Cycling vs. Running: Which Sport is Better?
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Mike McLeish, and has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
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Which is better, cycling or running? A question that’s known to cause chaos between the most well mannered of weekend warriors. Before we start seeing running shoes and cycling cleats flung at each other, I’ll be the first to say there’s no clear winner.
Whether you’re pounding the pavement or peddling it, both activities are noble efforts in the pursuit of a happier, healthier life. Neither one is better than the other, but each comes with a set of pros and cons. For now, I’ll put my love of cycling to the side, and give an objective view on the best and worst aspects of each activity.
The Battle: Cycling vs. Running
Round 1: Equipment Required
Unless you’ve just purchased Roger Bannister’s sub 4-minute mile running spikes, it’s unlikely that anything in running will ever cost you more than cycling. You only need a pair of running shoes, assuming you own some clothes that can get sweaty. You can always upgrade your gear, but to get started running, you will need very little.
Cycling requires much more. First and foremost, you need the bike, which will set you back anywhere between $50 to $5,000+ depending on the make and type. If you’re bike-commuting, you’ll need things like water bottles, gloves, padded shorts, and a helmet. The added equipment is a pain from a costs perspective, but also gets challenging regarding transportation. If you want to cycle your favorite trail, it’s much harder to transport the extra gear than a pair of running shoes.
The Winner: Running! You win this round asphalt shuffler!
Round 2: Calorie Burn
One of the most popular questions by people beginning a fitness regime is which burns more calories. An interest in calorie burn is understandable, as participants want to get the most out of their invested time.
If you’re looking to burn the most calories possible by covering the same distance cycling or running, then running will be the obvious winner. This is because running uses the entire body, making it a more intense exercise. A bicycle, on the other hand, gives you the possibility of freewheeling, which effectively allows you to rest mid cycle.
That being said, many variables affect calorie burn (weight, weather, equipment, age), making it difficult to compare the two activities. I’d suggest you choose the activity that you enjoy the most over anything else.
The important thing is that you’re out there in the first place, however running does burn more calories, and is cheaper than biking. Dang, maybe I should give running a go instead!
The Winner: Running, again!
Round 3: Muscle Building
If I’m being honest, using running or cycling to build muscle is about as efficient as using a hand pump on your car tire. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when you create small tears to your muscle tissue with resistance exercise. These micro-tears recover between workouts and grow stronger to resist the weight. As the weight progressively increases, muscle size increases as well. For hypertrophy, the recommended rep range is between 10-12 reps per set. Running and cycling are essentially thousands of reps for one long muscle-building set. This rep range can make you incredibly fit and build fantastic muscular endurance, but your efforts will be wasted if you’re hoping to look like Arnie in a few months time
Running and cycling are ideal for muscle endurance and overall health, but there are far more efficient ways of building muscle, and I suggest you give them a go instead.
The Winner: It’s a tie, neither running nor cycling win this round.
Round 4: Risk of Injury
Running is a weight bearing exercise, making it a good activity for building bone strength. Stronger bones mean greater protection against Osteoporosis later life. Sadly, many people often forget about this attribute of running due to the high rate of injury in runners.
Most of the time, running injuries are caused by overuse. To lessen the risk of injury, runners should build up a “tolerance” over a period of time. Soon enough, you’ll be able to handle the desired volume of running with ease.
Cycling is not without its risks, but the rate of injury is much lower than running. It’s considered to be a low impact activity, which is great for those with existing issues and provides a lower risk of damaging the joints in later life. I think cycling takes this round, although it may be too late for a comeback!
The Winner: Cycling.
Round 5: Oh the Places You’ll Go!
Unless you’re one of those lunatics that enjoys running Ultra Marathons, you’re going to pass a lot more scenery on a bicycle.
Marathons allow you see a lot, but unless you’re Dennis Kimetto, who ran a marathon in 2:02:57 (he wore a jetpack, right?), it’s likely that it’ll take you much longer to run the distance than if you were on your bike. However, cyclists have the advantage of going much further than 26.2 miles in a much quicker time, thus more scenery!
The ease of traveling long distances on a bicycle means cycling is an excellent way to get from A to B, and if you’re a little stretched for time, it can be easily integrated into your daily routine.
The Winner: Cycling takes the final round!
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As you can see, there are many pros and cons to both running and cycling. Running is more accessible and burns more calories, whereas cycling is easier on the body and gets you places quicker. I’m still a cyclist through and through, but maybe I should go for a run now and then; anyone need a partner?
Mike McLeish is the owner of the bicycle blog Pinch-Flat. He’s currently taking full advantage of the of the warm weather in Malaysia. You can find him cycling through traffic in Kuala Lumpur, attempting to drink coffee from a plastic bag, or eating Nasi Lemak at a local corner shop. Follow him on Twitter at @Pinch_Flat.