Cycling is a popular sport that has been around for centuries. It requires a lot of stamina, strength, and endurance to complete long-distance rides. When we compare cyclists to runners, one of the most notable differences we notice is the size of their legs. Cyclists tend to have much bigger legs than runners, and this often prompts the question: Why do cyclists have bigger legs than runners?
To answer this question, we spoke with a professional cycling coach, who provided us with some insights into the physiology of cyclists.
1: Cycling is an Aerobic Sport:
Firstly, cycling is an aerobic sport, which means it relies heavily on the aerobic energy system. The aerobic system is responsible for producing energy for endurance activities, and it requires oxygen to do so. Cycling involves repetitive, low-impact movements that allow cyclists to maintain a steady pace for long periods of time. This steady pace allows the aerobic system to work efficiently and produce energy for the muscles.
2: Cycling is a Weight-Bearing Exercise:
Secondly, cycling is a weight-bearing exercise that places a lot of stress on the lower body. The constant pedaling motion places stress on the muscles of the legs, especially the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. These muscles are responsible for generating power during the pedaling motion, and they become stronger with each ride.
3: Cycling is a High-Intensity Sport:
Thirdly, cycling is a high-intensity sport that requires explosive power output during sprints or hill climbs. This type of training requires the use of the anaerobic energy system, which relies on stored energy in the muscles. This type of training places even more stress on the leg muscles and promotes muscle growth.
4: Muscle Fiber Type
First, it’s important to understand the different types of muscle fibers. There are two main types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch (Type I) and fast-twitch (Type II). Slow-twitch fibers are better suited for endurance activities, as they can contract repeatedly over a long period of time without getting tired. Fast-twitch fibers, on the other hand, are better suited for short bursts of intense activity, as they can contract quickly and powerfully but tire out more quickly.
While both cyclists and runners use their leg muscles extensively, they use them in different ways. Cycling primarily relies on slow-twitch muscle fibers, as it is a sustained, endurance activity. This means that over time, cyclists’ slow-twitch muscle fibers become larger and stronger in order to better handle the demands of cycling.
In contrast, running relies on both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. While runners certainly use their slow-twitch fibers during long runs, they also rely heavily on their fast-twitch fibers during sprints and other high-intensity efforts. This means that runners’ muscles don’t experience the same level of sustained stress that cyclists’ muscles do, and their muscle growth is more evenly distributed across both slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers
5: Training Volume
Another reason why cyclists tend to have larger legs than runners is the sheer volume of training that cyclists typically do. Cyclists often spend many hours a week on the bike, and their legs are working almost constantly during that time. This high volume of training creates more opportunities for muscle growth to occur.
6: Resistance Training
Finally, many cyclists also incorporate resistance training into their routines. Resistance training involves lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises to build strength in specific muscle groups. By specifically targeting their leg muscles through resistance training, cyclists can encourage even more muscle growth in their legs.
While some runners also incorporate resistance training into their routines, it is generally less common among runners than among cyclists. This means that cyclists have an additional advantage when it comes to developing leg muscles.
In contrast, running is primarily an aerobic exercise that places more stress on the muscles of the upper body. When running, the arms and upper body play a larger role in generating momentum and maintaining balance. Running is also a weight-bearing exercise, but the impact forces are much higher than cycling. This high impact can cause injuries and limit the amount of training that runners can do. Running relies on both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. While runners certainly use their slow-twitch fibers during long runs, they also rely heavily on their fast-twitch fibers during sprints and other high-intensity efforts. This means that runners’ muscles don’t experience the same level of sustained stress that cyclists’ muscles do, and their muscle growth is more evenly distributed across both slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers.
In conclusion, cyclists have bigger legs than runners due to the combination of steady-state aerobic training, weight-bearing exercise, and explosive power output during high-intensity efforts. These factors promote muscle growth and endurance, which are essential for cycling performance. While runners focus more on upper body muscles for support and momentum, cyclists rely on their lower body muscles for generating power and speed. If you want to build bigger legs like a cyclist, consider adding cycling to your exercise routine or consulting with a professional coach for guidance.