Riding an exercise bike generally works the same basic muscle groups as a regular road bike. That is, your lower body muscles including your glutes, quads, hamstring, and calves. To some extent, it also works out your shoulders, arms, and abdominal muscles.
Although a stationary bike places most of the work on your thigh and leg muscles, if you maintain proper form, it can stimulate other muscles across your body to give you a full body workout. Indoor cycling is a low-impact workout ideal for beginners and fitness buffs looking to burn calories and tone muscles in the lower body.
There are different types of indoor bikes that you may reconfigure to target different areas, although you’re usually limited to the core and arms, at best. Upright or recumbent bike is great for toning the lower body, while spin bikes are more useful for high-intensity interval training. For all of these bikes, you can choose the exact intensity you want to work at, but if you have any conditions or previous injuries, check with your doctor before trying any new equipment.
What Muscle Does an Exercise Bike Work?
Riding an exercise bike, just lke cycling outdoors, provides a challenging and effective workout for your lower body, particularly the muscles in your thighs (quads and hamstrings), buttocks (glutes), and calves. It also works some parts of your upper body, like the shoulders, arms (biceps and triceps), and abs.
Lower Body Muscles
QUADRICEPS — The quadriceps is a large muscle group composed of four muscles on the front of your thighs: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis. They extend from the hip flexor to the knee joints. These muscles expand and contract like a rubber band, bending and straightening your knees. When you pedal an exercise bike, your quad muscles do most of the work, thus building muscle mass and strength.
HAMSTRINGS — The hamstrings are the muscles at the back of your upper thighs, working opposite to your quadriceps. These muscles are responsible for knee flexions, allowing them to bend while you pedal on the bike. When the hamstring contracts, the quads extend and the knee bends.
GLUTES — The gluteal muscles are a group of muscles in your backside, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body, and it provides most of the power when you push down on the pedals, while the smaller glute muscles help with stability.
CALVES — The calves are the muscles on the back of your lower leg, consisting of the larger gastrocnemius, and the smaller, soleus. These muscles work when you extend your ankle and point your toes. The calf muscles enable you to lift the heel and extend the ankle to enable you to pedal whether your knee is bent or straightened.
Upper Body Muscles
CORE — The core of the body consist of the muscles in your abdomen and lower back. While it doesn’t do the most work when cycling, the core provides stability and supports your upper body as you push down on the pedals. To work your core on a bike, make sure not to slouch down or arch your back as you pedal.
ARMS — The arm muscles are the biceps and triceps. Riding a stationary bike may not work your arms as much as cycling outdoors, where you use your arms to steer the bike and the triceps to push or the biceps to pull the handles. Although, some exercise bikes include a moving handle similar to ellipticals to work more on your upper body muscles.
Types of Stationary Bike
Riding on a stationary bike works the same lower body muscles as cycling on the road. But depending on the type of exercise bike you ride, certain muscle groups in your core and arms can be worked differently. Let’s look at the three types of indoor bikes below.
Spin bikes appear to be the most similar to a normal bike, with the handlebars nearly at the same height as the seat. With adjustable resistance, it can give you a full body workout when you stand up and lean forward on the handle bar, which places more stress on your lower body, specifically the calves, while also working your arms, shoulders, back, and core. However, while spin class can be very effective in burning calories and increasing your overall fitness, it may not be the most efficient in building muscle.
On an upright bike, the handlebars are positioned higher than the seat. This way, you need only to lean forward a little without standing, putting the emphasis on your lower body. However, compared to when you ride a road bike or a spin bike, your core and upper body get less workout. When you sit on an upright bike, your core doesn’t need to work as hard to hold up your head, shoulders, and chest. The upside to this is your arms can be free to do separate exercises for toning and building upper body muscles.
Recumbent bikes have large seats with a backrest and the pedals in front of you when you are sitting. You cannot stand on the pedals and you are mostly only working your legs and glutes. Like upright bikes, recumbent exercise bikes give less work for your core than a traditional bike because the backrest holds up the weight of your upper body. This isn’t to say that you’ll burn less calories with a recumbent bike workout, but most people choose the comfort it provides due to health conditions or just personal preference.
