The Benefits of Cycling vs. Running

A comparative guide to cardiovascular exercise.
By Mariah Xzena Briones, RMT
Certification Specialist

When choosing between cycling and running for your primary form of exercise, it’s important to understand the distinct benefits each activity offers. Both are excellent for cardiovascular health, but they differ in terms of joint impact, muscle engagement, calorie burn, and overall convenience.


Here’s a detailed comparison to help you decide which might be better suited to your needs.

Cardiovascular Health

Cycling and running are both exceptional for cardiovascular fitness. Running tends to have a higher impact on cardiovascular health because it generally involves more intense exertion. This intensity leads to a quicker heart rate increase and more substantial improvements in heart and lung function; however, cycling also significantly enhances cardiovascular health, especially when performed at a vigorous pace or on hilly terrain. Both activities contribute to reducing the risk of heart disease, improving circulation, and lowering blood pressure.

Joint Impact

A critical difference between cycling and running is the impact on your joints. Running is a high-impact exercise, meaning it places a significant load on the knees, ankles, and hips. This can lead to joint stress and injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and runner’s knee. 


On the other hand, cycling is a low-impact exercise that minimizes stress on the joints. This makes it an excellent option for people with existing joint issues or those looking to prevent injury while still getting a robust workout.

Muscle Engagement

The muscle groups targeted by cycling and running differ substantially. Running primarily works the lower body muscles—quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes—and also engages the core for stability. Cycling, while also targeting the lower body, offers a more balanced workout that includes the upper body, especially when climbing or sprinting. Cyclists often develop strong leg muscles and enhanced overall muscle endurance due to the continuous resistance provided by pedaling.

Calorie Burn

Calorie expenditure is a key consideration for many when choosing an exercise. Running typically burns more calories per minute than cycling because it involves bearing the body’s full weight and requires more energy. 


For example, a person weighing 155 pounds burns approximately 606 calories running at a moderate pace (5 mph) for an hour. The same person would burn about 292 calories cycling at a moderate pace (12-14 mph) for an hour. However, the total calorie burn can be comparable if the cycling session is longer or more intense.

Weight Loss and Fat Burning

Both activities are effective for weight loss and fat burning. Running, due to its higher calorie burn rate, might offer quicker weight loss results; however, cycling can be sustained for longer periods, which can lead to significant calorie expenditure over time. For instance, a long, steady bike ride can burn as many calories as a shorter, more intense run. Consistency and a balanced diet are crucial for achieving weight loss goals with either exercise.

Convenience and Accessibility

Running is highly accessible, requiring only a pair of running shoes and comfortable clothing. It can be done virtually anywhere—on city streets, parks, or trails. Cycling, while needing a bike and safety gear like a helmet, offers the advantage of covering more ground and enjoying varied scenery. It can be more enjoyable due to this variability, and many people find it easier to maintain for extended periods compared to running.

Mental Health Benefits

Both cycling and running provide significant mental health benefits. They help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression through the release of endorphins. The rhythmic, repetitive nature of both exercises can also have a meditative effect, promoting mental clarity and well-being. Cycling often has the added benefit of scenic routes, which can enhance the mental health benefits by providing a change of environment and visual stimulation.

Social Aspects

Cycling tends to be more social, as group rides are common and can be more conducive to conversation. This social aspect can enhance motivation and make the activity more enjoyable. Running can also be a social activity, especially in running clubs or group runs, but it is often done alone, particularly at higher intensities where conversation can be challenging.


Choosing between cycling and running depends on your individual fitness goals, physical condition, and personal preferences. Running may be ideal for those seeking a high-intensity, calorie-burning workout in a shorter period, while cycling offers a lower-impact, joint-friendly alternative that can be sustained for longer durations. Incorporating both activities into your fitness routine can provide a balanced approach to achieving optimal health and wellness.

Sources and More Information

Cooper, D. (2022, October 26). Cycling vs running: Which type of cardio is best?


Cycling vs. running: which is a better workout? (2024, April 18). Women’s Health.


Millet, G. P., Vleck, V. E., & Bentley, D. J. (2009). Physiological differences between cycling and running: lessons from triathletes. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 39(3), 179–206.

Peloton, T. (2023, September 11). Cycling vs. Running: Which Is Better for Improving Fitness?

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