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Biking vs. Running: Which Is Better for You and Why?

Biking and running are both very popular sports. They both provide cardiovascular exercise and can have many health benefits. That being said, biking and running are obviously quite different. So, when it comes to biking vs. running, which one is better for you?

Health benefits

Biking and running both provide an easy way to perform cardio exercise. The American Heart Association recommends that adults perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio training or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio training per week. That might sound like a lot, but if you spread it out over the week, you only have to work out for 15 to 30 minutes 5 times a week, depending on the intensity of your routine.

Cardiovascular exercise has many benefits, including:

  • Decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, non-communicable diseases, and depression 
  • Increased mood and energy (by releasing feel-good endorphins)
  • Helps maintain a healthy weight
  • Promotes healthy brain function
  • Relieves asthma symptoms
  • Increases metabolism
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Reduces chronic pain
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases lung capacity

Weight loss and calorie burn

There are many factors that can affect the number of calories you burn while exercising, from your own metabolism to the surface you are running or biking on.

Generally, you’ll burn more calories running than you will cycling. When you are cycling, you are in a sitting position and the bicycle supports your weight. When you run, you are moving more parts of your body, which leads to a slightly higher calorie expense.

The average person will burn approximately 100 calories per mile running and about 50 calories per mile cycling. As you can see, running burns twice as many calories as cycling. There are other factors to consider in the biking vs. running debate, though.

You’ll burn more calories if you’re running or cycling uphill than on a flat terrain, since going upwards requires more effort and energy.

Muscle building

Running might activate more muscles than biking, but biking can lead to greater muscle mass. When you push the pedals, your legs have to fight the resistance, which doesn’t happen when you run.

Here are the muscle groups you target while biking:

  • Upper legs — quadriceps and hamstrings
  • Calves — gastrocnemius and soleus
  • Butt — gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus
  • Shoulders — deltoids
  • Arms — triceps and biceps
  • Feet — plantar flexors and dorsiflexors

Out of all of these muscle groups, biking mainly strengthens the muscles in your upper legs and calves. These are the areas where you will probably see more growth. Running also works these muscles, but it will likely result in leaner muscle mass.

Things to consider

Just like with any other sports, there are some potential disadvantages that you have to consider when choosing to bike or run. 

Running puts more pressure on your joints, so it’s usually not a good activity to pick if you suffer from arthritis or joint injuries. Running can also be dangerous if you have poorly managed diabetes, recent acute pulmonary diseases, or recent heart disease.

Running puts more pressure on your joints, so it’s usually not a good activity to pick if you suffer from arthritis or joint injuries.

Biking, on the other hand, tends to be gentler on your body. It doesn’t affect joints as much as running does. Still, severe arthritis can worsen with biking. People with lower-back injuries could also experience worsened symptoms after biking.

Injuries 

Any sport can lead to injuries. Regardless of whether you prefer biking or running, it is important to gradually increase the intensity and length of your workouts. This will help prevent injuries. It’s also important to follow the necessary steps to cool down after each workout.

The most common running injuries include:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Shin splints
  • Achilles tendinopathy
  • Patellar tendonitis
  • Stress fractures
  • Runner’s knee
  • Hamstring tendonitis
  • Iliotibial band injuries

Cycling injuries tend to include:

  • Impact injuries (sprains, contusions, and fractures)
  • Neck pain
  • Knee pain
  • Back pain
  • Ulnar neuropathy
  • Perineal chafing or folliculitis
  • Traumatic urethritis
  • Genital trauma

Research has found that running produces more post-exercise tissue inflammation than biking. Biking injuries, on the other hand, can be more serious than running injuries if you’re inexperienced and don’t use adequate protective gear.

Cost 

Cycling can be much more expensive than running. If you want to ride your own bike, it should be the right size for you and of good quality. You’ll also need protective gear, such as a helmet and knee and elbow pads. Spinning classes can also be quite expensive.

Running is much more affordable than biking. In theory, you don’t need any equipment to start running. However, getting a good pair of shoes made from shock-absorbing materials that provide adequate arch support can help prevent many injuries down the road.

Socializing

You can find ways to socialize with both activities. The easiest way to meet other people who share your interests is by joining a cycling or running club. These clubs tend to organize joint activities that can be very enjoyable.

Keep in mind that during high-intensity aerobic workouts, you shouldn’t be able to talk comfortably without running out of breath. So while the workout itself might not be the best time to socialize, clubs will usually allow time for members to talk before and after sessions.

If you prefer going to the gym, the stationary bike and treadmill work similarly to biking and running, respectively. You can still meet people at the gym, although many people are very focused on their workouts and don’t want to be disturbed.

The takeaway

Running and cycling can both help you maintain a healthy weight, but they both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Running burns slightly more calories, but cycling is gentler on your joints and muscles. Make sure to avoid these activities if you have any health conditions or injuries that would make it dangerous.

At the end of the day, it is important to choose the activity that you like best, since you’ll probably be more consistent doing something that you enjoy.

Whether you choose biking or running, remember that cardio exercise is very important to your health. Make sure you regularly engage in aerobic exercise to reap all the benefits of cardiovascular training.

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2306433/pdf/canfamphys00243-0088.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2011683

https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/cycling-vs-running#calorie-burn

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/a26306128/cycling-vs-running/

https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/which-is-best-cycling-or-running-23455

https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/exercise/art-20050999

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