Getting any type of exercise can be very rewarding in numerous ways. People are getting out for some fresh air, they are feeling very relaxed, and they are burning plenty of calories just to name a few. However, not all exercises are created equally.
Is cycling better than running? This debate has been going on for a while, and it’s not a simple yes or no answer. We know that many people visiting this website are hoping to get quite a bit of exercise from cycling, but running has its own benefits as well.
This is a look at some of the similarities that the two exercises have and when each one shines just a little bit more.
1. Cardiovascular Health
Since running and cycling are both aerobic activities, they both do a great job of strengthening the heart to pump in as much oxygen to the body as possible.
Doing any type of cardio exercise, such as these two, will make sure that the heart is doing everything as efficiently as possible inside the body.
In the beginning, limiting these types of activities to around an hour is probably best. Otherwise, there’s a chance that a person could overdo it and feel a lot of pressure.
It’s something that can burn a person out before they really start to see any type of success. Trying to go too hard, in the beginning, is a great way to feel unmotivated soon after.
With that being said, higher tolerance levels will really push the pace and have an effect on cardiovascular health. The benefits are roughly the same as long as both running and cycling are done at a quality pace.
Even if one exercise is tougher than the other, it’s not making a huge difference from a heart perspective.
2. Calorie Burning Efficiency
The tricky thing about calculating burned calories is that intensity matters quite a bit. To say that running burns more calories than biking, or vice versa, is a very general statement overall. It all depends on the effort put into the exercise.
Generally speaking, running is going to burn more calories than cycling. This is because running uses more muscles, and it’s, therefore, more intense.
Running for the same amount of time as cycling will just about always result in more calories burned for the runner. The only real difference would be if a cyclist is going all out, while a runner is doing more of a light jog.
With that being said, cycling is easier on the body and easier to go for longer distances. Someone who might be only able to run for 30 minutes continuously can log two hours of cycling and not feel like they are going to pass out.
Not everyone has the time to exercise for that long, but calories burned adds up.
The number of calories burned will depend on factors such as age, weight, gender, and more. There are general estimates on how many calories a person can burn, but exact totals are hard to find.
Using a smartwatch or an app is one of the better ways people are getting accurate results these days.
3. Muscle Building
Since cycling and running are built more for burning calories, it’s hard to put on muscle when doing these activities. However, out of the two, cycling does a better job of building muscle in the lower half of the body.
Pushing pedals while biking is a good way to repeatedly get some resistance training to build leg muscles. Look at professional cyclists, and they all have huge legs.
In particular, they have large quads, and usually some pretty strong butts. Even their calves are massive compared to most athletes.
Running is a little bit different, as the muscles just aren’t engaged in the same way as cycling. Your muscles and bones do get stronger when running consistently, but the actual visual muscle being built is just not there.
The reason being is that runners are getting quite a few calories burned off at the same time, so everything is offset.
It is not recommended for professional runners or cyclists to add weight. They are trying to stay as light as possible to make their movements efficient. For every extra pound, that’s a little bit more effort to pick the pace up. (Source)
4. Building Tone
Putting on muscle mass might be challenging with these two activities, but toning up is an entirely different thing. Running and cycling do a great job of toning up the body, but running might have a slight advantage in this regard.
Running might be a little bit better for toning muscles because the whole body is engaged during a run. Since runners are also burning more calories, all of that excess weight can start to burn off.
Cycling is a little bit different in that the entire body is not engaged the same way. There are still chances to tone up, but it’s just not the exact same. In particular, a lot of cyclists feel like their upper body is mostly neglected.
To speed up the process of toning muscle, mixing in some other workouts such as weight training can help out with improvement as well. Eating healthy also makes a big difference when trying to tone muscle as much as possible.
If toning muscle is the most important thing, it’s recommended to run at a slower pace for longer stretches, rather than a fast pace for a short stretch.
Any type of run is going to make some impact, but longer workouts will do a better job overall. The same concept applies to cyclists. (Source)
5. Losing Weight
Weight loss comes down to controlling the number of calories coming into the body and calories burned up. For that reason, one of the biggest factors in weight loss is not running or cycling, but eating healthy.
