Cycling and Bodybuilding: Which Is Harder?

Cycling and Bodybuilding: Two Different Worlds

As a cyclist and a bodybuilder, my week consists of intense cycling and bodybuilding workouts. By doing two sports during the same week, it allows me to directly compare the intensity of both. At first glance, cycling and bodybuilding look very different: Cycling relies on endurance, and bodybuilding relies on intense bursts of strength. However, cycling and bodybuilding have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Both sports can be intense, both can be addictive.

The question then is which sport is actually harder? Both sports are in different realms of fitness; a cycling workout can be just as difficult as a bodybuilding workout. Lets pick apart this issue to reveal the truth on which sport is actually the hardest: cycling or bodybuilding?

cyclist going around corner


In bodybuilding the goal is to achieve hypertrophy, the growing of muscle tissue through anaerobic exercise. During a bodybuilding workout, your muscles produce lactate, forcing blood into them and giving you a pump. Through high repetitions and extremely heavy weight, you can achieve this hypertrophy, increasing muscle size and strength. The pain involved in training your muscles can be very painful, both during and after a weightlifting workout.

Training Variation

In order to force your muscles to keep growing after years of training, you have to switch things up. If you do the same routine all the time, you will end up in a rut called plateauing. Your body becomes used to the workload of your workouts, and you stop making any progress. To avoid plateauing, you need to constantly increase your workout intensity, finding new ways to stress the muscle.squatting weights outdoors

By working your muscles through different exercises, you keep your body guessing. This allows your muscles to remain in an anabolic state the majority of the time. A diet rich in calories can also help you remain anabolic, repairing your broken muscle tissue from your intense workout. If you did your workout correctly, this tearing of your muscles fibers will hurt badly, leaving you sore for days.

Crazy Workouts For Results!

During one workout routine, I was doing over 1,000 leg presses in one workout. My body was getting used to my training methods of low reps and high weight, so to take my legs to hypertrophy, I had to increase the repetitions to ridiculous proportions. At the end of some of these mind numbing workouts, I would have the urge to vomit up my massive breakfast. 

Bodybuilding might not be as hard as some other sports, but lifting weights is not an easy thing to do.

One example of the difficulty of bodybuilding training programs is the 12 week muscle building trainer by Kris Gethin. I did this program 4 times and I can tell you, the DTP extreme version of the workouts is hardcore. You will go blind with pain, your heart will race and your muscles will scream.

Bodybuilding Goals

The goal of bodybuilding is to build muscle. While the workouts are intense, there is a big focus on recovery during and after workouts. Doing things like DTP extreme can only last for a short while. Extremely intense exercise routines will prevent your body from recovering over time. A good bodybuilding routine consists of a lot of hard training. However it is not recommended to extend a workout beyond 2 hours at a time. A long workout can make you run out of energy and burn muscle. Compared to endurance athletes that train for several hours a day for weeks at a time, bodybuilding can be seen as an intense, short lasting sport.


Your legs burn like no amount of leg presses can make them burn. Your heart works harder than any bodybuilding workout. This is why cycling is by far a more difficult sport than bodybuilding. In order to get faster on the bike, it requires you to get into better cardiovascular shape. A cyclist also needs to increase his/her muscular strength for a higher power to weight ratio. This means going into hypertrophy while also working on endurance. road bike closeup

Cycling involves both the anaerobic and aerobic zones. Turning the pedals easily will work your aerobic zone. However begin to pedal up an incline, or begin to sprint, and your legs will soon begin to produce lactate. This lactate production puts you into the anaerobic zone. With the proper diet, this can result in hypertrophy, building large leg muscles like those seen on pro cyclists. In order to get better at cycling up-hill, you need to increase your muscular efficiency, known as increasing your lactate threshold.

Lactate Threshold

Lactate threshold is the point at which your muscles cannot get rid of any more acids accumulating in them from exercise. The burning sensation in your legs when you pedal up a hill is acid build up. Lactate created by the muscles neutralizes these acids, but at some point the acids will produce faster then your lactate production can cope with. This creates the muscle burn during exercise. The level of acid that your body can neutralize with lactate is known as your lactate threshold.

Cyclists work on increasing their lactate threshold by building up their workout intensity. They increase the intensity to the point where their bodies are at an extremely high lactate threshold level. With increased lactate threshold levels, you can pedal faster without your legs burning. The better you can stem off this burn, the faster and longer you can go. However, cyclists not only focus on stemming off the burn, they also focus on riding very long distances.


Its common for a cyclist to ride for 5+ hours on a regular basis. This requires strength of both the body and the mind. By pacing, meditation, and overall fitness, cyclists constantly want to improve their ability to ride farther, and faster. The combination of long distances and high intensity is why cycling takes the win over bodybuilding in terms of overall difficulty.

Cycling requires muscular strength, together with cardiovascular, mental, and endurance strength. A cyclist also needs to have mechanical, tactical, and meteorological knowledge in order to thrive in all conditions. The different environments a cyclist encounters makes cycling not only more difficult than bodybuilding, but also more dangerous.rainy mountain highway

Cycling and Bodybuilding: So Which is Harder, Overall? Cycling.

Bodybuilding is fun, and can be extremely tough. However, a bodybuilding routine will typically last for no more than 2 hours. The average cyclist will go out for 3 hours for an average ride. In bodybuilding you enter a world of pain, but then have instant relief as soon as your set is over. Cyclists enter that world of pain, sit down, and stay there. They endure epic 6 hour hell-rides over 10% gradients, in the blazing heat or rain. They breakdown, have to repair flat tires, and avoid angry car drivers.

Bodybuilders know what is means to take it to the limit, but cyclists know what it means to stay there.

The difficulty of pedaling isn’t the only thing that makes cycling harder than bodybuilding. Mental toughness separates cyclists from others athletes. Its the ability to push on when your legs are tired, its rainy and you have 50 miles to go. The positive mental attitude required to pedal for miles is what separates cyclists from bodybuilders.

cycling and bodybuilding physique

Bodybuilding is a Performance Enhancer

Bodybuilding is a sport that complements almost every other sport. Everyone needs more bone density and strength. From hitting the gym you’ll be able to have more strength to recruit when sprinting or pedaling hard. You’ll be better at things like kayaking, running, or rowing. No matter how you use your bodybuilding strength, its a performance enhancer.  Bodybuilding might not be the way to get a shot of adrenaline and satisfaction like cycling does, but it can make you better at any sport you choose to do. So do both cycling and bodybuilding if you truly want to reach your fitness potential!

Check out my article on why you should do both Cycling and Bodybuilding for better all around fitness. Check it out Here!

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Cycling and Bodybuilding: Which Is Harder?
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Cycling and Bodybuilding: Which Is Harder?
Lets pick apart an important question: which sport is actually the hardest, cycling or bodybuilding?

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