Endurance Cardio: Cycling vs Running
Cycling and running are probably the two activities which most come to people’s minds when they think of getting a solid cardio workout.
Dedicated cyclists will often argue that their way is the best path to follow and that running is just another way of begging for an injury. Those who’ve thrown in their lot with running will often point out that serious athletes of all stripes, not least of all martial artists, rely on roadwork to get in fighting shape.
So, what are the pros and cons of these two approaches? Let’s find out.
Cycling is easier on the body
You probably could have guessed this one right off the bat, but research published in Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity1 has confirmed that runners experience much more inflammation, muscle damage, and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) than their cycling counterparts, over 3 days of intense training.
Considering that runners are constantly sending shock-waves through their bodies via their feet colliding with the ground, it all makes pretty good sense.
It also means that cycling is probably a better activity for those who want to do regular high-intensity workouts during the week.
Running builds much better bone density than cycling
On the flipside of running being much harsher on the body than cycling, is the fact that the former has a much more positive effect on bone density than the latter.
In fact, a 2009 study2 from the University of Missouri found that running might even increase bone density more than resistance training with weights.
It turns out that the high-impact nature of running, if done properly, places just enough stress on the bones of the body to toughen them up.
On the other hand, there are some conflicting but worrying studies3 that suggest serious cyclists may suffer reduced hip, spine, and neck strength than normal people, as a result of their sport.
They’re probably about tied in terms of calorie burning
A chart published by the Harvard Medical School4 suggests that a 185lb person running 5 miles at a pace of a mile every 12 minutes burns about 355 calories. The same chart says that cycling at 12-13.9mph burns the same number of calories.
There isn’t really any clear answer to the question of how many calories each activity burns, because that depends primarily on the intensity and length of your training session.
Whichever exercise you push harder at will burn the most calories.
Running and cycling can both be great forms of exercise, but that depends a lot on what you’re after. If improved bone density is a major plus for you — for example, if you’re at risk of osteoporosis — running is likely the better option.
On the other hand, if you want to do hard HIIT cardio every day but you’re worried about the potential for injury, cycling is the way to go.
A good cardio program can easily combine the two, with running being done more moderately and less frequently, with the bike on standby for everyday conditioning purposes.
Fancy taking a spin on our fantastic range of stationary bikes? Try our Pure Cycle class which is free for all our members. If you prefer to stick with running, check out our guide to HIIT treadmill workouts or this article on how to increase stamina and endurance for running.