- To get a ripped body from cycling, we’ll have to accept the caveats and make compromises.
- Getting ripped refers to increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing overall fat mass.
- Cycling is mostly an endurance sport that uses two muscle groups more than the others: the legs (skeletal muscle) and the heart (cardiac muscle).
Have you ever seen a big, ripped cyclist? Yeah, well, I have. Google the name Robert Förstemann and marvel at the wonder he is.
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Of course, not all cyclists look like German sprint cyclists, and it wouldn’t be efficient for most of them to be. However, some people just want to be ripped and enjoy their favorite sport: cycling.
So can we get ripped from cycling? Yes, we can get ripped from cycling, but you have to be willing to cycle to the gates of Helheim and back.
Here’s what you need to know about it!
What Does It Mean to Get Ripped?
Getting “ripped” is an informal way of referring to strong lean muscle mass that can be seen through the skin. This means having minimal fat mass covering those juicy gains. Other well-known terms for ripped are “shredded,” “cut,” and “Chris Bumstead.”
But first, there are a few important concepts to understand. First, losing weight is not independent of muscle gain — and vice versa.
To lose weight/fat, we need to be in a calorie deficit, which means consuming fewer calories than we’re expending per day. This doesn’t provide enough energy for the body, which ultimately leads to the body using its resources as energy, resulting in fat loss.
To gain muscle, we need to be in a calorie surplus, which means consuming more calories than we’re expending per day. This provides energy for the body to repair itself and build more muscle cells.
Therefore, gaining muscle and losing weight are goals that can often conflict with one another.
Losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time — or getting ripped — is possible. However, it isn’t sustainable for long periods, as you shouldn’t be in a calorie deficit for long periods.
Bodybuilders typically refer to this as body recomposition. How much you weigh and how much fat mass you have will determine how long it will take to recomp.
People’s reasons for body recomposition vary, but some examples are:
- Low-fat mass & low muscle mass = recomp
- High-fat mass & low muscle mass = recomp
- High-fat mass & moderate muscle mass = recomp
People who can benefit from body composition are not only bodybuilders. The general population may also recomp if they want to look a certain way, be healthier (seeing as fat mass has been linked to poor health), or both.
So How Does One Get Ripped? What Does It Mean?
It means resistance training and lifting weights to gain more muscle mass. It means eating your damn protein and adhering to the recommended daily calorie intake for muscle growth and fat loss that’s specific to you.
It means weight loss and overall fat loss around your entire body. This includes belly fat (sorry, boys, but dad bods are out if you want to be ripped).
Of course, it’s important to note that you can’t choose where your body loses fat. Doing isolation exercises doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose all of your weight in that area of your body, as spot reduction is unproven.
So, Can Cycling Alone Get You Ripped?
In short, no.
You’re adhering to a calorie-deficit diet, eating appropriate protein to aid in muscle protein synthesis, and eating a good balance of carbs and fats while using cycling as your only training. You’re working the heart and improving overall cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and stamina. You’re working your legs more than any other muscle, as well as your glutes and lower back.
So overall, you’ll lose fat, considering you’re adhering to the diet guidelines stipulated above. You’ll also possibly gain muscle mass in your legs (the amount varies and is specific to each individual cyclist due to the amount of overall volume achieved).
But there are still two main caveats:
- You aren’t doing all that much for your upper body besides grip-strength training, as most professional cyclists are more efficient in their sport when they have larger legs pushing minimal upper body mass.
- The most effective way to increase lean muscle mass, besides eating enough protein and being in a calorie surplus, is training with weights and progressive overload. This means adding more stimulus to your training program over time to force your skeletal muscle to adapt.
Lucky for us, we aren’t professional cyclists, so we can train for a ripped hulk-sized upper body and still enjoy cycling.
So can you get ripped with cycling? Yes! Here’s how:
Cycle to Helheim and Back
Whether you’re mountain biking, indoor cycling on a stationary bike, or road cycling, you’re working your legs and building an aerobic base. How good that aerobic base is would depend on the duration and intensity of your aerobic exercise — exercise that utilizes oxygen to improve cardiovascular fitness.
Simply training hard and eating extra calories may make you a better cyclist, but it won’t necessarily get you ripped.
You can do as many spin classes and as much cycling endurance training as you want, but ultimately, the only thing that will have any decent growth is your leg muscles since cycling is a leg-dominant sport.
Yes, you will burn calories and be burning fat if you’re in a calorie deficit. Yet, being ripped overall requires both a muscular lower and upper body with minimal body fat … not just legs the size of Big Ramys and an upper body the size of Christian Bale in the Machinist.
Your current body size will determine if you need to be in a calorie surplus, calorie deficit, or calorie maintenance phase during your body composition to get ripped.
One thing is for sure:
You can focus a good amount of your leg muscle hypertrophy goals by cycling to Helheim and back. To induce hypertrophy (increase in muscle volume and mass), we need to gradually increase the overall stimulus for our muscles to adapt.