Even people who run or cycle every day can still find themselves stagnant because of their diet. Fueling responsibly matters significantly to seeing a true change.
For result, they come a little bit faster when running. Once again, it’s a more intense workout that fits into a specific time schedule.
Pushing the pace early on is going to burn calories off, and those who are not exactly in the best shape have learned that losing weight is relatively easy when exercising for the first time.
As time goes on, running and cycling become a bit more equal. That’s because it’s easier to cycle for long amounts of time, and the body bounces back faster as well.
Some people have the ability to ride a bike every single day for quite a while, but they will not be able to run every single day.
The body needs more recovery time after running, and that’s where some people will get in trouble. They don’t stick to other healthy habits during those off-days of running, and it all comes back to bite them.
6. The Cost of Exercise
When comparing cycling and running, it’s important to factor a few other things into the mix. For example, the cost of activity could sway an individual one way or the other.
Cycling is going to be more expensive any way a person cuts it, simply because there is something beyond the body that’s necessary.
A bike doesn’t have to be amazing for someone to still get a good amount of exercise. For example, purchasing a used bike in decent condition might only cost $100-$200, which is a relatively modest investment. However, it will need some regular maintenance to keep up and handle so much exercise.
For runners, the only investment needed is a pair of shoes. Shoes wear out fairly quickly if a runner is going out every single day, but they are still relatively inexpensive compared to a full bike.
Those who really takes cycling or running seriously are looking at totally different expenses as well. A good cycling bike is going to cost $1000 at the minimum, and several thousand dollars at the highest level.
Runners will only pay between $100 and $150 for a pair of shoes, but they are replacing their shoes much more frequently. A good pair of running shoes might only last a couple of months, so buying six pairs a year might become the norm.
Clothing is pretty much the same for both sports, but cyclists might invest in outfits that are better at handling wind resistance. The good news is that enough manufacturers are making these outfits that the clothing is affordable.
Compared to many other activities out there for those working out, the good news is running and cycling is pretty inexpensive. So many people spend money on gym memberships, organized classes, and more on a monthly basis.
That all adds up, and that’s without even exploring specific equipment needed as well. Cyclists and runners have the option of going solo wherever (and whenever) they wish.
7. Health Concerns
The general consensus is that cycling is easier on the body and poses fewer health concerns than running. Injuries are more prevalent with running, and it’s harder for those who have previous injuries to get back into the swing of things.
Cycling takes the pounding away from exercising on a regular basis. With running, every single step is some level of impact so that people start to feel the pain. Cycling is much gentler but doesn’t come without any chances of injury.
People who should think twice about cycling are those who have a lot of lower back pain and serious hip problems. For everyone else, cycling makes a lot of sense, and it’s a way to keep the body fresh instead of always taking a pounding.
Accidents do happen more frequently with cyclists, but everyone should be looking out for other vehicles and pedestrians when they are out.
The more a person cycles, the more important it is to find safe trails and other locations to get exercise in without worrying about a serious injury.
Finally, keep in mind that there are different styles of bikes depending on the current health of an individual. Some people might feel like it’s worth investing in a recumbent bike, which allows riders to sit down and pedal instead of sitting in a more traditional spot.
It makes a lot of sense to go this route for certain people who are battling injuries. There’s nothing worse than trying to get through injuries, only to cause themselves more pain in the end.
Runners only have one way to run, but cyclists can switch it up enough to find what works best.
The Final Call: Is Cycling Better Than Running?
Asking which one is better can be a very challenging question since people always have their personal preferences. From an efficiency standpoint, running is going to be better strictly by getting as much exercise as possible in the shortest amount of time.
However, cycling has a better set up for people who are just getting started. The average person can ride more efficiently from the beginning instead of working up from very modest starts.
The best thing to do is try out both and give it a little bit of time to see what happens. Doing a two-week trial for riding a bicycle and running will usually allow people to make their own decision from there.
Some people will fall in love with one over the other, and that can be a perfect way to stay in shape. Above all else, it should be good to go as long as it works for an individual.