This is a highly controversial and subjective topic!
If you were to talk to any avid cyclist, they are likely to hold a bias towards cycling over running. Equally, if you were to speak to a successful club runner, they might be more inclined to roll out the reasons why running is better for you than cycling!
The truth is – both forms of exercise are great. As far as cardiovascular, weight loss and heart health are concerned, both cycling and running are great choices for exercise.
For anyone at the early stages of their exercise journey, it’s possibly not the most constructive approach to pitch running and cycling against each other and ask, “Which is best?”. A more important question to potentially ask is, “which is best for you?“
Especially when you’re starting out, it is far more important to choose an activity you enjoy – any exercise that you find enjoyable will be more likely to be sustainable. Regular training is where you see your gains.
However, in the spirit of approaching this question from an objective perspective, we’ve tried to identify areas where either cycling or running are superior to the other.
Running can burn more calories
The number of calories you burn running or cycling depends on how hard you’re exerting yourself.
However, trying to compare things on a ‘like for like’ basis, running burns slightly more calories than cycling.
But the difference is marginal.
A comprehensive table published on the Harvard website suggests that cycling at a 16-19mph pace burns between 360 and 504 calories in a 30 min session, whereas running at an eight mph pace burns between 375 and 525 calories in a 30 min session.
Cycling is better for preventing training injuries
Running is a high-impact exercise; it puts more stress on your joints than cycling, making it more likely to cause overuse injuries.
For anyone starting on their fitness journey with any pre-existing knee or foot problems, it might be best to consider cycling over running as your starting activity.
Common advice to help prevent injuries is relevant to both activities, though. Warm up before exercise, don’t push through pain, and increase your distance and intensity gradually!
Running is more accessible and more affordable
At all levels of experience, it is fair to say that running carries fewer ‘overheads’ than cycling as an exercise.
For beginners getting started on their fitness journey, a comfortable pair of running shoes and some suitable clothing is all that is needed to get running.
For cycling, on the other hand, you need a roadworthy bike, a helmet, lights in addition to appropriate clothing and accessories.
For those that are more competitive in either sport, the differences become more magnified.
The largest investment that a serious runner will make is in running shoes (replaced every 300-500 miles). In contrast, a serious road cyclist is likely going to need to invest in a dedicated road bike in addition to specific cycling clothing and accessories.
So for the budget-conscious, running may be a more affordable starting activity!
You can cover more distance with cycling
You can cover far more distance by cycling than you can by running.
This is one reason why cycling is great for business commutes, building that regular exercise into your daily routine (which is important for seeing long-term gains!)
For those who love visiting new places and enjoying different scenery, cycling can be a better form of exercise.
As a summary, both cycling and running have their own unique benefits. Try not to think of it as “which activity is best?” and more “which activity is best for you”.
And we’re also not sure it needs to be an either/or decision! Why not add a bit of variety into your training routine and partake in both!