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Cycling vs Running: Benefits, Differences & Training

May 10, 2023 6 min read

Cycling and running are both key exercises enjoyed across the world, and no matter your sport, they both help to improve your training and performance. They can both be enjoyed outdoors and indoors, and each offers a different intensity of workout. Read our guide to see how running and cycling training differs.

Table of Contents:

Cycling vs Running: Key Differences

When comparing cycling to running, there are obvious differences between the two exercises. In terms of efficiency of training, both cycling and running offer fairly similar metabolic benefits.

Cycling Overview

Cycling, whether completed on a road bike or indoor bike trainer, takes the load off your feet. With the help of the Wattbike Atom smart bike, you can work on your endurance, speed, and cadence without overloading your musculoskeletal system.

Running Overview

Running of course is completed on foot, and requires a phase where both feet are aerial and off the ground. Running can take on different paces, from the slower jog, to a faster sprint. Whatever the pace, whether running on a treadmill, track or road, this exercise method can have a harsh impact on your joints and muscles.

5 Benefits of Cycling

Cycling vs running, no matter which you pick for your preferred method of fitness, it’s important to know what each can offer. The benefits of cycling include:

  1. Cycling improves your fitness - This is the key benefit of indoor cycling or training outdoors. Those who regularly cycle are typically more fit, and active than those who don’t. You can improve your fitness with the data on your Wattbike to see your heart rate, training zones, watts, and more. Not only that but cycling offers the chance to test your fitness so you can stay on top of your targets.
  2. Cycling strengthens your cardiovascular system - Your cardiorespiratory system is essential for your health. Cycling can help your heart and lungs transport and use oxygen more effectively, and in turn can maintain your heart health to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Those of you who are more advanced can improve your VO2 max, which increases how effective your body is at using oxygen.
  3. Cycling helps you manage your weight - Whether cycling outdoors or on an indoor bike, cycling burns calories, so, the sport can help to healthily manage your weight. A static bike trainer can also encourage you to train, because it stands in your home, as a physical reminder to exercise.
  4. Cycling provides an effective workout when short on time - When life gets pretty hectic, cycling can offer a release of stress, but also helps you train efficiently, even when you don’t have a lot of time. You can still improve your fitness when cycling on a busy schedule, because you engage a large proportion of your muscles when cycling, especially if you stand as you train.
  5. Cycling supports your mental & immune health - Cycling can support your mental health through helping you manage stress, enjoy the outdoors, and release “feel-good hormones” known as endorphins. Cycling can help your natural immunity by promoting a healthy number of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell), which means while enjoying the benefits for your fitness, it can help keep you free from sickness.

5 Benefits of Running

Running can support your all-round fitness and help you stay healthy. Here are some core benefits of running:

  1. Running supports your overall fitness - You can increase your fitness by running. As the exercise is weight-bearing, it can help to build strong bones and strengthen your muscles. It also helps to improve your cardiovascular fitness; bolstering how effectively your body can transport and use the oxygen you breathe in.
  2. Running helps you maintain a healthy weight - Both cycling and running can help to support weight loss. If you include the right foods in your diet, you can incorporate healthy, sustainable weight loss into your running training plan.
  3. Running can reduce your risk of disease - The exercise method can help to support your whole body’s health, which could mean you reduce your risk of a heart attack, stroke, cancer and more by caring for your body.
  4. Running can help soothe stress - Just as cycling releases endorphins, running can help reduce your stress hormones and release those “feel-good hormones”. Not only that, but going out for a run or cycle means you’re actively committed to taking time for yourself.
  5. Running is a fairly low-cost sport- Getting out for a run costs relatively little. You’ll need a decent pair of trainers, but the rest is pretty cost effective. If you’re dedicated to running on a treadmill then that will cost you more, whether you purchase one yourself or use one at the gym.

How Indoor Cycling Can Help with your Running Training

If you’re using indoor cycling to improve your running, then there are multiple ways you can harness the benefits of a smart bike whether for cycling or running. Mixing up your running vs cycling routine can help keep your training plan fresh and keep you motivated to train.

  • Interactive Workouts - When cycling for running with Wattbike, you’ll find interactive cycling workouts that change up your running routine. The Wattbike Hub is our free app which features 100’s of workouts, training plans, and performance tests. It records your live cycling data and shows you where to improve and how to stay on target.
  • Increase Your Strides - Training on an indoor bike means you can train at a lower heart rate zone, but at a higher cadence. That way, you can complete more pedal revolutions which can help to increase your strides per minute as you run.
  • Interval Training - You can also harness interval training that is offered in cycling for running. Whether you try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for a shorter session, or complete endurance rides to support training for a marathon, half-marathon or 10k race.
  • Stay on Top of Your Data - Not only that, but the Wattbike Atom is compatible with a number of indoor cycling apps. You’re able to harness every single workout and interact with your stats, real-world routes, and connect with fellow fitness enthusiasts on cycling or running apps like Strava.

Differences in Running vs Cycling Training

Running and cycling both require different aspects of your training, and both will affect your fitness depending on the intensity of your workout. Shorter runs at a slower pace and shorter indoor bike workouts at lower wattage will both burn fewer calories than a longer run at a faster pace and a longer indoor ride at a higher cadence.

Training to Build Muscle

When you compare running and cycling for building muscle, they have some key differences. Running won’t offer much in terms of bulking, but will enable you to tone and strengthen your muscles.

Meanwhile cycling has the added addition of differing resistance which helps to build muscle, particularly in the legs. Resistance trainers which use air resistance can help you build leg muscle while cycling indoors. They allow you to have precise control on how much resistance is being applied to your muscles. The Wattbike Atom uses electromagnetic resistance controlled by gears, or in erg mode, which varies how much effort you need to put in, which can in turn help to increase your muscle gain.

Training For Endurance & Distance

Cycling and running both offer different paced challenges. With running, races can be short sprints or long distance endurance events, whilst cycling sportives vary in length from friendlier events to 100 mile sportives. Improving your cycling endurance on an indoor trainer means you can build up and maintain your stamina is easier when cycling than running, because it is lower impact.

Training for Speed

Whilst cycling can support your fitness levels which will impact your stamina while running, cycling does not recreate the movement patterns required for running. This means improving your cycling speed won’t directly guarantee your ability to run faster. To improve your cycling sprinting, you’ll need to practise on your indoor bike, and to increase your sprinting on foot, you’ll need to practise sprinting in your running.

Training for Events & Races

When you’re training for a running event or cycling sportive, the way you train will differ. While training for a running race can involve both running and indoor cycling, the best way to train for a sportive is on a bike, indoor or not. With the help of Wattbike, you can complete workouts for sportives and make sure you’re in the best shape when it counts.

Cycling can help you achieve your long distance running goals, as Wattbike ambassador and Under Armour athlete Emma Kirk-Odunubi found when training for the Manchester Marathon in 2023. Emma said: “I believe my training plan this year had everything to do with [...] the inclusion of my bike sessions. [...] I believe my success at the Manchester Marathon couldn’t have happened without the use of the Wattbike.”

Curated Training with Wattbike

At Wattbike, we’re committed to providing the very best indoor cycling experience.


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