Which muscles do you use when cycling?

The muscular work involved in cycling is essential to maintain good health. Contact our physiotherapists for more advice.

Do you remember your first bike? Perhaps you received it as a birthday present like many children. Most of us first learn to ride a bike around the age of 4 or 5. However, it takes a few more years to stand on 2 wheels.

Cycling remains one of the most popular activities in our lives simply because it can be used for both recreation and transportation.

Whether you enjoy cycling or mountain biking, you will discover how your muscles manage to propel you so far. You will also get to know the most common causes of cycling pain and why it is important to talk to your physiotherapist.

How to stand on a bike

Your posture on a bike may vary slightly, but a cyclist generally has 3 points of contact: feet on the pedals, body on the seat and arms on the handlebars.

The position of the body will then depend on the type of bike you are riding. On a bike, the goal is to be more aerodynamic. The body will therefore be more inclined towards the front.

The opposite is true on a mountain bike, where the goal is to absorb the impacts and maneuver through the turns. You will be in a more upright position when riding uphill and usually stand straight when riding downhill.

How do you move forward on a bicycle?

When you watch a cyclist pedaling, you can see that each foot makes a complete rotation around the crankset. This movement is divided into two stages depending on whether the foot is moving up or down.

The propulsion phase begins when the foot is at the top of the crankset. The goal is to push the pedal forward and downward. This movement is what contributes the most to moving the bike forward.

The traction phase begins when the foot is at the bottom of the pedal. This phase brings the pedal back up. The cycle will then continue with a propulsion phase. Traction is facilitated if the foot is attached to the pedal with clip-on shoes or toe clips.

What are the muscle groups targeted while cycling?

Three muscle groups are required to push the pedal down during the propulsion phase: the gluteal muscles, the quadriceps and the calf.

The traction phase involves the tibialis anterior, the hamstrings and the psoas muscles.

Remember that several other muscles of the upper body play an important role in maintaining your balance and your position on the bike. This is why our physiotherapists often recommend that cyclists do various muscular strengthening exercises for the back and arms.

Common cycling injuries

Most cycling injuries are caused by one of three factors:

  • The cyclist’s position and fit on the bike
  • The cyclist’s physical abilities (strength, flexibility, pedaling technique)
  • Training factors

Most injuries affect the knee or ankle, but it is not uncommon to experience pain in the shoulder, the wrist, as well as in the neck or lower back region.

For more information on cycling injuries, please see our article on this topic. If you have an injury, make an appointment at one of our clinics.

What should you do if you have a muscular injury?

A physiotherapy consultation is often needed to treat or prevent an injury. As mentioned above, cycling pain is often due to 3 specific factors. During the assessment with your physiotherapist, he or she will ask you questions and evaluate your physical abilities.

Once the physiotherapist has found the cause of your pain, he or she will make the necessary adjustments to your posture, technique and training intensity to reduce your pain.

Some specific exercises can also help you improve your comfort and performance on the bike.

Do not hesitate to contact us to learn more about our services and to make an appointment with one of our physiotherapists.

A few tips from a cyclist

To maintain your cycling endurance and muscle mass, try cycling all year round. Basic training equipment is inexpensive and will allow you to train indoors during the winter. This will reduce your risk of injury.

Do not hesitate to have your bike tuned up at the beginning of the season. You don’t want to run out of brake when going down a steep hill. Proper maintenance of your bike will also help keep it in better shape for longer.

Finally, invite your friends to ride with you. You will be able to show them the benefits of this sport and your outings will be much more enjoyable.

Have a good summer and enjoy your bike ride!

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Vincent has a master’s degree in  physiotherapy  from the University of Montreal.  Vincent brings his knowledge of skiing as an instructor for the Quebec Foundation for the Blind since 2014. He also works as a lifeguard for Patro le Prévost, one of the oldest non-profit organizations in Quebec.

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