Running and cycling have some things in common. For example, they're both excellent lower-body workouts. When it comes to choosing one over the other, however, it all comes down to what your goals are. Whether you're trying to lose weight, improve cardiovascular fitness or build bone will influence which activity you should be focusing on. Better yet, try a combination of both to get maximum benefits and keep your workout interesting.
For Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, it's the number of calories you burn that makes all the difference. You'll lose one pound for every 3,500 calories you burn, regardless of how you burn them or how long it takes you. A 155-pound person running at 5 mph burns about 563 in an hour. However, you can burn more calories if you run cross country -- on uneven terrain -- or if you run faster. Cycling at a moderate pace -- between 12 and13.9 mph -- will burn the same number of calories. Leisure cycling -- at 10 mph or less -- will burn just 281 calories, however.
For Overall Fitness
When it comes to cardio fitness and stamina levels, both cycling and running can be quite effective. You build cardio endurance over time, so it's important that you choose a sport that you can do for a longer period of time. For example, if you can only run for 15 minutes before being exhausted, this might not be the best choice for you -- especially if you're able to cycle for an hour or so. If you're using an indoor stationary bike, keep pushing yourself by adjusting the resistance level over a period of weeks. This will help challenge your heart and your muscles and help you reach the next level.
Running is often criticized for being hard on the knees, especially if you have a previous injury or suffer from chronic pain. If your knees are relatively healthy, however, running won't cause any damage, according to a systematic review conducted by the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, along with other institutions. Cycling is safe for the knees as long as you place the seat right. According to the Berkeley Wellness Letter, your knee should only be slightly bent to prevent strain. If the bend in your knee is too deep or if you have to extend your leg all the way when pedaling, the strain gets stronger and you might suffer pain. Adjust the height of your seat to prevent that from happening.
Bone is built during activities that are high impact, such as running. In fact, in a study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri, running proved more effective for bone building than resistance training. When the researchers compared runners to cyclists, they also found that runners had better bone density. Although weight training is still recommended for everybody trying to improve their bone health, running can help provide additional benefits.
- NPR: What Is the Effect of Physical Activity on the Knee Joint? A Systematic Review
- Nutristrategy: Calories Burned Bike Riding or Cycling
- Nutristrategy: Calories Burned Running, Jogging or in Track and Field Events
- University of Missouri: Building Strong Bones: Running May Provide More Benefits Than Resistance Training, MU Study Finds
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.