If you’ve watched track cycling, you’ll see cyclists with enormous legs. Quads professional bodybuilders would be envious of. But is it the cycling that builds these legs or something else?
It depends on the type of cycling when building muscle. High-resistance sprint cycling will build the quad muscles, while long-distance endurance cycling will not. However, eccentric muscle actions are needed to maximize hypertrophy.
This isn’t the only reason cycling may not build the legs you’ve dreamed of. Further, how can you modify your cycling workout to build muscle?
Does Cycling Build Muscle?
Endurance cycling won’t build muscle, but high-resistance sprint cycling will. Firstly, long-distance cycling doesn’t provide enough resistance to maximize mechanical tension, which is a key driver of muscle growth .
Mechanical tension is maximized through force generation and stretch. In other words, heavy loads through a full range of motion. But you can also use light loads if sets are taking close to or to failure .
Cycling omits the stretch phase of the exercise, making it concentric only. While concentric-only exercise does promote muscle growth, eccentric muscle actions are required to maximize the muscle-building response .
High-resistance sprint cycling handles the force generation part of the equation but not the stretch. Regarding endurance cycling, there’s another problem—the molecular signal from exercise. Resistance training signals the muscle-building pathway known as mTOR.
Endurance exercise, like cycling, signals the AMPK pathway to promote endurance adaptations . The AMPK pathway inhibits the mTOR pathway, lasts up to 3 hours, and is influenced by the intensity and volume of cycling .
Therefore, there are better options to build muscle than cycling.
How Long Should You Cycle To Build Muscle?
When cycling to build muscle, shorter is always better. A whole workout should last 5 – 15 minutes as the intervals are short and hard. If you’re doing long-duration cycling, you won’t build muscle.
Sprint cyclists have some of the biggest legs in all sports because of the short-duration, high-resistance sprints. However, they also lift heavy weights!
How To Cycle To Build Muscle
Short, high-resistance sprints for 10 – 30 seconds with varying rest periods are the best way to build muscle when cycling. The high-resistance sprints will pump your quads, leaving you unable to walk when you get off the bike.
Don’t do these on a spin bike upstairs. I’ve done this and struggled to walk down the stairs. Preferably do these on ground level. An example session is:
10 x 10-sec maximum effort sprinting at high resistance with 20-sec rest.
But you shouldn’t cycle in isolation to build muscle. Like sprint cyclists, you must lift weights! Exercises like squats, leg presses, hack squats, and lunges will build your upper thighs.
Perform these exercises for 2-4 sets and 6-20 reps, and you have a potent stimulus for building muscle.
Cycling won’t build muscle in the traditional sense. But with slight modifications of using high-resistance, maximal effort, and short intervals, you can pump the quads and add size without hindering the recovery that lifting weights induces.
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