Can I Skip Leg Day To Bicycle?
When I first started lifting weights I had a number of misconceptions about squatting and leg days in general. The biggest of these was the idea that riding a bicycle is equivalent to lifting weights with your legs. It’s not. These are two very different forms of exercise with two very different effects on your legs and your body.
I was a cyclist long before I started lifting weights. It’s probably one of the reasons I was always so skinny. When I started going to a weight lifting gym I was able to bicycle for 80 mountainous miles without trouble. If measured by how far and long I could ride a bicycle, my legs were strong. In terms of muscle size, my thighs were probably my most impressive feature. I was skinny throughout my whole body, other that the muscles used for cycling.
Knowing all this, I was expecting the squat to be by far my best lift. I thought I would start at a pretty low weight for the bench press and rows and overhead press, but squatting was going to be my impressive lift. Now I wasn’t expecting to list 300lbs on my first try, but I was expecting my legs to be a lot stronger than the rest of my body.
Well, I was wrong. My squat was just as weak as all my other lifts when I first began lifting weights. Sure, I could bicycle for miles on end, but this just did not translate into being able to lift a heavy load for a short period of time.
Bicycling (and running) are just too different from the squat, the leg press, and the other forms of weight lifting. Bicycling is an endurance sport. The most weight your legs move is your body weight, and they do this on a regular and steady basis for hours. Weight lifting moves a very heavy weight for a short period of time. Cycling builds muscle endurance, weight lifting builds strength.
Now I am not saying one is better than the other. I love cycling and I love weight lifting. I do both on a regular basis. Just understand that if you want strong or large legs, long distance cycling is not the way to get there.
Cycling is the equivalent of doing 100 bodyweight squats. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it will not give the strength and hypertrophy that lifting heavy weights will.
Cycling and other endurance sports will also hamper gaining weight. This includes gaining muscle weight. If you are on a bulk, but also ride 30 miles on a bicycle every day, your bulk will suffer. Same for trying to bulk and run a marathon. The two do not do well together. Instead of using all its energy to build muscle, your body will instead burn through calories to keep you on the bike.
Look at the body of most long distance cyclists and you will see a skinny person. This is because endurance sports burn lots of calories, but do not put enough strain on your muscles to grow the muscles. Here is a photo of Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France winner:
Those thighs look relatively strong, but that is because the rest of his body is skinny. That was exactly my body type, plus a little bit of a skinny-fat belly when I first started lifting weights. To get truly large leg muscles, lifting heavy weights is the best option.
My point is that cycling is a great form of exercise, but it does not translate well into weight lifting. But like most fitness related questions, it all depends on your goals. I cycle because I love it and because it is good for my cardiovascular system. It will help me live a longer healthier life.
One note, not all cyclists are endurance athletes. Track sprinters do not ride for long distances. They are the bicycle equivalent to sprint runners. A lot of their training routine is spent lifting weights. They are proof that you can lift weights and cycle and still look great: