- Biking and running are both great forms of aerobic exercise that can help you build muscle and strengthen your heart.
- Biking may be a safer form of exercise as it places less stress on joints, making it a good option for those who are overweight or who have arthritis.
- Running burns slightly more calories per hour than biking meaning it may help you lose weight faster.
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Both biking and running can improve health, especially heart health. Because they deliver many of the same benefits, it may be hard to tell which you should opt for. Here are some of their similarities and differences, to help you decide which is right for you.
Both are good for cardiovascular health
Aerobic exercise, or cardio, keeps your cardiovascular system healthy. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, adults should do 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
Both biking and running are beneficial forms of aerobic exercise. A large 2017 study in the UK found people who cycled to work had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who walked to work or did not commute actively.
Running is better for burning calories
The number of calories you burn running or cycling depends on how hard you’re exerting yourself. For example, a 185-pound person can burn the following number of calories per hour:
- Moderate stationary cycling: 622 calories burned
- Moderate outdoor bicycling (at a 14-15.9 mph pace): 888 calories burned
- Vigorous outdoor bicycling (at a 16-19 mph pace): 1,066 calories burned
- Running (at a 11.5-minute-per-mile pace): 800 calories burned
- Running (at a 9-minute-per-mile pace): 976 calories burned
- Running (at an 8-minute-per-mile pace): 1,110 calories burned
Generally, with running, “you’re going to get more bang for your buck — you burn more calories and get your heart rate a little higher while running,” says Kaitlin Donner, DPT, the owner of New Wave Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation in Rockledge, Florida. “You can get the same benefits from a shorter amount of time while running compared to biking.”
Both are good for weight loss
Both running and biking can help you lose weight. But because you can burn calories faster while running than when biking, running may yield weight loss results more quickly than biking, says Marques Garcia, a certified Ironman triathlon coach, clinical exercise physiologist, and owner of Strong2thefinishline in Bellevue, Washington.
A 2013 study found that running was associated with weight loss, and a 2019 research review found that indoor cycling, when combined with healthy eating practices, was recommended to help people lose weight.
Both strengthen muscles
Biking and running work many of the same muscles, mainly in the lower body. These include the following muscle groups:
However, your muscles do not have to exert much force to run or bike, so neither form of exercise builds much muscle mass. For that, you need to do some strength training, like lifting weights, which requires more resistance.
Meanwhile, running works the upper body and the abdominal muscles more than biking does, because your whole body is moving as you run, Garcia says.
Cycling is better for preventing injury
Because running is a high-impact exercise, it puts stress on your joints, so the potential for overuse injuries is higher than it is with cycling. About 60% of runners will at some point experience an injury that prevents them from running.
Some common injuries are:
Still, cyclists can get overuse injuries as well. Some of these injuries include:
- IT band syndrome
- Patellar quadriceps tendinitis
- Numbness of the foot
With cycling, the bigger danger is being hit by a car or falling off the bike. So if you’re a beginner and you’re going to bike outside, it’s important to learn how to bike safely.
If you have knee or back issues, other injuries, or any chronic health conditions, Garcia says he would not recommend taking up biking or running without first getting clearance from your doctor.
Which one is right for you?
The right choice for you depends on personal preference — overall, the best type of exercise is the one that you will stick with over time.
On one hand, running requires less equipment and preparation before you head out the door, so it might be easier to fit into your routine. On the other hand, cycling might seem more fun.
Or you might want to do both. Switching up your routine “can make it much more engaging and more motivating to stick to it,” Donner says. Biking and running on alternate days, or even switching from one to the other in the middle of a workout, may liven up your routine.
Incorporating biking or running — or both — into your exercise routine offers valuable health benefits, especially if you combine them with strength training.
“A lot of times, when people start running, they think they hate it,” but they like it once they get used to it, Donner says. So don’t let the way you feel on your first run determine whether you’re going to stick to it, she says. “Give it a good week or two, and then if you still hate it, then there’s plenty of other ways to get aerobic exercise, and to get on the bike. But give it a chance.”