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Cyclist Legs vs Runners Legs | Strength, Stamina, and Aesthetics

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cyclist legs vs runners legs

The cyclist and the runner are two very different athletes, but they both need to be strong. In this article we’ll touch on differences in strength, stamina, and aesthetics between cyclist legs vs runners legs.

Leg Muscles Used in Cycling vs Running

Both running and cycling utilize many muscles in the legs as well as upper body and core. But, we are going to focus mostly on the legs. Leg muscles are the engine that drives both sports.

Let’s dig in and see which one wins the battle of the leg muscles.

Runners Legs

Runner’s legs are strong and lean because of their lower body extension during running. While running most likely won’t bulk up your legs, the main muscles worked while running are the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.


The quadriceps are the large muscles on the front of your thighs. They work to extend your knee and flex your hip. These muscles are very active in running.


The hamstrings are the large muscles on the back of your thighs. They work to extend your hips and flex your knees. Glutes


The glutes are the muscle group that makes up your butt. They work to extend your hips and stabilize your pelvis and thigh bones.


The calves are the large muscles on the back of your lower leg. They work to point your toes down and push off while you walk or run.

Cyclist Legs

Cyclists often have more developed quad muscles due to holding themselves up on a bike. They also use the hamstrings, glutes, and calves while cycling.

However, cyclist use their upper body and core more than runners but still not to a great extend. It’s all about the legs.


As we said before, the quad muscles are worked while cycling. But, because cyclist are constantly pedaling they have very strong quads. Cyclists can also add resistance, which is harder with running (but can be done with ankle weights!) but does help build bulk in the leg muscles.


The hamstrings are also used while cycling. The cyclist uses them to propel themselves forward while pedaling.


The glutes are used while cycling to keep the cyclist stabilized on the bike. They also help the cyclist pedal up hills.


The calves are used while cycling to keep the cyclist’s feet firmly planted on the pedals and help with pushing off of the pedals to produce more torque.

So which is stronger: Cyclist Legs vs Runners Legs?

cyclist legs vs runners legs

The cyclist’s quad muscles or the runner’s hamstring muscle? There isn’t an answer that applies to everyone, so it depends on what you want out of your workout routine.

If you want a more aesthetically pleasing body then cyclist leg exercises will work for you because it can build larger, more muscular looking legs than running does.

If you’re looking for strength and stamina over aesthetics, then cyclist legs won’t do much good in comparison to runners who beat their legs with the weight of their whole body for thousands of reps per run. There is no seat on a run.

Decision: For muscle size, cyclists legs have the advantage. For strength and endurance, runners legs edge them out.

Cardiovascular Health Differences Between Running and Cycling

Both running and cycling are great for cardiovascular health. They both help to increase heart rate, breathing, and blood flow. They also both help to reduce stress levels and improve mental health.

One research study from Sports Medicine in 2009 seems to suggest running may have a slight edge in cardiovascular health, however it states that the modality of the exercise is very important.

For example, running on a treadmill is superior to biking on a stationary bike, but that may not be the cause when you introduce elements of doing the same exercise outside.

Decision: They are pretty much equal.

Runners legs vs Cyclist Legs: Wear and Tear on the Body

The muscles used in cycling vs running are similar, however one difference is the wear and tear on the body. Not being injured is critical In order to realize the benefits of consistently exercising, therefore it makes sense to compare the relative risk of each exercise.

Cycling is a much lower impact sport that doesn’t cause as much damage to joints, ligaments, muscles, and other important parts of the body we want to keep in tact. Running, on the other hand, can be tough on the body depending on how big you are and where you primarily run.

Heavy men running on concrete, for example, can be very tough on the knees, ankles, and other joints.

Decision: Cycling is better for overall wear and tear on the body.

Cost of Entry – Gear and Equipment Requirements for Each Sport

Each sport has it’s own equipment requirements that will require some initial investment to do it right. Running can be fairly cheap and require a minimal investment. But, if you want to have longevity in the sport without injury, it’s smart to invest in a few quality products.

Both sports (and really any exercise) is augmented by having some basic things to help track fitness:

Heart Rate Monitor

Tracking your heart rate is a great way to gage your improvement over time as well as your overall effort. This is highly recommended.

Recommendations: The Polar H10 is a very popular choice, but the Garmin is a bit more budget friendly.

Smart Watch

A smart watch can count steps, track your heart rate, and help keep track of your distances travelled while exercising. Most come with great integrations to smart phone apps and are stored on the cloud.

This can be invaluable when looking back on your past workouts.

Recommendations: The Apple watch is the most popular, but the TOZO watch is much more affordable.

Appropriate Apparel

This one is a bit easier. A T-shirt and some shorts are really all you need to get the job done in either sport.

Now let’s dig into some more sport-specific gear.

Must-Have Running Gear

Running Gear
Running Gear

Running shoes are really the main thing to get. A good pair of running shoes can help reduce the chance of things like Achilles tendonitis, Morton’s Neuroma, knee problems, and other many other ailments.

Must-Have Cycling Gear

Cycling Gear

The obvious, and most expensive thing, is a bike. Cycling bikes can cost a lot of money and would need a review of their own to do them justice. I would recommend going somewhere to try several out and talk to an expert prior to picking one up. They really are.

Cycling Shoes

Cycling shoes run anywhere from about $50 to $150 – similar to running shoes – but are unique in that they can connect to the bike in many cases. It’s important to make sure your bike and your shoes are compatible before committing to the shoes.

The Final Word

When it comes to cyclist legs vs runners legs, which is stronger? The answer may surprise you. Overall, cyclist legs are a bit larger due to the muscle groups used in cycling. However, runners have larger hamstring muscles and stronger overall legs due to their lower body extension during running.

Both sports have their own benefits and drawbacks, but it ultimately depends on your individual goals and preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cycling vs Running

Below are some common questions about the differences between the two sports.

What’s the Difference Between Cycling and Running?

As discussed, the main differences between cycling and running are the muscles used, the amount of effort it takes (anerobic and cardiovascular) to propel yourself, the toll each takes on the body, and the type of equipment needed. Find more of these answers above.

Which Is Better Cycling or Running?

This depends on the individuals goals. For pure weight loss, running is slightly better but for longevity and overall enjoyment cycling may take the edge. Ultimately, whichever one you enjoy more is going to be the “best” for you.

What Burns More Calories – Running vs Cycling?

Running burns slightly more calories than cycling during the same timeframe. However, a person can likely cycle further and longer than they can run which could mean that, ultimately, cycling would burn more calories per workout session.

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About the author

Jasper loves to write about fitness, running, and anything else that gets him moving outdoors. He's an avid hiker, backpacker, and climber who loves to stay fit so he can make sure he's healthy enough to enjoy his favorite hobbies. He also spends time writing about his true passions in life.