Everyone knows exercise is important. How you exercise is up to you. There are many, many choices, some of which have proven benefits and some of which are dubious. This article will pit two tried and true exercises against each other: cycling versus running.
Overall Energy in Cycling versus Running
In the debate of cycling versus running, running comes out on top for energy expenditure for a given period of time and exertion level. This is because you support all of your weight when running. When cycling, the bicycle supports much of your weight via the saddle while your legs pedal and propel you forwards.
If you are looking for the quickest way to burn calories, running is it. Remember that calorie consumption is not an overall marker of fitness (or enjoyment).
Recent research shows that interval training is the quickest way to overall fitness. It is a bit easier to do interval training on a bike because you can coast between efforts. That coasting or light effort will allow you to do higher quality efforts because you get better rest intervals.
Running and cycling use muscles differently. Much of both exercise uses the same muscles but have different impacts on the muscles. That is why a runner that jumps on a bike and goes for a big ride will have sore legs, as will a cyclist that goes for a run and has sore legs. Which exercise is better for your musculature? It is hard to say. Enough of either will result in great muscle tone and strength as long as you are doing the exercise right. If you get the idea that you would like to venture into competitive cycling, you will want to cut out all running to focus on developing the best cycling fitness and musculature that you can.
Running is the winner here, unless the runner goes over the edge and gets stress fractures. Impact exercises are necessary for bones to maintain their density. Cycling is a low impact exercise; cyclists should keep this in mind and supplement their riding with some impact so their bones do not become brittle particularly in the off-season when your rides become few and far between.
Lots of runners resort to cycling after their joints have seen enough impact. Cycling is much more gentle on ankles, knees, hips, and backs. Runners often end up with problems at these high impact areas. You are more likely to see an old cyclist than an old runner for this reason.
Again, running is the winner here. You can get a quicker workout in because of the higher energy expenditure along with the overall impact of the exercise. These are the factors that determine the upper limits of duration for either exercise. Runners usually top out at a marathon. Cyclists usually top out at a century, which is a much longer duration.
See the Sights
This one goes to cycling, by a long shot. On a bike you travel fast enough to cover great distances but slow enough that you can take almost all of it in. And you can stop to check out the scenery easily without a parking spot. You can stop running to see things up close, but you will not be that far from where you started; running covers far less ground. Cycling tourism is a popular mode of seeing new places. Running tourism is much less so.
Your Bank Account
Running is far cheaper. If you run a lot, you will go through a lot of shoes, but even then it probably will not stack up to an investment in cycling. If you are serious, both are more enjoyable with technical clothing, so that comes out even. Sometimes gear is the draw for an activity, so cycling has that covered – less money in your bank account, but more gear to play with.
This is an important topic. If you are having fun exercising, you will keep coming back for more. Cycling covers more scenery, is more exhilarating with fast descents and challenging climbs and has many more skills to learn. Learning a new skill is one of the markers of an activity that keeps the mind fresh and staves off aging.
The Bottom Line
Getting exercise is critical to a healthy life. In the end it does not matter whether you choose cycling versus running; get out there and exercise. There is no requirement to chose one activity and stick to it. If you are a runner, you can mix in some cycling and vice versa.