Cycling vs Running: What’s the Better Exercise?

Cycling Vs Running: What's The Better Exercise?

You want to pump up that heart rate, burn those calories, and keep that body lean and toned. We don’t blame you.

The debate is on: is running better for you than cycling, or is it the other way around?

Today we’re going to find out.

Cycling vs running is a big  controversy in the cardio community, and it really shouldn’t be.

Not to spoil the ending of this article or anything, but in the end, both are excellent for you, and both have their drawbacks as well.

In fact, sometimes people graduate from one to the other (and not because one is particularly better, just maybe better for them). Let’s debunk this rivalry right now.

If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the cycling vs. running comparison, we got you covered:

Cycling Vs Running

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Cycling as an Exercise

Cycling is a fantastic exercise.

There are points that we want to mention to show you its strengths and weaknesses, although cycling and running have an equal number of trade-offs and benefits.

Choosing cycling as an exercise is a good idea.

Lower Stress Levels

Cycling as an Exercise

Stress manifests itself in physical ways in the human body, and can lead to a lot of serious conditions.

Despite putting your body through physical stress from exercising, it actually decreases your overall stress in the long run and can help you live longer.

Lower Resting Heart Rate

The average heart rate is around 60 up to 100 beats per minute.

However, cyclists (and runners, for that matter) that really put in the work actually have a lower resting heart rate, which is believed to help with various issues related to aging that one would normally face.

In exchange for 1-2 hours of hardcore exercise on a consistent basis, your resting heart rate may only be 30-40 beats per minute because your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a fit, healthy body.

Joint Mobility

Because cycling isn’t hard on your joints like running is, you can experience improved joint mobility.

As they say, a body in motion stays in motion, and cycling ensures that your joints are well-used, lubricated, and the surrounding muscles are nice and strong.

Better Mental Health


Cardio exercises literally produce more feel-good chemicals in the brain.

Exercise is one of the main ways to help raise yourself out of the effects of depression (note: not a cure for clinical depression), and do the most for your mind and body to truly feel your best, even when you’re not pedaling.

Stronger Bones

Your bones have their own nerves, and those nerves are fed blood through your circulatory system.

Cycling forces your body to dilate blood vessels and temporarily increase blood pressure in your legs, which can help maintain bone health.

Endurance Training

The effects of cycling only enact while you’re pedaling.

No runners are burning calories from standing still, and neither are cyclists. If you can maintain a constant rhythm just like runners do, you can effectively increase your endurance to help you cycle for longer without getting exhausted.

This is also relative to an improved lung capacity which may happen from cycling, but is more common from running.

Running as an Exercise

Whether you want to cycle or run, you’re getting intense benefits.

While running does engage more muscles than cycling, both are fantastic. These are some of the benefits you can expect.

Decreased Stress

Running as an Exercise

Just like with cycling, your physical stress level is proven to decrease.

This means despite manually putting your body through its paces, you end with a lower level of stress which is better for your health.

Lower Resting Heart Rate

Running increases your heart rate to the point that you can feel it like a hammer in your chest, but the trade-off is a lowered resting heart rate when you’re not engaged in exercise.

This is a sign of a healthier heart. Your resting heart rate may drop to 30-40 beats per minute.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

With at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity running per week, you lower your risk for coronary heart disease by up to 14%.

These effects appear to compound, but at a certain point too much running is a bad thing. Intense runners have healthier hearts in general.

Improved Lung Capacity


You may not be forcing your lungs to work like swimmers do, but you are forcing them to work.

Your body needs to intake more oxygen for your blood to send to your heart, and that’s your lungs job—running effectively without fatiguing yourself will improve your lung capacity.

This is an effect that takes time and consistent effort to achieve.

Once your lung capacity increases adequately, it means you can run longer without feeling fatigued or having your muscles expel lactic acid.

Your lung capacity is inadvertently responsible for lessened muscle fatigue as well.

Improved Posture

As long as you run with proper form, it can actually improve your posture. In short, this affects your spine health which means a lessened chance of slipped discs, back spasms, and other issues that tend to plague people with poor posture.

Keep in mind that if you begin running with bad posture to begin with, it’s going to be hard for you to get in the rhythm, but it will work in the end.

Boosted Mental Health

Just like with cycling, running promotes feel-good chemicals in the brain.

Exercise is directly linked to remedying depression symptoms, so when running is part of your everyday life or is at least present three times per week, your mental health and overall mental state will improve.

These effects are immediate, and compound as time goes on.

How do They Compare?

How do They Compare?

Both are cardio workouts with some resistance thrown in the mix.

Overall, these are the main areas of focus for runners and cyclists and how each activity compares to one another.

Caloric Burn

Running does burn more calories than cycling. You’re engaging more muscles (directly and indirectly) while running.

With cycling, your arms are stationary, but with running you’re moving them and moving adjacent muscles as well. The whole process is less fluid but more beneficial if weight loss is your goal.

Cycling is gentle on the body, though, which is a major concern for certain athletes.

Cardiovascular Health

Equally beneficial. You will increase your cardiovascular health substantially from both cycling and running.

Muscle Gains

Runners legs and cyclers legs are similar, but overall, cycling can provide stronger, more defined leg muscles and calf muscles.

This is because with running, your only resistance is the terrain in front of you. You can’t turn a dial up like you can with a treadmill or spin bike.

Cycling gives you multiple resistance levels that allow you to train your leg muscles more definitively.

That being said, cycling engages less muscles than running, so all that resistance is focused in the legs. Both training types should be countered with an adequate amount of upper body strength training.


Running fatigues your body faster. If you’re trying to gradually train (as in not train fiercely on a competitive level), cycling can help you do that.

You can go through the same trail every single day without feeling fatigue, and gradually turn up the intensity without deviating from that same trail. Running will fatigue your body, but it comes as a result of engaging more of your muscles.

Which One Should I Focus on?

Which One Should I Focus on?

If you have issues with your knees, ankles, or if you summer from shin splints, cycling would be a much better option for you.

It’s a great way to focus on cardio while still working out your legs, you just don’t have that resistance of your feet hitting the pavement like you do with running.

However, running is typically how you work up more of a sweat. If you can run a mile, it may do more for you in terms of burned calories and leg muscle development than cycling.

This is situational, of course, because cycling is still a top-notch exercise for both cardiovascular training and leg muscle development.

At the end of the day, you should focus on whichever one is more enjoyable for you.

Even Tony Robbins says that “Working out does not have to mean going to a gym and running on a treadmill for half an hour.

You can learn how to love working out just by taking part in activities you like.”

Focus on what fulfills you. Both have excellent benefits, and both are part of a healthy, active lifestyle.

Whichever activity you will stick with is the one you should dedicate your time to.

Mix it Up

Running has its benefits, and so does cycling.

Depending on how much resistance you can handle, if you need lower impact cardio, and what your goals are, you might even find yourself doing both of them to stay in shape or shed those extra pounds.

Either way, you’re going to do your body a whole lot of good for whichever option you choose.


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