interested in cycling and for weight loss, you’ll want to read this guide. 

    Cycling for Weight Loss - Where to Begin

    Weight gain is a gradual process that happens over time due to a caloric surplus, but several other factors can play a part. 

    It’s important to understand that weight loss is the opposite of weight gain. It’s not an overnight process.

    Implementing cycling into your daily/weekly routine is a great place to begin, but remember not to overdo it when starting out. 

    Cycling too hard too soon can lead to injury and burnout, which won’t help you reach your goals. 

    Some people find that setting goals helps motivate them to stay on track, while others find that this does the opposite and removes enjoyment from their time on two wheels. 

    Now just because you want to lose weight doesn’t mean your goal has to be weight related. So instead of obsessing over numbers on the scale, why not set goals based on your cycling distances or times?

    If you’re considering setting fitness goals, it’s beneficial to keep them achievable and realistic. Hitting your goals will help keep you on track and motivated. 

    But again, if goals aren’t your thing, no problem. Everyone’s weight loss journey is different, and it’s essential to do what works for you!

    If you can find a cycling discipline you enjoy, it will make cycling for weight loss much more achievable as you’ll enjoy the process rather than resent it. 

    Road biking, mountain biking, BMX, Bikepacking and Gravel biking are just a few examples of the activities you can take part in on two wheels. 

    Remember that some cycling disciplines require specialised bikes and demand differing fitness levels. 

    Commuting to work is a great place to start!

    Once you’ve found your rhythm, remember to listen to your body. Sometimes you’ll be sore and tired, ultimately, it’s important to listen to your body, and give it what it needs. 

    If you need a rest, rest. If you need more sleep, sleep. 

    Stick to it, and after 12-16 weeks of consistent exercise and caloric deficit, you should begin to see results. 

    The Effect of Cycling on Mental and Physical Health

    As you can imagine, cycling does far more for your body than building muscle and burning fat. Whilst exercising, there are multiple chemical reactions taking place in your body that alter the way you look, feel and perform. 

    The table below contains several amazing effects cycling has on your mental and physical health. If this topic interests you, I’ve put together a more detailed guide on cycling and its health benefits here

    Have a read. I guarantee most cyclists don’t know half of the incredible health benefits found in this short article

    Health Benefits of Cycling Benefit Explained
    Improves Overall Mood After a bike ride, chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are released in your brain, this is commonly referred to as a "cycling high". These neurochemicals help to improve mood and provide painkilling effects. [3]
    Improves Brain Health Recent studies show a strong relationship between physical activity and increased endocannabinoid serum concentrations in the brain. Endocannabinoids provide many neurological benefits, such as increased neuroplasticity & improved memory. [4]
    Good for Injury Rehabilitation Recent studies in Korea show that cycling is highly beneficial for comprehensive musculoskeletal rehabilitation. In other words, if you have physical injuries, cycling can help you on your way to recovery. [5]
    Improves Cardiovascular Health Studies show a clear positive correlation between cycling and cardiorespiratory fitness in youths, consistent improvements in cardiovascular fitness, and some improvements in cardiovascular risk factors in working-aged adults.[6]

    Effect of Cycling on Body Shape FAQs

    Unfortunately, despite what many say, your body doesn’t target specific areas for fat release. Instead, fat burns evenly across your body, and gradually you’ll see results across your whole body. 

    Though naturally, the typical place that people tend to notice weight loss at first is around your face, as this part of your body is always on show, and it’s the area of your body others are most familiar with. 

    However, when it comes to fat distribution, it’s not spread evenly across the body. Females tend to carry more on the waist and legs, whereas men tend to store fat on the belly and back.

    Despite what you think, female cycling muscles are the same as male cycling muscles.

    Both women and men have the same body muscles. While sizes and densities vary between sexes, we all have the same muscles.

    You might be worried that cycling will give you a flat bum. But cycling will do the opposite. 

    Over time as you cycle, as long as you have a healthy diet, you’ll reduce fat deposits held on your bum and hips whilst toning and building new muscles in these areas. 

    So, no, cycling won’t make your bum flat. Instead, it will make your bum more toned, and with proper training, it can even grow your bum.

    Effect of Cycling on the Body Shape - Conclusion

    Cycling is an excellent exercise form and provides many health benefits. 

    By implementing cycling into your routine, you can expect changes in your body. But, as always, the exercise changes you see will depend on how much you put into your cycling. 

    I’ve put together a separate guide on cycling for weight loss as well as the effects of cycling on your mental and physical health, so if you’re interested in learning how to obtain some of cycling’s many benefits, have a read of these!

    Cycling body transformation before and after men

    Don’t feel disheartened if your results are slow. Everybody is different, and the way we react to exercise is unique. Although typically, it will take 12-16 weeks before you begin to see noticeable results in your figure, some people will see changes sooner than this, whilst it’s also possible to take longer. 

    Remember, changes to your body don’t happen overnight. Expect gradual progress, but read these steps for the best cycling weight loss hacks

    If you haven’t already got one, make sure to use a good quality lock to secure your bike. Thieves operate in all towns and cities, and it’s not worth using a cheap and cheerful lock only to have your bike stolen. 

    Lock it, or lose it. 

    References:

    [1] An Exploration of the Determinants and Health Impacts of Active Commuting – University of East Anglia – ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/57410/1/2015MartinAPhD.pdf

    [2] Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance – American College of Sport Medicineacsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf

    [3] Cycling – the exercise for positive mental health – mensline.org.au/mens-mental-health/cycling-the-exercise-for-positive-mental-health/

    [4] Can Physical Activity Support the Endocannabinoid System in the Preventive and Therapeutic Approach to Neurological Disorders? – Department of Physiology, Medical University of Bialystok – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352563/

    [5] Cycling Kinematics in Healthy Adults for Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation Guidance – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8675512/

    [6] Health Benefits of Cycling: A Systematic Review – onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2011.01299.x

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