What Actual Muscles Does Mountain Biking Work?

Taking your mountain bike out for a spin is a great way to build and tone your muscles.

While some days it feels like it’s working all your muscles if you overdo it, there are some primary muscle groups that do a bulk of the lifting.

We all know it’s the leg muscles that do the majority of the work getting the bike moving, but how and why are the real questions.  So let’s start with the leg muscles doing the work of pushing your mountain bike and go from there.

Before I get too far into the details of the muscles, let me just say that I’ve been out biking and enjoying the fresh air and exercise and then i catch a branch hard enough to skin a couple of knuckles and make a bloody mess.  Not the worst injury, but I always recommend to pack your essentials like a first-aid kit so you are prepared as much as possible because it’s you vs nature out there and you have to make sure you can take care of yourself.

So in any case, here are the muscles…

Quadriceps and Gluteus Muscles

During the start of the power phase, the main muscles that use their strength to push down on pedals from the 12 o’clock position towards the 6 o’clock position are the quadriceps and gluteus muscles.

The quadriceps are the big muscles on the front of the thigh and is the main powerhouse for getting a bike going.

The gluteus muscles, or sometimes gluteus maximus as it’s technically called, is in essence the rear-end.  Yes, it does do quite a bit more than just hold you up on the seat.

If you’re putting power to the ground, you are working these muscles groups primarily.

Hamstrings and Calf Muscles

As you are about halfway through the power phase, at around the 3 o’clock position, the hamstrings and calf muscles come into play and work to assist the quadriceps and gluteus muscles in pushing those pedals and getting the bike moving.

The Heart

Though the not first thing to come to mind, the heart is one of the muscles that is working hard the entire time.

When you’re pushing things on rough terrain on your mountain bike, your heart is working hard to pump oxygen out to all of your muscles.  As a result, your heart gets stronger and it can actually help with high blood pressure issues.


To get oxygen out to your muscles, you need to first be able to take in oxygen.  That’s where the lungs come in.

When you are working hard, your lungs have to increase capacity and effectiveness to get more oxygen into your body.  As a byproduct, even under normal conditions, you body is able to take in more oxygen than before.

Mountain bikers lungs on average are 25% more effective in taking in oxygen than the average non-exerciser.


The brain is not commonly thought when it comes to exercise, but mountain biking increase brain functionality like other forms of exercise.

There have been many scientific studies that show that the brain is far stronger after even 30 minutes of exercise.  In one recent scientific journal, test subjects completed tests of memory, reasoning, and planning both better and quicker after 30 minutes on a stationary bike.

The main reason the brain gets stronger is because with increased oxygen in the blood and increased blood flow, the brain is being fed a high-oxygen diet and as a result is able to function at a higher capacity.

That’s really a great thing because when you’re flying over rough terrain, you need to react faster to obstacles.

Upper Body Muscles

Contrary to popular belief, the upper body is just as important as the lower body when mountain biking. The arms and shoulders are constantly being used to turn and balance the bike. This constant usage results in stronger strength and endurance of the arms and muscles.

Additionally, the core muscles of the body, chest, abs, and lower back, all are constantly moving as you peddle and steer.

There are many health benefits to mountain biking. The legs will largely get exercised from pushing on the pedals, but the heart and upper body get significant amounts of exercise too from steering and navigating.

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