Whether you are watching a professional cycling race on television or standing shoulder to shoulder amongst competitive cyclists behind the starting line for your first race, there are a few things you might notice about the sea of legs in your vision.
For one, the often tell-tale sign that you’re looking at the legs of a cyclist is that the legs will likely be shaven, even if the cyclist identifies as a man.
Secondly, they will be wearing specific cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom so that they can clip into bike pedals. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, cyclists’ legs are notoriously muscular yet lean.
You are likely to see enviable calves and defined quads with a defined teardrop shape above the kneecap. But what about the butt? Does biking work the glutes?
Does cycling build glutes? In this article, we will discuss whether cycling works the glutes and if you can get a bigger butt from cycling.
We will cover:
- Does Cycling Build Glutes?
- Tips for Cyclists to Get Bigger Glutes
Let’s jump in!
Does Cycling Build Glutes?
In most cases, cycling is not a particularly effective form of exercise for building bigger glutes. But, if you ask instead, does biking work the glutes?
Even though it may not be that effective in building glutes, this is not to say that you cannot strengthen your glutes through cycling. Cycling does work the glutes, but cycling and biking workouts don not tend to facilitate hypertrophy or muscle growth.
In order to build muscle mass, your workouts have to be high-intensity and provide enough resistance to induce muscle protein synthesis, the process that ultimately strengthens and increases the size of your muscles.Hypertrophy, or the process of muscle growth, occurs when your muscles are worked to the point that some amount of structural damage has occurred to the muscle fibers themselves.
High-intensity, high-resistance strength training is typically the most effective means by which you can stimulate muscle growth because this type of training places your muscles under significant loads or requires high forces that exceed the current capabilities of your muscles.
Termed “progressive overload,“ gradually and incrementally slightly pushing your body through workloads that surpass your muscles’ strength will cause microscopic tears to some of the muscle fibers in the muscles that you work.
This structural damage signals the body to initiate the recovery and repair process. Amino acid and other nutrients are shuttled to the muscles to begin assembling new proteins to repair, replace, and reinforce the areas of microscopic tears.
As long as your body has ample resources, by way of sufficient protein and calories (energy), this muscle protein synthesis will ultimately result in thicker and stronger muscle fibers, which increases the overall size of your muscles.
Therefore, even though cycling works the glutes, in most cases, the intensity and resistance during cycling workouts aren not enough to cause overload to really induce much structural damage to your glutes, particularly if you are doing long-distance endurance rides in the saddle.
In fact, lots of long, endurance cycling training may actually decrease the size of your butt over time if you are not taking in enough calories.
The butt is composed of the gluteal muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus) as well as fat tissue (adipose).
Your body will catabolize, or burn, the stored fat for energy and will eventually dip into the muscle tissue as well if you are in a caloric deficit and engaging in long workouts in which you are not taking in enough calories.
Indoor cycling workouts that require a lot of up-and-down, in-and-out of the saddle intervals at high resistance, or significant climbs during outdoor riding on the bike can be enough of a training stimulus to induce hypertrophy and muscle growth.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to promote muscle growth, so focusing on interval workouts rather than just steady-state endurance rides can be a good way to increase the muscle-building power of your cycling workouts.
However, particularly in the case of outdoor hill climbing, most uphill training is not long enough or intense enough to trigger much appreciable muscle growth. Your glutes will get stronger, but not necessarily bigger.
It is also important to note that while cycling does work the glutes, the primary muscles targeted are the quads, hamstrings, and to a lesser extent, the calves.
The gluteus maximus is involved in extending the hip as you push the pedal down at the beginning of the cycling pedal stroke. It helps provide power to your pedal stroke.
The two smaller glute muscles—the gluteus minimus and the gluteus medius—help provide stability to the hip by preventing outward rotation.
Although cycling does not necessarily build your glute muscles very effectively, cycling can “tone” your butt and make your butt look and feel tighter and more shapely.
Toning refers to a change in the appearance of your body, wherein your muscles will appear more defined. This is achieved by losing body fat covering your muscles and strengthening the underlying muscles themselves.
Cycling can address both arms of this equation. Your glutes are strengthened through consistent cycling workouts. Cycling also burns calories, so you can lose excess subcutaneous fat that fills out your butt, helping your butt feel firmer and less squishy and looking more defined and less saggy or dimply.
These visible and palpable changes in your butt occur because muscle tissue is firm and fat tissue is soft and squishy. Through consistent cycling training, your glutes will look and feel more toned and will be less jiggly.
Tips for Cyclists to Get Bigger Glutes
So, if you are a cyclist hoping to increase the size of your glutes, there are a few things you can do in your training and work into your diet to best support muscle growth in your butt.
Here are a few tips for building your glutes while cycling:
#1: Hit the Hills
As mentioned, uphill climbing engages the glutes more than flat-level riding, so doing hill workouts or tackling long, arduous climbs is a great way to strengthen your glutes and potentially build muscle.
To further support muscle growth in your glutes when climbing, keep the resistance as high as possible, even if this means that your cadence or overall speed will decrease.
#2: Get Out of the Saddle
If you are doing indoor cycling workouts on a spin bike or your trainer, crank up the resistance as much as possible and climb out of the saddle for high-intensity intervals.
Rather than trying to go as fast as possible, try to use as much resistance as possible during these intervals.
#3: Use Your Glutes
Many cyclists have what is commonly called “dead butt syndrome,” in which the glute muscles are not actively engaged and recruited for hip extension to the extent that they can and should be.
Like runners, many cyclists disproportionately rely on the hamstrings to extend the hip during the cycling pedal stroke (as well as walking around during daily life) rather than recruiting the stronger glutes.
Training your body to engage the glutes more effectively often takes deliberate focus, especially initially.
You might not be able to do this particularly well while on the bike, but you can begin developing a better mind-body connection and neuromuscular control to automatically activate the glutes by first working on some basic bodyweight glute exercises off the bike.
Bridges, quadruped hip extensions, or even just trying to consciously squeeze your butt muscles can begin forging a stronger and more unconscious activation of the glutes during cycling and other activities.
#4: Strength Train
These types of exercises specifically target the glutes and can help you build your glute muscles if you train consistently and with the right intensity.
Use as much weight as you can handle with proper form for 6-10 reps max. Complete three sets of each exercise 2-3 times per week to support hypertrophy.
#5: Eat Enough Protein
Muscle protein synthesis, or muscle growth, relies on having the resources needed to build new muscle tissue.
Protein from the foods you eat is broken down into amino acids. Your body can then pull from this pool of amino acids to form new reparative proteins to reinforce your muscles.
So, does cycling build glutes on its own?
Overall, though cycling is not a very effective way to build your glutes, cycling does strengthen the glutes and may help you get a firmer and more toned butt. You can augment your muscle gains with strength training and adding resistance to your cycling workouts.
If you are looking for some great glute-building exercises to add to your gym workouts, we have just the guides for you. For some squat and lunge variations to get started, check out our guides, complete with videos and step-by-step instructions for your next trip to the gym: