Running vs. Biking: Which Should I Choose?

women running

MoMo Productions / Getty Images

Whether indoor or outdoor, there is a cycling workout to fit your lifestyle and goals; but did you know the same can be said for running? Regardless of whether you want to improve your cardiovascular health, develop lower body muscles, or simply engage in exercise that has the potential to enhance your daily life, both of these training modalities can add value to your workout regimen. Here, we help you weigh the pros and cons of both running and biking, so you can decide what is best for you.

Pros and Cons of Running

Running uses both your core and lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, and the glutes. It's worth noting that your glutes (or the gluteus maximus) is the largest muscle in the body.

These muscles are responsible for a host of duties, including pelvic alignment and support as well as the forward movement required for walking and maintaining balance. Here is what you need to know about the pros and cons of running.

Pros of Running

One major benefit of running is that it takes little equipment to get started, and can be executed in a variety of spaces. Whether you prefer to hit the trails, track, city streets, beach, or treadmill, all you need is a pair of shoes.

Running is a form of aerobic exercise that can count toward the recommended 75 to 150 minutes per week recommended by health experts. Running for as little as 5 to 10 minutes per day is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Another heart-health benefit of running is that it has the potential to increase HDL cholesterol levels.

Depending on your weight and the overall distance you run, running can burn slightly more calories than walking. Another great reason to lace up? Running is positively associated with improvements in mental health.

Potential Drawbacks of Running

Because both feet leave the ground at the same time during running, it is considered a high-impact exercise. Some of the potential risks of this type of exercise are injury and joint pain, as there is greater force applied to the body upon landing. However, some studies show that runners are no more likely than non-runners to experience knee pain.

Pros and Cons of Cycling

Cycling uses your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calve muscles. The level of core stabilization necessary for cycling varies based on the type of cycling.

For instance, a bicycle will require more balance than a stationary bike. Additionally, some cycling classes may incorporate upper body movement with or without weights. Here is what you need to know about the pros and cons of cycling.

Pros of Cycling

Cycling is considered a low-impact exercise because it is performed in fluid motion and tends to be gentler on joints. This fact can make cycling a better choice for those with a history of injury or arthritis. Some research even indicates that stationary cycling may result in pain relief for those suffering from knee osteoarthritis.

Indoor cycling may be a more readily available option via commercial gyms, boutique studios, and home options, but outdoor cycling offers benefits as well. One recent study revealed that utilizing outdoor cycling as an active commute can help aid with weight loss goals.

Indoor cycling combined with dietary intervention can positively impact lipid profiles and blood pressure, and emerging research indicates that even a short-term training period of cycling can have a positive impact on gut microbiota. In one study, 9 weeks of high-intensity interval cycling resulted in a healthier gut microbiome for participants.

Potential Drawbacks of Cycling

As compared to running, the biggest potential drawback of cycling is the investment. Whether indoor or outdoor, there is of course the cost of the bike itself. Outdoor biking requires at the very least a bike, a helmet, and proper footwear, but other accessories may be considered depending on the terrain in which you ride.

A reflective vest may be necessary for navigating urban areas, while mirrors, headlights, and multitools (think Swiss Army knife) can come in handy in a multitude of terrains. Another major potential drawback to cycling—specifically outdoor cycling—is the risk of injury due to collision with motor vehicles.

Indoor cycling at home, may feel more isolating than heading out in a pack or attending a class, but subscription-based services such as Peloton help mitigate lack of actual community with one that has grown online.

How They Compare

Running and cycling are both equally beneficial to cardiovascular health because they are forms of aerobic exercise, A deciding factor in which option can be better for you depends on whether you can commit to bike riding or cycling for a longer period of time.

If you are having a difficult time gauging your rate of exertion when it comes to cycling or running, you may want to determine your maximum heart rate and consult with a target heart rate chart in order to compare the two activities.

