Effect Of Cycling On Body Shape

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By Robbie Ferri, Cyclist, Personal Trainer, and Group Exercise Instructor.

Cycling is a fantastic sport, and it’s a lot of fun. One thing many new cyclists ask is about how riding a bike will change your shape. Cycling can completely change us inside and outside, and in this article, we are going to speak about how.

Main Benefits of Cycling 

  • Low impact on your body 
  • It can be done often
  • Great for the cardiovascular system
  • Great for mental health
  • Can help certain medical conditions
  • Improves balance and posture
  • It helps you lose weight

How does a Cyclists body compare to a Runner’s and Rower’s body?

Cyclists tend to be a little larger compared to a runner’s body, but not by much. Cyclists come in more shapes and sizes. For example, you might see a time-trial cyclist be much more muscular than a runner. You will find a hill-climbing cyclist looking very similar to a runner. Runners tend to need to be super light and super lean as the less they have to carry, the better.

Compared to rowers, cyclists usually are smaller. When it comes to rowing, it’s not so much about the athlete’s weight, it’s more about the athlete’s power. You will find rowers to be stockier and much more muscular than cyclists. 

Women’s vs. Men’s Cycling Transformation

Typically men and women, after cycling for a certain amount of time on the bike, do change. Obviously, it depends on the type of cycling you are doing to how you will change. Long-distance cyclists tend to get very lean, and sprinters will become quite muscular. Let’s say you’re doing a bit of both and a mix of a few different types of cycling. 

woman vs man cycling body shape

Your body naturally will change in a few ways. It’s the body’s job to adapt and change to suit what it needs to do. Typically you will find that many cyclists, after a while, will lose weight and become leaner. Then your muscles start to grow, and you become stronger. Typically with cyclists, the lower and core muscles improve quicker than the upper body. Later we will talk a little more about the primary muscles used when it comes to cycling and what will grow faster.

As far as the difference between how men and women will grow, there’s very little difference. The motion is the same, and the body’s reaction will be very similar for both.  

Will cycling change my body shape?

The short answer is yes, heavily in fact, and it can do this in many ways. When people think about cycling, typically, they think you’re going to end up looking like you have just finished the Tour de France, but it doesn’t work like that. Let’s talk about the different effects cycling will have on your body and its shape. There are many positives and a few negatives that we must speak of.

How does it change our shape for the better

man cycling body shape
  • Become Leaner: When you lose weight, you typically start to become leaner. There’s less fat on your body, which means your muscles begin to show through the body fat. Being lean means typically you look athletic, which is what many people aim for as a fitness goal, having a very lean body. 
  • Get more muscular: Although many people think cycling is just a lower body workout, it is much more. It does so much of the body’s muscles and not just the legs. We work the back, the chest, the arms, and the core. Also, being more muscular, you will achieve that lean figure quicker.
  • It can improve your posture: When cycling, you work your glutes a lot, your glutes are your buttocks, and they are the biggest muscle in your body. When you tighten your glutes and increase their size, it has a very positive effect on your posture and can straighten your back up. 
  • Losing weight: When you ride a bike, typically, you tend to burn a lot of calories. The more calories you burn, and providing you are not eating too many outside of riding. You will put your body into a calorie deficit. If you are in a deficit consistently, you will start losing weight. 

The Health Benefits

woman cycling body shape
  • It has a significant effect on core strength: One thing cyclists find is they get a lot of core strength from cycling. Cycling does challenge your core, and it has to be on and tight all the time and constantly working to help you balance properly. This will help your balance and make you feel much more stable in other sports such as running. 
  • Is low Impact: One of the best things about cycling is that it is low impact. A low impact sport like cycling is much better for your joints than other sports such as running. Many runners find themselves having knee issues later in their lives. With cycling, people seem to carry on into very old age.
  • Can help avoid cardiovascular disease: Cycling is known to improve blood pressure figures and has also been great in the battle against cardiovascular diseases. Not many sports have such a positive effect on the body.
  • Improve flexibility: Cycling is known to improve flexibility and help your body go to places it couldn’t before. Having extra flexibility is a fantastic tool for anyone and can benefit you in so many ways, one of the main ones being injury prevention.
  • Improve Strength: We all want to be stronger, and cycling is an excellent way of gaining some extra strength. The way the muscles have to repeat the motion and move promotes them getting much stronger, especially in the legs and the core. You will also notice this will pass across to other sports and activities.
  • Decreased Stress: I’m sure many of us reading this have busy, crazy lives, and sometimes just getting away from it all for a short amount of time will help. Cycling is known for its ability to destress people, and it’s not often someone comes in from a bike ride in a worse mood than when they left.
  • Improved Mental Health: The more the world grows and the more technology we see, the more mental health issues that seem to be popping up everywhere. Exercise is an excellent way of overcoming some of these issues, and also getting out of the house somewhere new also has a similar effect. Both of these attributes come from going out and cycling. 
  • Improves Cardiovascular Fitness: One of the most significant benefits is the improvements to your cardiovascular fitness cycling will give you. When you’re riding a bike, not only are your muscles getting worked but so are your lungs, heart, and all of your respiratory systems. Improving cardiovascular fitness means your blood can flow better, which is a great way of avoiding things like high blood pressure.
  • Makes you happy: When we exercise in ways like cycling, our bodies endorphins start to go crazy, and chemicals in the brain are released like dopamine which makes us feel much happier. I was always told you are only one bike ride away from a good mood, and I completely believe this.
  • Helps you focus: Cycling promotes focus. All you have to focus on when cycling is pedaling and your surroundings. It is a great way of clearing your mind, and it can relieve you from being tired and is a fantastic way to start a day off.
  • Improved body efficiency: One thing you find from spending time cycling is your body does become very efficient at doing cardiovascular fitness. Instead of your heart rate being high all the time, it gradually, as you get fitter, gets lower and lower at completing specific tasks. For example, if you were to go up a hill at eight mph when you first take up cycling and then eight mph after two months of training, you will find your body’s heart rate to be much lower as you have become much more efficient.

