Research has proven the immense benefits of regular physical activity. Getting off the couch for a heart-pumping, endorphin-inducing session can do wonders for your overall health and well-being (2). But when it comes to getting active, which activity you should choose isn’t always clear. When you’re trying to decide between cycling and running, several factors come into play. Consider your fitness goals, current health, and any medical issues in order to determine which type of exercise is best for you. To help you decide, we’ll compare cycling vs. running and look at the key differences between these two popular forms of exercise. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of which one is right for you.
Cycling Vs Running For Weight Loss
Let’s face it—one of the main reasons we exercise is to lose weight. Or at the very least, keep our weight in check. But when it comes to burning calories quickly and efficiently, is cycling or running better?There are several factors that determine how many calories you burn. One is your current weight, which affects how much energy your body needs to move.
Another is how intense your workout is. If you’re pushing yourself to sprint or cycle fast, you’ll burn more calories than if you were going at a leisurely pace. Finally, we have the duration of your workout. The longer it goes, the more calories you’ll burn.
When it comes to weight loss, research shows that running and cycling can both help. However, running tends to burn more calories overall than cycling because it requires more effort from the body (1). Come to think about it, when you run, your whole body is engaged—you’re lifting your feet off the ground and propelling yourself forward. When you cycle, most of the work is done by your legs.
We also need to consider how long and hard you can keep going for each exercise. Here, cycling tends to win out. Because it’s a low-impact exercise, you can ride longer than if you were running—especially if you’re at a beginner level. You can also push yourself harder on the bike without risking injury, as it’s easier on your joints than running.
So as far as weight loss, both cycling and running can help. You’ll have to go with your own preference and enjoy the journey.
Cycling Vs Running For Cardiovascular Health
All forms of aerobic exercise are good for your heart and lungs (3). They work by getting your blood pumping and delivering oxygen to the muscles. In the process, your heart rate increases and your lungs work harder than usual.
When it comes to improving cardiovascular health, research shows that cycling is just as good as running. However, you may want to keep your cycling sessions short, as aerobic activities that extend for more than 60 minutes can cause negative side effects. That’s because the body can only sustain a certain level of intensity for so long.
If you’re looking to improve your heart and lung health, cycling and running can both do the job.
Cycling Vs Running For Muscle Strength And Size
Many of us desire a lean, toned physique with visible muscle definition. To achieve this, we need to lose the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat while maintaining or increasing our muscle mass. Running and cycling can both help achieve this look, but in different ways.
Running can help you achieve a lean, toned appearance. By burning calories and reducing your body fat percentage, it can help you slim down and show off your muscles. It can also help build muscle in the legs, although the effects are usually quite subtle.
Cycling, on the other hand, has a more pronounced effect on muscle size and strength. Since it targets the lower body, cycling can help build strong glutes, quads, and calves. It’s also a great way to develop your core muscles since you have to balance yourself on the bike as you pedal.
The resistance training that comes with cycling—that is, pushing against the pedals—can help increase muscle mass. If you’re looking to build strength and muscle size, you may want to incorporate cycling into your fitness routine. Note that your upper body will be left out, though. For that you may want to include weight training or bodyweight exercises into your routine.
Cycling Vs Running For Bone Health
Bone density is something we all need to maintain as we age. While running and cycling can both help, research shows that the former has a more pronounced effect on bone health.
That’s because running is a high-impact exercise, meaning your feet and legs take the brunt of the impact with every step you take. This impact has the potential to put stress on your bones, which in turn can help build bone strength and density (4).
Cycling is a low-impact exercise, so it won’t have the same effect. That’s not to say that cycling isn’t beneficial for your bones—it can help maintain bone health by exercising the muscles that surround your bones. But it won’t have quite the same bone-strengthening effect as running.
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Cycling Vs Running For Joint Health
Joint health comprises both joint mobility (how well your joints can move) and joint stability (how well your joints are held in place). Running may improve both, especially if you run on a softer surface like grass or sand. This is because the impact of running can help exercise the muscles that support your joints and keep them in place.
However, running can have a detrimental effect on joint health if you run too much or too hard. This is because the constant repetitive impact can cause a build-up of inflammation in your joints, leading to injuries.
Cycling can also improve joint stability by strengthening the muscles that support your joints. In addition, it’s a low-impact exercise, so it won’t put as much strain on your joints as running. This makes it a great option for people who are looking to exercise without risking injury.
To protect your joints and keep them healthy, cycling may be the better option.
Cycling Vs Running Learning Curve
As a beginner, your skill set determines which activity you should choose. Running is a fairly intuitive exercise—all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other.
Granted, mastering the correct running form takes some time and practice. You’ll need to watch your landing (how your foot hits the ground), your arm movement (how far you swing them back and forth), and your breathing rate.
Cycling, on the other hand, can take a bit more time to learn. If you’ve seen a child learning to ride a bike, you know that it takes some trial and error—not to mention patience—to get the hang of it. As an adult, you may have an easier time learning, but compared to running, cycling can still be a bit tricky.
Even as a good cyclist, you might find yourself struggling with different terrains. Nothing prepares you for the inclines, downhills, and tight turns you’ll experience. Not to mention, navigating twists and turns while maintaining balance can be quite a challenge.
If you’re looking for something simple to start with, running may be the way to go. But if you’re up for the challenge, cycling can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Cycling Vs Running Cost
How much it costs to get into running or biking depends on many factors. For running, you likely only need a good pair of shoes and some comfortable clothes. For cycling, you’ll need the bike itself, plus accessories such as a helmet and lights.
This can add up quickly if you get a more expensive bike.If you’re on a tight budget, running is a great way to get fit without spending much money.
However, if you’re willing to invest more in your fitness routine, cycling can offer more bang for your buck. Not only can you get a good workout, but you also get to enjoy the scenery and explore further distances on your bike.
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Cycling Vs Running: Which One’s Right For You
A comparative analysis of cycling vs running reveals that both activities bring their own unique benefits. Ultimately, the right exercise for you is one you enjoy enough to stick with.
Consistency is a key factor in any exercise program. If you feel like running is the right fit for you, fantastic. But if cycling grabs your interest more, don’t be afraid to give it a try. With the right attitude, you can get into great shape by biking or running—or both! But if you start with either and quit, you won’t see the results you’re looking for.
That said, if you have a chronic health condition, it’s best to speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program. They’ll be able to give you tailored advice and help you find the best activity for your individual needs.
Both cycling and running can be excellent forms of exercise for improving cardiovascular health, burning calories, and strengthening your muscles. Ultimately, choosing the right one is a matter of personal preference.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Fat oxidation rates are higher during running compared with cycling over a wide range of intensities (2003, nih.gov)
- Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence (2006, nih.gov)
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND YOUR HEART (2022, nih.gov)
- The effect of long-distance running on bone strength and bone biochemical markers (2019, nih.gov)