Running vs. Cycling: Which One is More Effective For Weight Loss?

by David Veibl

Well the answer is that it depends.

Running and cycling use most of the same muscles, but they work those muscles in completely different ways. Since the mechanics of running and cycling aren’t the same, the muscles go through different stages, movements, and levels of strain.

When running, the muscles of the lower body move in four different stages while cycling has the muscles moving in only two different stages. This means that your body gets a vastly difference workout depending on whether you cycle or run.

The Muscles Used in Running

When you’re running, the mechanics means that certain parts of your body receive more stress than others. Your knee flexes, your hip extends and your legs push your weight up. Those movements require the use of all the muscles in your legs at all times.

Your abdominals are always active as well, because they need to help stabilize your pelvis and keep you balanced while running. This means that your abs as well as your legs get a thorough workout.

The Muscles Used in Cycling

Cycling uses all the muscles in the legs. There are two phases in cycling: the power phase and the crank phase. When you push down on the pedal, you are in the power phase. When your leg cycles back to the top of the pedal stroke, it is the crank phase. The power phase is when the muscles do most of the work. Your abdominals, triceps, and shoulders also work at helping support your upper body while you balance yourself on the bicycle.

muscles used in running vs. cycling


Just because running has your muscles working harder than cycling does doesn’t mean running is more effective for weight loss.

Both are excellent cardiovascular workouts. Both workouts strengthen your heart, build lean muscle mass, and increase mobility. Most importantly, they both allow you to burn a lot of calories in a short period of time.

When you ride a bicycle between 16 and 20 miles per hour, you’re burning about 5.5 calories an hour per pound of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’re burning 825 calories per hour!

When you’re running, you’re burning .75 calories a mile per pound of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’re burning 112.5 calories per mile! If you’re running at 7 miles per hour, you’re burning 787.5 calories per hour. That all adds up to a lot of calories burned, and therefore weight lost.

Beginners and Cycling

Mile for mile, running burns a lot more calories than cycling does. You can lose weight faster by running. However, it’s not always the better option. People with knee issues, back pain, or significant weight to lose should hop on a bicycle rather than put on running shoes, because cycling puts less pressure on your joints.

If you start by running, you’re setting yourself up for an intensive workout that may injure your joints or give you shin splints. Cycling is a great way to ease into the intensity of working out, and if you want to continue challenging yourself on a bicycle, you can always seek more difficult terrain or adjust your gears.

It is also better because many people have better endurance on a bicycle than they do running. This means they can go further and therefore burn more calories overall during a workout, even in running burns more calories per mile. Therefore the answer about whether running or cycling is more effective is a tricky one, and largely depends on your own feelings about workout length and exercise.

If you have your heart set on running, you can ease yourself into the workout by walking or jogging first, but you should always be careful not to overwork your body.

Switching Between Running and Cycling

The more efficient your body is at a certain exercise, the fewer calories you burn. If you run all the time, your body gets used to running, and doesn’t work as hard anymore.

If you’re looking to lose weight and improve your health as much as possible, you might want to take up both running and cycling. Switching between both exercises will work your muscles to different levels of intensity and constantly challenge your body.

If you’re a runner, you might want to invest in a bicycle. If you’re a cyclist, you might want to invest in a pair of running shoes. Variety is the spice of life and the spice of exercise. The more variety you put into your workout routine, the more likely you’ll get to lose weight faster!

(This is a guest post from David Veibl. David is a consultant at Cruiser Bikes, a new online shop and blog, that promotes healthy lifestyle and the best cheap cruiser bikes to reach it.)

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