Every exercise regime needs an element of cardiovascular training, even if you’re a diehard strength training addict! Cardio exercise works the heart and lungs, strengthens bones and gives you speed and endurance. But which type is best?
If you saw our blog: ‘Why Walking is Better than Running’, you’ll know that we delved into both types of exercise and evaluated the pros and cons of both. Now, we’re putting cycling against running to see which comes out on top.
Running and cycling are both very popular and effective forms of cardio – so let’s weigh up their relative benefits. Firstly, both are aerobic, rhythmic and involve most of the muscles in the body, meaning that you’ll be enjoying a full body workout as you train.
However, there are differences which are worth considering. On the basis of calories per minute, running generally burns more calories than cycling does – although this differential depends hugely on how fast you perform either exercise. A speed cyclist can burn as many calories cycling as a moderate runner for example, and both can get into the magic ‘HIT’ (high-intensity zone), where the body burns fat for several hours after training.
Does Running or Cycling Burn More Calories?
The American College of Sports Medicine has calculated that an individual weighing 150 pounds and running a seven-minute mile (brisk!) will burn around 1,000 calories every hour. If the same individual cycles at a steady pace of 16-19 mph, the calorie burn will be 850. As a comparison, the equivalent walking activity at 4mph would burn around 360 per hour. Winner – running.
There are other advantages to the strenuous activity too. High effort running and cycling alike can have appetite-dulling effects, albeit on a temporary basis. Studies suggest that high-intensity exercise inhibits the release of ghrelin, which is a hunger-stimulating hormone. Winner – both activities.
Also known as fat burning and muscle building! The good news is that both running and cycling can greatly help to burn fat, but again, it depends on your intensity. Both target the lower body which will develop great calf muscles, glutes and quads. Running will also work your arms and both will work your core. Slow and steady can be useful for a higher proportion of fat burning, but short and sharp HIT sessions will get your hormones, cardio and fat burning systems into max efficiency and will burn fat for hours after you finish training. Think sprints or intervals – both of which can be more enjoyable than long, steady-state sessions. Winner – both activities.
Taking Injury into Account
Yes, heading out for a run does burn slightly more calories and fat, but it is also associated with more injuries than cycling. Runners can end up with damaged ankles, inflamed tendons and runner’s knee – especially if they run too fast and too far at the start. Biking is weight-bearing, so it supports the joints and knees and helps to minimise muscle soreness. If you do want to run, then build up to it slowly and ideally get some coaching to check your gait and to nip any pronation issues in the bud. For cyclists, read the highway code and avoid taking corners too fast in bad weather! Winner – cycling.
Considering Social Aspects
Even if you like to run and cycle alone, the social element of both activities does give you an additional option to enjoy community, fitness events, social exercise and motivation from like-minded enthusiasts. You’ll probably get better results too, as it’s far harder to dodge a session when your training buddies are waiting on you. Consider signing up to a running group or cycling club, find online groups and forums and immerse yourself in the culture of the sport to really get the most of it. You can then train for a race if you fancy the competitive aspect and really see your fitness escalate! These activities both offer fantastic potential for community, social activities and new friends with the same goals. Winner – both.
Which is Better?
Ultimately, the best type of exercise is the one that you enjoy most and are most likely to stick to. Both will increase your capacity for aerobic fitness, which will boost your resistance to chronic disease and help you to enjoy a healthier, longer life. A good starting point is to assess whether you have an injury, a strong preference…and a bike! If you can potentially carry out running and cycling equally well and without any risk to joints or existing injuries, then why not mix it up? A good exercise regime will have a mix of high, medium and low-intensity exercise, strength training and flexibility. So mix up your sprint training with a steady run and enjoy a leisurely weekend jog. If you have a bike, get out for some interval training, do a long-cross country bike hike on another day or attend a spinning class. The more varied your training approach, the better results you’ll enjoy and the more fun you’ll have in the process!