What Does Cycling Do for Your Body and Legs?

Couple mountain biking together

Cycling is an effective, low-impact way to stay fit and healthy. It provides many benefits such as increasing strength and endurance, as well as decreasing body fat. Cycling mainly uses the legs but also incorporates upper-body muscles such as the chest, back, biceps, triceps and shoulders for stabilization and performing maneuvers.


Cycling is a great exercise for your body and legs. You can control your cadence and gears to create leg strength and endurance.

Greater Leg Strength

An increase in leg strength is achieved by using a low cadence and high resistance. Cadence refers to how fast the pedals are rotating. To increase leg strength, you should use a cadence below 80 revolutions per minute, says a February 2016 Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism article.

Focus on using a gear that provides considerable resistance. For example, on an 18-speed bike, set it in high and fourth gear, high being the largest gear located by the pedals and fourth being the fourth gear outward from the rear wheel. Gear back if you find the effort too much until you increase your fitness level.

Increases Leg Endurance

Opposite of increasing leg strength, increasing leg endurance requires a high cadence and low resistance. It is ideal to use a cadence of more than 100 rpm and a relatively low gear. For example, on an 18-speed bike, place it in low and sixth, low being the smallest gear by the pedals and sixth being the sixth gear outward from the rear wheel.

That being said, a higher cadence could leave you gasping for air. Switch back and forth between a higher cadence and lower resistance and a lower cadence and higher resistance to find what is right for you at your level of fitness.

Cycling Improves Coordination

Cycling requires the cooperation of most muscles in your body. When you first try to ride a bike, you lack the coordination to ride it and fall off. First, your legs must work in sync to effectively pedal. As one leg is at the bottom of a pedaling motion, the other leg must instantly take over and push down on the opposite pedal. You must be able to maintain balance of the bike using your core and pedal at the same time. Your arms must also work together to hold onto the handlebars and brake.

Riding Decreases Body Fat

Cycling burns a lot of calories, up to 466 — close to 500 calories — in 30 minutes of riding if you weigh 185 pounds according to Harvard Health Publishing. This will aid in weight loss by potentially creating a calorie deficit. This means if you consume 2,500 calories per day, and burn 500, then that will leave only 2,000 for your body to use for your day-to-day functions. This means it will revert to burning fat for energy.

It takes 3,500 calories to equal one pound, so a daily deficit of 500 calories means you can lose one pound per week. This is a slippery slope, however. You may get overly excited and figure, well why not two pounds a week? Harvard Health Publishing advises that calorie intake should never fall below 1,500 calories a day for men and 1,200 for women. It's great that you're losing weight through cycling, but you also need fuel for your workouts.