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The Most Important Muscles For Bicycling

Updated on June 15, 2012
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer, he ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

The muscles for cycling performance in action

The muscles for cycling in action during a road cycling event
The muscles for cycling in action during a road cycling event | Source

What are the most important muscles for cycling performance?

It's easy just to get on a bicycle and ride however when you start to analyze how the body works while cycling it can be very confusing deciphering which muscles for cycling need to be trained to enhance racing performance.

This article will improve your knowledge of cycling anatomy and the muscles you use for cycling and therefore is no difference in the cycling pedal stroke whether you're using your muscles for mountain biking, road cycling or on an indoor exercise bike. The main thing is to be cycling and having fun while enjoying the great benefits cycling can bring. .

Key leg muscles used for cycling:

Which key leg muscles do you use cycling? This is the simple list and the individual muscles for cycling are detailed further down the page.

  • Quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your upper thigh)
  • Hamstrings (the muscles to the rear of your upper thigh)
  • Calf Muscles (the muscles to the rear of your lower leg)
  • Hip Flexors (The muscles deep at the front of your hips)

A breakdown of the leg muscles used cycling: The Power Phase of the pedal stroke

The Power Phase of the cycling pedal stroke corresponds to the downwards motion of the foot which many originally deemed to be where a cyclist generated the majority of their power output. However over time it has been established that a smooth pedal stroke and utilising all of the available muscle groups in synergy leads to a high power output. Despite this the cycling pedal stroke has always been described in terms of the power phase and recovery phase.

The key muscles for cycling in time trial action. This cyclist is using his hip flexors to bring the pedal to the top position prior to initiating the downward phase with the buttocks.
The key muscles for cycling in time trial action. This cyclist is using his hip flexors to bring the pedal to the top position prior to initiating the downward phase with the buttocks. | Source

Muscles used and their actions during the Power Phase of the pedal stroke

Gluteus Maximus (The buttocks)

The gluteus maximus is responsible while cycling for the initiation of the downwards/ push phase of the pedal stroke. (as pictured right). When looking at a clockface the gluteus maximus would be responsible for the bicycle pedal stroke between 12 and 4 on the clockface

Vastus Lateralis and Vastus Medialis

The Vastus Lateralis and Vastus Medialis are responsible for continuing the downward motion of the leg during the pedal stroke after it's initial downward force is exerted by the gluteus maximus and they are responsible for the pedal stroke between 3 and 5 on a clockface.

Gastrocnemius and Soleus

The gastrocnemius and soleus make up the muscles of the calf. Their responsibility is at points 5-6 on the clockface of the cycling pedal stroke. The gastrocnemius is responsible for the action of plantar flexion at the ankle and the pointing forwards of the toes perpendicular to the floor at these points. The soleus is then responsible for initiating flexion at the knee to initiate the recovery phase of a cyclists pedal stroke.

A breakdown of the leg muscles used cycling: The Recovery Phase of the pedal stroke

The recover phase of the pedal stroke responds to between 6 and 12 on the clock face. The muscles used as agonists during this phase are often seen as secondary muscles to many cyclists however their contribution to 50% of the pedal stroke means that by addressing their development in training a cyclist can greatly improve their cycling strength, performance and pedalling efficiency.

The muscles for cycling in action. A female cyclist on an Orbea road bike. The Soleus muscle of this rider is initiating the recovery phase of the pedal stroke.
The muscles for cycling in action. A female cyclist on an Orbea road bike. The Soleus muscle of this rider is initiating the recovery phase of the pedal stroke. | Source

Muscles for cycling and their actions during the Recovery Phase of the pedal stroke

Tibialis Anterior

The tibialis anterior muscle which runs mainly along the front of the lower leg is responsible for the initial stages of the recover phase of the pedal stroke between 6 and 8 on a clockface. The tibialis anterior brings the foot slightly upwards towards the shin bone while cycling in the action of dorsi-fexion.

Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus and Semitendinosus (Hamstring muscles)

The pull back and upwards of the foot during the revolution of the cranks is actionned by the Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus and Semitendinosus which cause flexion (tightening of the angle) at the knee while cycling. This occurs between points 8 and 10 on a clock face.

Iliacus and Psoas (Hip flexors)

The hip flexor muscles of the Iliacus and Psoas play a key role in the pedal stroke by finishing off the pedalling action at the top of the recovery phase. They pull the foot up from 10-12 on the clock face ready to initiate the downward power phase of the pedalling action

Enjoy your cycling

Whether you're on a road bike, exercise bike at the gym or out in the woods hitting some singletrack on your mountain bike you should now have an increased knowledge of the muscles used cycling.

CyclingFitness

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    • CyclingFitness profile imageAUTHOR

      Liam Hallam 

      6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks jclafee. I've seen a lot of people successfully come into cycling from a lifting background. The strength seems to transfer well. Thanks for your feedback

    • jclaffee profile image

      Jesse Claffee 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Great article! I'm a personal trainer and avid weight lifter, but I've been considering getting into cycling as well. Very helpful read.

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