Ask the Pedalist: What Muscles Does a Stationary Bike Work?

cycling muscles

Hi Pedalist, I got a stationary bike from a family member recently, and started using for training during rains and other bad weather. I have been using it for a couple of weeks now, and kind of feel a little stronger. Can you explain stationary bike muscles and how to strengthen them so that I can be as fast as I can while on the road?

– Future Racer

Dear Future Racer,

Cycling is mostly a mid/core and lower body workout and your stationary bike muscles will develop from the mid-section out. Biking engages the core for stability and driving power to the legs. Your core consists of the abs in the front, and lower to middle back at the rear. Your abs tighten as you go to the drops on a road bike, and when you do jumps on a mountain bike. Your lower back helps you keep your weight off your wrists on both road and mountain bikes. If you have a weak back you might feel your back tightening during long rides resulting in back pain. And since the legs derive their power from the back, this pain can sometimes be felt in the legs. So strengthening the abs and back is very important for cycling. Look at some of our bike workout posts  as you plan your strength building.

In terms of your lower body, the main muscles consist of your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), and calf muscles. Pedaling has two movements – the downstroke and upstroke. The downstroke is where you push down on the pedals. The upstroke is when you pull up on the pedals at the bottom of the downstroke. Most think of only the downstroke when pedaling, but the upstroke is also crucial to maintain cadence and speed, and the muscles employed are a little different.

During the downstroke, the main muscles worked are the glutes, and the quads. The pedaling motion starts from the glutes, and the quads does the heavy lifting by pushing down on the pedals. The calf muscles help keep the feet stable. And during the upstroke, your hamstrings take over for lifting the legs to the start of the downstroke position. Keeping the downstroke and upstroke in sync between the legs takes practice, as this makes your rides faster with the most efficient energy use. Cycling pros have mastered this skill and you can see this smooth movement in the professional races. With enough practice you can be one as well.

Stationary bikes replicate the riding experience of the mobile bikes, and work the same core muscles. That’s why stationary bike workouts are a great bike training method to build strength, speed, and stamina during the off-season.

Happy riding!

We’re here to help with anything cycling, health, or fitness related. Just hit us up at [email protected]. No question is too silly or off-topic!

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