I had just started amateur bike racing. If memory serves right, this was to be my third race — An event in Overland Park, Kansas.
On the starting line with the rest of the beginners was this gentleman with the biggest cycling legs I had ever seen. I had to wonder if he had been a body builder in an earlier life. These legs were intimidating.
He beat me in the first sprint. I beat him on the second.
You could tell he raced with his heart.
During my racing days, I was often complimented on my calf and butt size.
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The calf compliments frequently came, typically from ladies who wanted their version of my calves.
The butt compliments were less frequent, but I did have a killer butt (if I say so myself).
What nobody talked about were my thighs.
You see, cyclists build huge, awkward quadriceps muscles. Massive upper thighs. They look great and garner respect from other people in the sport.
But those of you who are worried about your “thigh gap” might need to do some cross training.
However, don’t give up hope! I’m going to discuss how to use cycling to get toned calves and butt without screwing up the rest of your aesthetics.
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Endurance Versus Muscle Size
It’s well known that bodybuilders tend to add more size than the endurance athletes.
When the body is repeatedly doing the intense exercise of short duration, it does not need to invest a lot of energy into creating new capillaries or mitochondria.
With cycling, blood flow and energy production are key. We are doing 4 hours of hell, not a 5-minute pose routine.
So the muscles that are built are lean, powerful, and designed to put out huge amounts of power over long periods of time.
One of my favorite experiences was taking a cocky body builder out for a ride. He had huge muscles but absolutely no functional power.
Even if you are spending time in the gym, cycling can help encourage more blood vessel and mitochondrial growth.
Does Cycling Hurt Muscle Growth?
It is commonly held “knowledge” that cardio workouts interfere with muscle size. So if you just want to look good, and don’t need a lot of functional power, then you are probably better skipping the bike and spending that time in the gym.
Not so fast.
Sure, if you are doing intense cardio every day, there will be some interference.
But new studies have demonstrated that incorporating cardio workouts 2-3 times per week can increase your gains.
After all, more blood vessels and energy is something all of us can use!
Leg Muscle Size Building With Cycling
Back when I was actively racing, it was not uncommon for me to ride 200-300 miles per week. That worked out to be about 12-20 hours of riding each week.
That’s more miles than those of us with jobs and kids have time to pedal. (I was young, single, bored, and loved the sport. )
Three Simple Cycling Drills To Build Leg Size In 1 Hour Per Week
The goal of this article is to give you a couple of workouts that you can do every week.
Ideally, if you can hit these drills hard twice a week you will A) regularly feel like puking and B) see increased leg gain size
Inside the sport, we commonly refer to these as “sprint drills”.
The idea is that our sprinters need to create huge amounts of power for 30-60 seconds at a time.
I like to start this workout from a near standstill and in a low gear.
Stand up and begin shoving the pedals as hard and fast as you can while simultaneously increasing the gears until you run out.
Then, maintain that ferocious intensity until you reach 30 seconds.
Sit down, grab a drink of water and pedal at a moderate speed for 5 minutes while your legs recover.
Repeat three more times and finish with a 10-minute small gear (easy-pedaling) cooldown and stretching.
Something you’ll notice is that our “Sprinting” athletes tend to have the larger legs. If it’s leg gains you want, this technique needs to be your mainstay.
This is an incredibly difficult drill for the body to recover from. Only do this drill once or twice a week.
Hills increase resistance.
Resistance = Growth.
Where I live, we have a lot of hills. And some of my routes are hillier than others.
This workout is easy to execute.
I find a big hill and climb it.
Then I turn around and ride to the bottom.
And climb it again.
It is a dirty suffer-fest that not only builds enviable butt muscles (if you can manage to stay seated) but also incredible mental willpower.
The key here is use as small of gear as you need. With repeated efforts, you can build the strength to climb almost any hill without getting out of the saddle.
Which is an impressive party trick the next time you go riding with your buddies.
Professional cyclists know that there is more to efficient cycling than mashing the pedals.
The goal here is to provide constant pedal throughout the entire stroke cycle.
To do these drills, you will need toe cages or clipless pedals and shoes.
The drill itself is simple. After you press the pedal down, drag your foot backward, and then pull up on the upstroke.
The drill completes as you push across the top of the arc and begin the downward press.
It takes a lot of concentration to provide consistent power throughout the entire stroke, but doing so builds balance throughout all of the muscles.
I also enjoy single leg drills where you complete the above drill, but with only one foot on the pedals.
This drill is especially good for developing the calf muscles.
Don’t Do This!!!
A lot of the blogs that come up when you search for cycling and leg size advocate using a large gear and pedaling slowly under heavy resistance.
This can be extremely harmful for one reason:
The #1 rule you need to internalize as a cyclist is: spin, spin, spin.
Using a lower gear and higher cadence is the ideal way to pedal without destroying your knees.
Too many cycling sites refuse to acknowledge the knee strain that occurs when you are pushing huge gears.
The exercises I have suggested above can let you seize the leg-building and butt-building benefits of cycling without risking your knees.
Leg Muscle Endurance Drill
An excellent workout for increasing leg endurance with minimal time investment is the 20-minute “time trial.”
The idea here is that you are racing the clock for 20 minutes.
The time frame is small enough that you can sustain an intense effort while being long enough that your cardiovascular energy systems get sufficiently taxed to encourage new development.
Fastest Way To Build Leg Muscle
If it is size you want, then squats are the way to go.
Like squats, cycling hits all of the major leg and butt muscles.
But, like we covered earlier, cycling tones the legs and builds functional strength.
Huges leg muscles are built in the gym with the squat rack. Make sure to use good form, and get a coach if you are uncomfortable executing a safe squat.
For functional gains, incorporate the drills above 2 or 3 time a week.
But if huge legs are what you want, the squat rack will get you there.