Meanwhile, if your goal is weight loss, utilizing a calorie counter can help determine whether running or cycling will help you burn more calories. Other considerations when determining whether you want to cycle or run include tolerance for high-impact activity, joint health, budget, and preference for indoor vs. outdoor activity.

What Is Best For You?

Here is the good news—running and cycling does not have to be an either/or decision. In fact, you can fit both into a balanced training regimen if you choose to do so. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), current recommendations for physical activity include 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise.

While running is categorized as vigorous aerobic exercise according to the AHA, cycling can be categorized as either moderate-intensity or vigorous, depending on the speed at which you cycle. As long as you can tolerate high-impact activity like running, you might choose to divide the recommended minutes per week between running, vigorous cycling, and moderate-intensity cycling.

If you need something that is lower impact, you might want to opt for cycling instead of running. That said, sometimes people can experience wrist or back pain while riding a bike due to the pressure of the cycling position. You can experiment with different bikes or opt for running instead.

A Word From Verywell

Running and cycling are two types of exercises that can help meet current recommendations for heart health. Depending on your needs and preferences, you may decide that you prefer one over the other. Or, you may choose to incorporate both into your exercise program for added variety.

Regardless of what you choose, consult with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine. They can help you determine what is best for you given your medical history and your fitness level.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is running or cycling better for your core?

    Because running generally burns more calories that cycling, committing to this high-impact activity may result in more visible core muscles. Running requires more balance than stationary cycling, and therefore will result in more core engagement.

  • Is running or cycling better for weight management?

    When it comes to weight management, determining which is better for weight loss largely depends on which activity is more sustainable for your unique lifestyle and preferences. When deciding which to choose, ask yourself "Can I comfortably commit to running and increase mileage, vary intensity, and enjoy it without feeling burnt out?" If you can, then running might be the better tool for weight management.

    If you can instead commit to cycling, increase mileage, and vary intensity then that training modality will better aide weight management. Remember to pick the exercise that is not only the most enjoyable for you but also the most sustainable will be the best choice to help you reach your goals.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lee D chul, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality riskJ Am College Cardiol. 2014;64(5):472-481. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058

  2. Hespanhol Junior LC, Pillay JD, van Mechelen W, Verhagen E. Meta-analyses of the effects of habitual running on indices of health in physically inactive adultsSports Med. 2015;45(10):1455-1468. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0359-y

  3. Oswald F, Campbell J, Williamson C, Richards J, Kelly P. A scoping review of the relationship between running and mental healthInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(21):8059. doi:10.3390/ijerph17218059

  4. Lo GH, Driban JB, Kriska AM, et al. History of running is not associated with higher risk of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: A cross-sectional study from the osteoarthritis initiativeArthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2017;69(2):183-191. doi:10.1002/acr.22939

  5. Luan L, Bousie J, Pranata A, Adams R, Han J. Stationary cycling exercise for knee osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysisClin Rehabil. 2021;35(4):522-533. doi:10.1177/0269215520971795

  6. Quist JS, Rosenkilde M, Petersen MB, Gram AS, Sjödin A, Stallknecht B. Effects of active commuting and leisure-time exercise on fat loss in women and men with overweight and obesity: A randomized controlled trialInt J Obes. 2018;42(3):469-478. doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.253

  7. Chavarrias M, Carlos-Vivas J, Collado-Mateo D, Pérez-Gómez J. Health benefits of indoor cycling: A systematic reviewMedicina (Kaunas). 2019;55(8):452. doi:10.3390/medicina55080452

  8. Donati Zeppa S, Amatori S, Sisti D, et al. Nine weeks of high-intensity indoor cycling training induced changes in the microbiota composition in non-athlete healthy male college studentsJournal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2021;18(1):74. doi:10.1186/s12970-021-00471-z

  9. American Family Physician. Bicycle-related injuries.

  10. American Heart Association. Recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids.

By Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT
Nicole Rodriguez, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, resides in the metro New York area, where she offers nutrition counseling and fitness coaching to a diverse clientele.