Cycling and running are two of the most popular aerobic exercises in the world, which means there’s a good chance you’ve tried, or even just thought about trying, at least one of them.
If you’re looking to incorporate more cardio into your life and build some stamina, it can be hard to choose which one to try. Both activities have advantages, but one’s gotta come out on top!
So, in the cycling vs. running showdown, which one is truly better?
Cycling vs running: Which is better?
Both! It really all depends on your fitness goals.
In general, running burns more calories than cycling. But cycling can build more muscle and is easier on your joints. Both are great for your heart.
Choose what makes you happiest. Get active in a way that suits your lifestyle and helps you stick to your routine.
These two forms of cardio are very similar:
- You can complete a bangin’ cycling sesh or a sweaty run either inside on a machine or outdoors in any weather.
- They both get your heart pumping.
- They can both allow you to Zen out as you burn calories.
In general, running will burn more calories than cycling, but that doesn’t automatically make it the winner. Running is harder on your joints, since it’s a high impact workout, while cycling is lower impact.
Let’s get into the details of each to figure out which one is best for your fitness lifestyle.
There are positives and negatives to each of these workouts.
The number of calories you burn during either running or cycling depends on the intensity and length of your workout.
It also depends on your weight, age, gender, and other personal factors.
Here’s a comparison of how many calories a person burns while running vs. cycling:
|Type of exercise||Calories burned for a 125-lb person||Calories burned for a 155-lb person||Calories burned for a 185-lb person|
|running (5 mph)||240||298||355|
|cycling (12–13.9 mph)||240||298||355|
|running (7.5 mph)||375||465||555|
|cycling (16–19 mph)||360||446||533|
|running (10 mph)||495||614||733|
|cycling (>20 mph)||495||614||733|
Running generally burns more calories than cycling. Cycling involves sitting on a bike (welcome to your beginner’s class), which supports your weight and means you’re moving less.
You move more when you’re running, which leads to a slightly higher calorie burn.
On average, a 140-pound person will burn 132 calories every 10 minutes when running and 64 calories every 10 minutes when cycling at 10 miles per hour.
Losing weight isn’t just about exercise. It’s also about nailing the balance of calories going in and calories going out. In other words, eating healthy and working out is the way to lose weight.
Since running typically burns more calories than cycling, it makes sense to say that running is also better for weight loss… right? Well, it’s not that simple.
If you enjoy cycling more, you’re more likely to go for longer bike rides than runs. The calorie loss of a hearty pedaling session would then equal or even beat that of running.
There are a lot of factors to consider. The intensity, frequency, and safe practice of any exercise you like to do are among the most important.
Keep in mind that running burns more calories, but cycling is gentler on your joints. You could cycle for a longer period of time and burn just as many calories as you would in a shorter period of running, or even more calories overall.
A small 2013 study found evidence that both running and cycling might suppress the appetites of young men. So either type of exercise might help if you’re trying to manage your weight by controlling your food intake.
Running and cycling are neck and neck when it comes to cardiovascular health.
They’re equally good for you. Either activity can strengthen your heart over time. If you stick to the one you enjoy more, you’ll be more motivated to keep at it and reap the benefits.
But don’t overdo it. A 2014 review of studies found that exercising intensely for more than 5 hours per week or 1 hour per day can negatively affect heart health.
Maintaining lean muscle mass
Running doesn’t build your muscles, but it can help you maintain muscle and lose fat, so your muscles look more defined.
But running isn’t going to produce much of a difference in your muscles by itself. You should also incorporate weight training into your routine.
A 2018 study compared the effects of endurance exercise and calorie restriction on the muscle mass of adults with sedentary lifestyles.
Taken together, these findings suggest that exercise protects against weight loss-induced reductions in lean mass and absolute aerobic capacity.
So, run slower for longer to get that leaner look.
Losing weight and building muscle aren’t the only reasons people get into cycling or running. Here are a few other factors to consider when making the choice (if you have to choose at all).
Money, money, money…
Want a workout that’s essentially free? That’s running… for the most part. If you have running shoes, you can run outside without spending a dime. (It’s worth stocking up on winter running gear for those chillier laps.)
Of course, you can potentially spend money on running. At some point you may need to buy good-quality running shoes, which can get expensive.
It’s also easy to spend a lot on fancy running gear. And if you ever decide you can’t run outdoors, buying a treadmill or joining a gym will run you a few hundred dollars.
Cycling is arguably more expensive than running because it requires an initial investment.
You need to buy either a bike to use outside or a stationary/high tech bike (like a Peloton or similar) to cycle inside. There’s also the cost of a helmet, special shoes, clothes, and repairs.
(You’ve also gotta work out whether you plan to cycle outside or inside — again, both have benefits and drawbacks.)
In the end, cycling can be a larger investment and running can be cheaper.
Underlying chronic conditions
A little exercise can bring huge benefits for almost anyone. But if you have a chronic health condition, it’s important to talk with your doctor to make sure your chosen activity is safe for you before you jump in.
For example, if you have diabetes, exercising too much might increase your risk of developing low blood sugar and a dangerous complication called ketoacidosis.
The increased pressure running places on your joints can increase your risk of injury if have certain health conditions. Cycling is lower impact and gentler on your body, but it can lead to lower back pain.
Cycling also requires more balance. And there’s always the possibility of falling off a bike.
What you like matters
Both cycling and running have their fair share of pros and cons. Overall, neither is better for you than the other.
It really comes down to which activity works with your fitness goals — but it’s also a good idea to choose one that you enjoy.
If you hate running, you’re not going to run as often. But if your bike is your #bae, you’ll probably love cycling every day. Go with the option that brings you the most joy and make it work for you.
Overall, running may burn more calories than cycling. But it’s a high impact workout that puts more pressure on your joints and may lead to an increased risk of injury.
Cycling may not burn as many calories as running. But it’s a low impact workout that’s easier on your body.
The best choice is the one that makes you feel good and works for your lifestyle.