Related: 10 Reasons for Women to Start Biking

What Negative effects does cycling have on the body and shape?

Unfortunately, cycling does have some adverse effects on the body. For all the good it does, you will find a few things that can happen to you and your body that make it challenging to be a cyclist.

  • Increased Appetite: This is something a lot of cyclists struggle with. When you start riding your bike a lot and needing extra calories, your body goes into defense mode and craves food. This is because the body doesn’t want to be running on fumes, so if you start riding a lot, expect an increased appetite.
  • Tightness: Although cycling produces flexibility in some ways, it reduces flexibility in others. Typically many cyclists suffer from very tight Hamstrings, leading to poor flexibility. I would highly recommend a mobility program if you cycle over 10 hours a week.
  • Nerve Issues: Not as common as tightness, but cyclists who frequently ride sometimes suffer from nerve issues. This can be something as small as pins and needles in their hands while riding, or it can pain down your leg, and it could be you getting a little saddle sore too. Although extremely rare, it’s worth doing a mobility program for an hour once or twice a week to battle this and get a bike fit when riding often.

What muscles do we use in cycling, and what do they do?

If you want to know how your body will change, you need to understand the muscles you use the most while cycling. When you can identify the muscles you use while cycling, you will be able to recognize the change in them as you train.

Gluteus Maximus

The Gluteus Maximus is the largest muscle in the body and is often referred to as the buttocks or your bum. Although it may not look like the largest muscle in the body, is it. Other muscles like the Quadricep muscles are a group of muscles and not a single muscle in itself. 

One of the most significant places of improvement you will see is in your bum when you start cycling. If you imagine your pedals as a clock, the Gluteus Maximus role is to drive the pedal stroke from 12 to 6. It is responsible for so much power going down, and that’s not its only job. 

The Gluteus Maximus also has the job of supporting your posture and helping keep your back straight. If there’s one muscle you want working overtime, it’s this. You will find over time cycling, you will get a firmer, more toned bum, and you will get better posture too.

Hamstring muscles

Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris

The Hamstring muscles are broken down into two parts, the Semimembranosus, and the Bicep Femoris. These are situated at the back of your legs above the knee, and imagining your pedal stroke is a clock, power you from you the most from 7 till 8. They only have a minimal range, and typically, many cyclists tend not to use them as efficiently as they can.

They will grow, but as a Personal Trainer myself, I would recommend making sure you take the time to stretch these as cycling can make them very tight over time, and this can lead to poor flexibility when touching your toes and overextension of the back. When cycling a lot, you will see that these will become more toned over time and tighter.

Quadricep muscles

Vastus Medialis, Rectus Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis

The Quadricep muscles are one of the biggest groups of muscles in the body and a tremendous driving force when it comes to cycling power. These are the muscles in the front of your legs above the knee. Imagining the pedal stroke as a clock, they will work from 2 to 6. Although not a vast range, the force they can apply is much greater than many other muscles on this list. They often call toned legs the teardrop, this is where above your knee, your muscles create a teardrop shape. This is overtime and a lot of hard training you as can expect.

Calf muscles

Gastrocnemius Medialis, Gastrocnemius Lateralis and Soleus

The Calf muscles are at the back of your legs, behind the shin, and below the knee. They aid the body in helping you plant the toes into the ground. Although many people say these play a huge part in cycling, it depends on the person. Some cyclists will have reasonably small calves, and others will have large calves. Runners tend to have powerful calves, and cyclists who focus on sprinting. Endurance cyclists seem to have smaller calves. If you were to look at your pedal stroke as a clock, the power from the calve comes from 5 to 6. You can get toned calves after a lot of training, but unless you’re doing sprinting or running, they won’t grow too big.

Shin muscles

Tibialis Anterior

The Shin is a bone, and many people say it is a muscle when it isn’t really. The Tibialis Anterior is the muscle at the front of the Shin, and it’s a very small muscle and works from 6 to 9 on a clockface pedal stroke. They will become toned over time, but you won’t notice this muscle unless you have a very low body fat percentage.

Core Muscles

Rectus Abdominus, Internal and External Obilques 

When riding your bike to keep balance, you will use your core a lot. Some of the best core strength I have seen in athletes I have trained is in cyclists. This is how you hold yourself in place and lean around the bike. Having abs is the pinnacle of fitness for some, and although cycling will grow and tone these, you will need a low body fat percentage to get them to show. Cycling is a fantastic way of training core though, especially when riding outdoors.

Other Muscles

You use so many muscles when cycling but mainly the core and legs. You also have to use your chest muscles, back muscles, arm muscles, and shoulder muscles to make sure you stay upright and ride the bike. These all get worked but not anywhere near as much as what we have mentioned above. They will tone up, but you will get more value from picking up dumbbells to grow your upper body than cycling.


How does cycling affect the shape of your body? Well, more than anything, it’s a great tool to tone up your body from a muscular point of view and a great way of burning calories and losing body fat. Cycling will change your shape, providing you’re eating a decent diet, and it will tone your legs and core and make you look athletic. 

Robbie Ferri CPT

Robbie from “Riding with Robbie” is a Personal Trainer living in in Norfolk, UK. He has bikepacked all over the World, and also raced ultra distance at a top-level. He has worked closely with industry leaders such as Shimano.

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