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Best Leg Workouts for Cycling Strength & Endurance

Reading Time: 5 minutes 17 seconds


Date: 2021-01-29T00:00:00-05:00

Personal training clients have different preferences when it comes to exercise. They also have varying goals. Some engage in exercise to lose weight. Others are more intent on building muscle. Indoor cycling, which is increasing in popularity, does both.

Indoor Cycling Good Source of Cardio and Strength Training

Approximately 9.93 million Americans engage in group-based stationary cycling. This number has been rising steadily since 2013, when just over 8 million participated in this sport. That's in addition to those who workout on an exercise bike in the comfort of their own home.

One benefit of using a stationary bike is that it is a good cardio workout. The faster you pedal, the more you raise your heart rate. This contributes to a stronger heart and lungs. Aerobic exercise also assists with weight loss. That makes indoor cycling helpful for clients who want to lose excess pounds. It even boosts immunity, improves sleep, and provides many other healthful benefits.

If you want a strength training workout for your lower body, indoor cycling delivers here as well. With each pedal stroke, you build your quadriceps, gluteal muscles, and hip flexors. Your hamstring and calf muscle are engaged too.

During times when you are standing off your seat, you work your upper body. You rely on your arms, chest, shoulders, and back to keep you upright. You also build your core with indoor cycling. Engaged abdominal muscles provide better balance and support.

For purposes of this article, we are going to focus solely on the leg muscles. Creating a training program geared toward this muscle group offers many advantages.

Want to ramp up your cycling knowledge? Take on the ISSA's Indoor Cycling Instructor Certification. Learn the science behind an effective cycling workout and the skills to instruct if teaching is your passion.

Benefits of a Cycling Workout that Improves Leg Strength and Endurance

Strong legs make it easier to get through your cycling workout. Your muscles can provide the power needed from the first pedal stroke to the last. The stronger each leg muscle is, the greater your ability to push through the resistance.

Leg training workouts that increase endurance prepares the lower body to engage in longer cycling sessions. It prepares the rider to go further distances. Plus, you will find that you aren't as tired after you are done.

Best Leg Workouts for Cycling Strength

A solid leg strengthening workout address three key muscles. They are the quads, hamstring muscles, and calves. These are the same muscles used during the pedal stroke. Leg building exercises that work each of these muscles and can help boost cycling strength include:

  • Squat. The squat works every muscle in the leg. It also strengthens the glute muscles and the abs. For clients new to strength training, begin with a basic bodyweight squat. This enables them to learn proper form. Include squat variations for more experienced clients. The goblet squat and Bulgarian split squat are two to consider. This adds variety to the leg exercise program while working each muscle in a different way.

  • Deadlift. If you want to work every muscle in the lower body, the deadlift is one way to go. Performing a Romanian deadlift puts even more muscle strain on the glutes and hamstrings. Single-leg deadlifts increase intensity too. Because single-leg exercises require a good deal of balance, they should only be used for clients who can perform them while remaining upright. This reduces the risk of injury.

  • Lunge. A lunge works the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. For more of a focus on the latter two muscle groups, add a reverse lunge to the workout. Just be sure to do this exercise on each leg. Do a set of lunges stepping forward with your right leg, rest, then do lunges with your left leg. If you don't work the opposite leg, you risk imbalance in the muscles. A walking lunge is another option for clients with good balance. If lunges create knee pain, this exercise should be not be used in the leg workout.

  • Leg press. The only difference between this thigh exercise and the others on this list is that it does require the use of a machine. If you work with clients in the gym, this shouldn't be an issue. However, if they do their workouts at home, a leg press may not be an option. The key to making the leg press effective is keeping the feet hip width apart. Bend the knees to a 90-degree angle to fully engage the quad muscle.

  • Calf raise. Have you ever had a burning sensation in your calves after cycling? This highlights the importance of strengthening this muscle. Calf raises will do just that. Hold a dumbbell in each hand while performing this exercise. Increase the weight slowly over time to place more effort on this muscle.

Building maximal strength requires doing fewer reps (1-5) with higher loads (80 percent of one repetition maximum or higher). This forces the muscle to adapt and grow. Rest between single exercises is also generally longer. A typical range is between 3 and 7 minutes.

Building strength endurance requires a slightly different approach. In this case, repetitions are generally higher (13+) but the load is much less (40 percent one repetition max or lower). Rest between single exercises decreases as well. Between 2 and 5 minutes is usually enough.

Best Leg Workouts for Endurance

Increasing endurance involves creating a training program that increases the time spent cycling. This may require clients to cycle outdoors between in-gym training sessions. If they have a mini exercise bike at home, that works too.

If you track progress by distance, vary the distances the client rides. For instance, if they cycle for 5 miles on Monday, have them ride 8-10 miles later in the week. Another option is to track progress by time. Mix up 30, 60, and 90-minute workouts to help them increase endurance.

Plyometric exercises are also good for building endurance. They increase power too. One that is good for the legs is a squat jump. A squat jump helps increase leg explosiveness. So too do box jumps. If you use box jumps, choose a box height that is difficult for your clients but not too high. Start with a lower height to get them used to the box and move up from there.

Combining Strength & Endurance Training for a Complete Leg Workout

A complete cycling workout program includes leg exercises geared toward both strength and endurance. This could involve focusing on strength one day and endurance the next. An example of this is:

  • Monday - leg exercises (strength)

  • Tuesday - cycling for 30 minutes (endurance)

  • Wednesday - off

  • Thursday - leg exercises (strength)

  • Friday - cycling for 45 minutes (endurance)

  • Saturday - off

  • Sunday - light intensity cycling for 90 minutes (endurance)

Taking two rest days each week gives the muscle in the leg time to repair. If you work this muscle group every day, you risk overtraining. Injuries can occur, which means no cycling at all.

Interval training is another option. This type of workout helps clients boost strength and endurance in less time. Here is an example of a leg day workout based on intervals:

  • Warm-up with light cycling - 5 minutes

  • Moderate cycling intensity - 90 seconds

  • High cycling intensity - 30 seconds

  • Alternate between moderate and high intensity 4-9 more times

  • Cool down with light cycling - 5 minutes

Because interval training is higher in intensity, it's best to space out this type of workout. Do it only once or twice per week so you don't work the muscle too hard.

Interested in learning more about indoor cycling? The ISSA offers an Indoor Cycling certification program. This course teaches the ins and outs of an effective indoor cycling program.

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