How Long Does it Take to Build Muscles on an Exercise Bike?
If your goal is to build muscles throughout your body, then you must know that this cannot be achieved overnight. You need regular and consistent workouts to see your progress within a few weeks. Persistence is the key to attaining your desired results and you should keep track of your muscle mass progression to see how your routine is working towards your goal.
If you’re using a stationary exercise bike as your main workout, you should generally start seeing the effects after four to six weeks, particularly some firmness in your legs, thighs, and buttocks. Weeks of regular exercise should also make it feel easier than it was when you started. After the first six weeks, you can gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercises at a pace that suits you, but not too much that it puts extreme stress on your body.
Between two to three months or 8 to 10 weeks, you should see clear results of muscle gain in your legs, thighs, and buttockscompared to when you started exercising. From 12 weeks and beyond, you can keep going with your established routine or push yourself a little harder each time, as far as what suits your body. Although indoor cycling does not build muscle at the same level as other activities such as weightlifting, it’s highly effective in burning fat and toning your muscles. And fat loss makes any muscle growth become more visible.
Best Ways to Build Muscle on an Exercise Bike
If you want to make the most of your exercise bike in building your muscles, you may try the following tips.
Cycling on its own can really get your heart rate up and burn body fat all around, but there are more ways to use a bike to build muscle. For example, riding up a hill increases the work on your lower body, and you can simulate this action on your indoor bike by increasing the resistance. This really gets those quads and hamstrings working to push your body upward.
However, remember not to set the intensity of your stationary bike workout too high too fast or you could give yourself an injury. If you’re cycling at a higher resistance, you should also shorten the duration of this exercise.
Try Interval Training
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is perhaps the best way to build muscle when cycling. HIIT consists of short bursts of high-intensity cycling, and moderate or low-intensity cycling in between. For example, pedal for 30 seconds at maximum resistance, then 15 seconds at low resistance to give your body a short break, then repeat this multiple times. You can try many different intervals and combos, but always remember to warm up your muscles at low settings for 5 to 10 minutes and cool down for 3 to 5 minutes or until you catch your breath.
Optimize Your Diet
This should be a given to anyone looking to build muscle. Your diet plays a critical role in growing your muscles. Make sure you’re getting the right amount of calories suitable for your age and body composition. In particular, you need a significant amount of protein to build muscle. Some high sources of protein are meat, seafood, eggs, dairy products, legumes, seeds and nuts. Before trying any diet program with your exercise routine, it’s best to check with a healthcare professional first,
Take Rest Days
Rest days are just as important as rigorous exercise. If you want to see your muscles grow, it is essential to give them adequate time to recover. Doing exercises breaks down your muscle fibers, and when you rest, your body repairs itself. This is when muscle growth actually occurs. It may be hard for some to get their motivation back after a rest day, but taking one to two rest days per week should be part of your routine. Otherwise, you will tire your muscles too much and make them more vulnerable to injury.
Taking a rest day doesn’t mean you should not move the whole day. Try to stay as active as your body allows by doing some low-impact exercises like walking, stretching, or yoga. Lastly, try to get a good quality six to eight hours of sleep every night, especially on the night before you train.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does an exercise bike tone your stomach?
Cycling alone cannot tone your stomach but it is a great calorie-blasting aerobic exercise that can burn fat overall. You can still add some work on your abs by adding resistance and keeping a tight core when you pedal.
How many calories does 30 minutes on a stationary bike burn?
The calorie burn on an exercise bike varies widely from person to person. You must take into account your age, gender, body weight, as well as the type and intensity of the workout. On average, riding at a medium intensity for 30 minutes can burn 200 calories to over 300 calories.
The exercise bike provides an excellent low-impact workout that’s suitable for anyone at any fitness level. It’s also available in many compact styles, making it a favorite exercise equipment for home gyms. It can be used to give you a great cardio workout, but the main benefits of an exercise bike is for toning the muscles in your lower body. Like road bikes, an indoor bike requires a lot of work from your thighs, legs, and buttocks. And with proper form, you can also target specific areas in your upper body. It’s also essential that you know how the different types of stationary bikes work and how you can optimally use them to work different muscle groups and achieve your desired results.