Ask an Expert: Running vs. Cycling

Q: Does riding my stationary bike for one hour at a medium level have the same cardio benefits as jogging for 4 miles at 12-minute miles? I’m looking for lower-impact ways to get my training in.  -Natalie

 A: Yes and no. Cycling offers the same benefits as running in that it improves your cardiovascular system. More specifically, your heart strengthens and is able to pump more blood at a lower heart rate as it gets stronger with exercise. As your fitness improves, your body is able to deliver larger quantities of oxygen to the muscles. This is the case for all forms of cardiovascular exercise, which is great because you can mix up your modes and keep things fresh and motivating. If you were looking at the standpoint of overall cardiovascular fitness, both are excellent choices.

Where they differ is in the movement. Cycling is a great form of exercise because it is low impact and isolates your lower body, which makes it an effective activity for those that are starting an exercise routine or suffer from muscle or joint pain. On the other hand, running uses every muscle in your body, making it a total body exercise, which can mean burning more calories per session.

It gets a little tricky when you start comparing paces on both activities. For instance, a 12-minute pace on a “feel good” day could be in the easy to moderate zone of effort, while another day it could be at a hard effort. Pace isn’t the best way to compare the two activities, but your effort level is.

When comparing the two, it’s easier to do so by the effort level versus comparing your running pace (12-minute miles) against your cycling effort (moderate). Instead, compare a moderate running effort to a moderate cycling effort.

The general rule of thumb is there is a 1:3 run-to-bike ratio, meaning one mile of running at a moderate effort equals three miles of cycling at that same effort level. Cycling 12 miles is the equivalent of running four miles, with both effort levels being the same in a very general sense for cardiovascular fitness.

In the end, cycling miles are cycling miles and running miles are running miles. They both offer great benefits and each offers unique benefits for fitness and well being.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Benefits of a Recumbent Bike

HorizonRecumbentBikeWhether you’re a committed athlete looking for a no-impact form of cross-training, or you need a simple way to get started on your fitness goals, there are a lot of reasons to choose a recumbent bike. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Comfort. The recumbent bike offers a natural seated position that makes your workout easier on your neck, shoulders, knees, and low back. This is a big advantage if you know that these areas are injury prone, or if you plan on watching television or reading while you work out. The low-to-the-ground design of these bikes simplifies getting on and off the machine. This comfort continues throughout the workout, since recumbent bikes feature large comfortable seats that won’t leave you experiencing the saddle soreness that can come with other types of cycling.

No Impact Cross Training. If you’re looking for a way to cross train without increasing your risk of impact related injuries, the recumbent bike is a great choice. You can use the many pre-programmed settings to vary your speed and resistance levels to optimize your cardiovascular challenge, while sparing your feet and knees from pounding on your active recovery days. The seated position of the recumbent bike also brings your glutes into the equation, improving both your power and your posture on your next run.

Motivation. Using the many features on the console of your recumbent bike can help to keep you motivated to stick to your training plan. Many feature integrated music that can keep your energy high, heart rate monitors that allow you to customize your effort levels and pre-set programs that take the guess work out of designing your workout. If you’re looking to keep your energy and motivation high, you’ll want to seek out some of these benefits when researching your options for a recumbent bike. With a comfortable ride and motivating music and settings, you can work-out longer and harder, getting you to your fitness goals.

While recumbent bikes have a lot of advantages, they aren’t for everyone. The movement is different from an upright cycle, so if you’re looking to complement your road races with some indoor training, you might want to look into a bike that fits with that. Additionally, these bikes can sometimes take up a bit more floor space than upright  models, so consider the dimensions of your room before purchasing.  Lastly, make sure you’re pushing yourself at the right level to meet your goals. The calorie burn for cycling on a recumbent bike is actually similar to other forms of cardiovascular exercise, but you do need to keep the resistance and speed high enough to challenge your fitness.

View the exercise bike buying guide for more helpful tips.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Choosing the Right Fitness Equipment

HorizonEllipticalChoosing the right piece of home fitness equipment—whether that’s a treadmill, elliptical, or exercise bike—depends on what you wish to accomplish from your home training sessions. As you set up your training plan, here are a few things you might want to consider:

Treadmill: Providing a natural workout (as simple as heading out for a walk!), a home treadmill means that your fitness is not at the mercy of weather or daylight. Cushioned treadmills are also a bit easier on your joints compared to walking and running outdoors. You can use your treadmill as a back-up to your regular, outdoor sessions or schedule it into your training plan as an active recovery that takes advantage of the added cushioning and controlled environment. You can also push yourself by including challenging interval runs or hikes, adjusting the incline and speed to push your heart rate and your fitness. Many treadmills also fold, making them easy to move out of the way, a particular advantage if your home gym space doubles as a living area.

Ellipticals:  Elliptical trainers offer a simple, no impact movement, while continuing to burn serious calories and challenge your cardiovascular system. If you’re new to exercise, are concerned about the impact of running, or simply want to burn as many calories as possible while minimizing the wear and tear on your joints, an elliptical is a great option. Additionally, you have the option of strengthening the upper body at the same time, improving your posture. Ellipticals can also be used in a backwards pedaling motion –a benefit unique to this piece of equipment. This allows you to strengthen muscles on the back of your body, improving your ability to spike a volleyball or run downhill, while allowing the quads time to recover.

Indoor Bike:   Indoor cycles are also a great, no impact option for continuing to work out through or following injury or to mix in recovery workouts with a higher impact program. If you’re vulnerable in your low back and knees, you may especially appreciate the natural seated position of the recumbent bike. Recumbent bikes, however, can make it harder to get your heart rate up if you don’t make a conscious effort to overcome that through increasing the resistance and speed of your workout. All indoor bikes are a great option if you’re looking for a convenient, no-impact workout that you can use for cross-training or recovery if you can see yourself branching out into road races or triathlons.

Looking for more tips? Check out our buying guides for treadmills, ellipticals and exercise bikes for videos and what you should consider before making your purchase.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.