This means increasing load, volume, and intensity. We can increase the volume (distance) and effort intensity. However, we can’t increase the load, as we’re using a fixed load when cycling (our own body weight).
While this can still certainly increase muscle size, it won’t get you anywhere near as many gains as if you were to add some weight training into your lower body program and increase the load (weight) gradually. Adding weight training to your lower body program will also increase your cycling performance.
So cycle to Helheim and back if it’s what you enjoy, but you’re still going to have to lift weight to get ripped.
You don’t have to start lifting weights right off the bat. You can start with bodyweight exercises (i.e., push-ups, pull-ups, and squats). However, you’ll eventually need to start weight training, as adequate muscle development is reliant on progressive overload with weights.
Here are a few tips for newbie lifters who also cycle:
- Warming up with a few bodyweight reps of the specific exercise you’re about to do is optimal.
- You can also throw in a few mobility drills or get the heart rate up with some very short 5-minute cardio.
- Don’t do a full cardio session before your workouts if your goal is to increase muscle mass. Aim for 4-6 hours between your cycling and weight training sessions if they’re done on the same day.
- Don’t overthink rest periods in your weight training sessions. The more rest, the better for muscle growth. Unlike cycling, the goal is the performance of the muscle, not the lungs.
Lifting weights with cycling is the way forward to getting ripped.
Before you go off and start trying to cycle down the road and dumbbell curl at the same time, hear me out. I’m talking more in the realm of leg presses and whole-body workouts. If you want to get ripped, you can’t just work your legs and cycle, neglecting major muscle groups within the upper body.
Whether you choose to do weight training in your off-season or do concurrent training (weight training with your cardio) is up to you. Yet, if you want to get ripped and gain muscle at a more adequate rate, one thing is clear: you need to lift weights.
Here’s a sample concurrent training program that utilizes progressive overload (volume & intensity) to get ripped while cycling.
The load (weight) should be determined by coming within 6-2 reps shy of muscular failure:
Week 1: 3 x 8-10 reps
Week 2: 3 x 10-12 reps
Week 3: 4 x 8-10 reps
Week 4: 4 x 10-12 reps
Week 5: 2 x 6-8 reps + lower cycling volume (de-load week)
Day 1: Legs & Moderate Cycle
- Box Jumps
- Leg Press Machine
- Bulgarian Split Squats Dumbbells
- Lying Hamstring Curl Machine
- Calf Raises Machine
4-6 hour break
- Cycle: 1 hour @ moderate intensity
Day 2: Rest
Take a day to rest completely!
Day 3: Pull (Back, Biceps)
- Barbell Rows
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
- Lat Row Machine
- Dumbbell Hammer Curls
- Dumbbell Bicep Curls
Day 4: Cycle Sprints
- Cycle Sprint on Static Watt-Bike or Ergometer: 20 seconds @ max intensity
- 3 mins rest
- Repeat x 5-8 times
Day 5: Push (Chest, Shoulders & Triceps)
- Barbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Chest Press
- Barbell Overhead Press Machine
- Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- Tricep Cable Pulldowns
- Tricep Cable Extensions
Day 6: Endurance Cycle
20-30km cycle @ moderate intensity
Day 7: Rest
Take another full day to rest.
Eat Like a Beast & Sleep Like a Beauty
To build muscle and get ripped, we need to focus on inducing muscle protein synthesis (MPS). This can be achieved at a higher rate by eating more protein and resistance training with weights.
Eating more protein looks like this:
- 1g per pound of body weight to gain weight
- 1.2g per pound of body weight to lose weight
(You can also calculate your protein needs with this calculator.)
When we’re doing any cardio (like cycling), we’re burning more calories in that workout, although weight training does burn more calories for longer after the session is over. A mix of cardio and weight training will require us to ingest more calories.
How many more?
Well, it’s specific to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Depending on whether you’re looking to gain weight or lose weight, you need to eat above or below your TDEE amount.
Aim to go 150 – 250 below or over your maintenance (calculate that here) to either lose or gain weight, respectfully.
A healthy diet means a balanced diet with all macros included: protein, carbs, and fats. If you’re cycling and training constantly, then eating carbohydrates is a great way to fuel your workouts adequately. Carbs are the macro that converts to energy the fastest through a process called cellular respiration.
Once you’ve found the amount of protein you need, split the remainder of the calories between carbs and fats as you wish.
Loss of sleep can reduce the recovery process and have potentially detrimental effects on muscle repair. So aim to sleep like an adult (8 hours) and include de-load weeks in your program if you’re constantly training.
A de-load week is when you decrease the overall volume, load, and intensity of your workouts to avoid overtraining and recover from decreased energy levels and performance stagnation. These can be done every 10-12 weeks, depending on the intensity of your training program.
Can You Get Ripped From Cycling?
So long story short, yes, you can get ripped with cycling. Just remember the recommendations and accept the caveats and nuances.
- Include resistance training with weights in your cycling program.
- Increase overall volume & effort intensity gradually.
- Eat an adequate amount of protein, carbs, and fats.
- Focus on total caloric intake.
- Sleep and recover like an adult.