What muscles does cycling work the most?

We take a deep dive into the many muscles of your leg and the roles they perform

Image shows a rider climbing out the saddle.
(Image credit: Future)

We’ve all seen pro cyclists with muscles that have been extremely toned by cycling, and the classic physique of big muscular legs with a comparatively small upper body and slim arms. There’s good reason for this - the shoulders, arms and back don’t really contribute to powering a bike, so excess muscle mass in those areas is essentially just dead weight. 

But what, exactly, are the muscles that cycling recruits in the legs - and which muscles take on the lion’s share of the work? Whilst legs in general might not garner quite as much attention as the upper body when it comes to muscle groups, there is actually a lot of complexity going on down there. 

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Andy Turner

Andy is a Sport & Exercise Scientist, fully qualified and experienced cycling coach, personal trainer and gym instructor. He spent 3 years on the road riding for a UCI cycling team and 7 years as a BC Elite rider. 


After graduating in 2020 with first-class honours in his Sport & Exercise Sciences BSc, he continued to pursue his interest in research in the field of sport science alongside setting up his coaching business, ATP Performance, and working for USA-based firm, Wahoo Sports Science. He balanced this with racing at international level, competing in prestigious events such as the Tour of Britain and the Volta a Portugal.