How to build leg muscles with biking

Updated April 17, 2017

Cyclists' legs are typically very strong, with rippling quads and chiselled calves. To power up those hills and push big gears, you need mighty leg muscles, which can be developed both on and off the bike. Whether you want to build your leg strength specifically for cycling or for other activities, make the most of your training time by choosing activities that will best build your leg power.

Set up for indoor strength-training drills by getting a stationary bike, or placing your regular bike on a stationary trainer.

Use one-legged pedalling to build strength in your legs separately. Sit on the bike and place your right foot on a chair or stool beside the bike, out of the way of the pedals. Place your left foot on the left pedal, and clip in if you're wearing cycling shoes. Begin to pedal with the left foot only, increasing resistance as it's comfortable, maintaining a cadence (pedalling pace) of about 60rpm. Pedal on the left for 30 seconds to one minute, focusing on maintaining good form and making smooth circles with the pedal. Stay conscious of the effort exerted by your quadriceps and hamstrings. Recover for two minutes by pedalling with both feet. Stop, remove your left foot from the pedal, and repeat the one-legged pedalling on the right side. Continue to alternate legs with a recovery period between one-legged segments. This exercise builds strength in each leg by forcing each to carry the full load of cycling, while allowing you to improve your form and observe weaknesses on either side in your cycling.

Simulate hill climbing by increasing the resistance on your spin bike or trainer. On a spin bike, simply turn the resistance dial to make the ride tougher. If you're using a trainer, you'll need to get familiar with its resistance system; magnetic and fluid trainers have different systems. Your cadence will drop as you increase the resistance; for strength-training purposes, that's fine. Integrate these simulated hills into your workout gradually to avoid injuring your joints, particularly your knees.

Get out on the road and climb some real hills. For real leg strength training, there's nothing like a true on-the-road experience. A stationary spin bike or trainer simply cannot simulate all of the factors that influence your actual cycling experience on the road, such as sun, wind, humidity and traffic.

Add some strength training to your routine. Many of these exercises require minimal or no gym equipment. Squats and lunges using dumbbells work the legs effectively, and the leg press machine also targets the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Swimming provides cross-training that is no-impact, supports aerobic fitness and develops leg strength as well.


Be cautious when you introduce strength training into your cycling workout. Your knees are especially sensitive to rapid increases in resistance, which you will create when you begin climbing more hills and attempting to push bigger gears while riding. Strength will come with time, so be patient and avoid an injury, which could be a far bigger setback than weaker legs.

Things You'll Need

  • Stationary spin bike or bicycle on stationary trainer
  • Bicycle for on-the-road training
  • Dumbbells and weight machines for off-the-bike training
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About the Author

Susan Sivek teaches journalism and communication and is also a freelance writer. She has been writing since 1999. Her writing interests include travel, health, exercise, cooking, crafts and more. She has been published in scholarly journals, on, and on eHow. Sivek holds a doctorate in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.