Cycling for Bodybuilding and Leg Development
Living in San Francisco, one has little need for a car. The city is about 7 miles by 7 miles and with the influx of new job seekers like myself, it’s making the case for selling your depreciating hunk of metal more appealing on a daily basis. Traffic is awful, parking is atrocious, and you can get around via bike or walking or ride sharing with little struggle. I soon realized with bridge tolls, gas, insurance, taxes, depreciation, and a standard car payment, my motorized vehicle was costing me upwards of $800 dollars a month. AKA an expensive commodity that was causing me a lot of trouble. After doing a little bit of math in my head and gathering some courage, I decided to go sans car for the first time in 10 years. I drove it for one last ride up to a car re-seller and sold it for a fair price, slightly above my car financing balance. I then spent about an hour scratching my head on how to get home.
I learned quickly that it was going to take some learning on my part to get familiar with public transportation in San Francisco as I commute back and forth to work. I was missing buses here and there and bus times just didn’t line up with my daily schedule. Rather than relying strictly on public transportation, I took my bill cutting even further. I rationalized that a nice cross or road bike wouldn’t be incredibly hard at 7 miles distance from house to office with a few hills sprinkled in. I started searching around, got some encouragement from friends, asked an experienced cyclist’s advice, and made the commitment to a moderately priced cross bike. I was pretty excited and took it in the follow days all the way to my office and back through the Presidio and into Sausalito, CA. Being a guy who does little cardio, I was immediately winded on the first incline and almost strained my groin. By the time I got to work, I had exceeded the average cycling time from Laurel Heights to Sausalito by about 20 minutes, essentially doubling the average.
If you’ve ever done cardio before as a sedentary bodybuilder, god forbid, I’m sure you’re familiar with the drained feeling you have immediately following. There’s this sense of feeling significantly lighter and not “full” if I wanted to go with a non-scientific explanation. This is exactly how I felt after my first cycle up to Sausalito. I knew immediately that I was going to have to up my food intake to prevent weight loss in my glorious extended puffy offseason, but I was more concerned with the effect it might have on my lifts and hypertrophy. In the coming days, I started researching and asking the opinions of members of the bodybuilding community. I got insight from a ton of other “cyclists” that were coached by Team 3DMJ which put me at ease, but I wanted a bit more. Simply googling around cycling leg development pictures returned massive cyclist legs of sprint cycling Olympians. Not only were these images deceiving, but a couple of the guys had myostatin deficiencies and could possibly be assisted athletes given their physique. So without further ado, let me clear some things up if you’re looking into this issue and worried that cycling could either help or hinder your bodybuilding or powerlifting progress.
Let me go ahead and link the studies here:
- Resistance training impact on trained cyclists
- Summary: Found that switching out some cycling for resistance training would help their maximal power output and time trial times.
- Aerobic and Resistance training versus just resistance training for muscle hypertrophy and strength
- Summary: Concluded that doing aerobic and resistance training did not result in any noticeable deficit in strength training or muscle hypertrophy. In fact, it resulted it greater protein synthesis and lowered myostatin (a negative regulator of muscle hypertrophy).
- Improved body composition of cyclists
- Summary: 8 weeks of cycling led to better LBM and lower BF in those studied.
There’s literally a plethora of other studies out there advocating cycling for leg development and/or no negative effects on your training. You can breathe a sigh of relief that some cycling will not hurt your precious gains. However, it’s important to note that most of these studies did not include long rides of 40 plus miles or more. Not that you would ever want to do this anyways and not to mention how the hell you could knock out 40-mile rides and still have time for a lifting…..but I’m saying don’t go overboard.
If you want to hear my own personal experience in the gym so far, I’ll be honest to say that I’ve felt slightly weaker. However, I believe that there is an adjustment period considering I have done limited cardio over the past year and haven’t quite figured out adjusted calories on bike ride days. I am confident I’ll figure this out over the coming days though and continue past my plateau.
TLDR: Cycling in small doses will not harm your strength or hypertrophy so long as you’re adjusting your nutrition to account for the caloric expenditure. In fact, it could help your endurance in the gym and strength/hypertrophy if done properly.