Can Cycling Replace Running? What You Should Know!


We all have our preferences when it comes to training, and for some that means preferring cycling over running. This is especially true for triathletes who often come to the sport with a background in one of the disciplines. It can leave some athletes wondering if they can train more on the disciplines they prefer and less on the ones they’d rather skip.

In other words, can cycling replace running?

The short answer is no, cycling is not a complete substitute for running. While cycling is a great way to build the cardiovascular endurance, it will not strengthen the muscles and tendons one use while running.

Let’s get into the ways running and cycling are similar and why you can’t just cycle more to get out of doing your training runs.

Can You Train for A 5k (Or Any Run) on A Bike?

No, one cannot swap cycling for running when training for a running race even if it was as short as a 5Km run. If you one cycle and then try to run a 5k with no background in running, it probably won’t be an enjoyable experience and could even lead to injuries. While your aerobic base would be in good condition, and the individual is “fit” enough to run a 5k, the body needs to build the muscles required for running. This is especially true for the sensitive joints and ligaments of the ankles, feet, and calves.

Also, this is what triathletes do, and they called a brick exercise. For more on this, check out our post “What Is Triathlon Brick Training? Why You Should Do It & How!

That being said, cycling is one of the best forms of cross-training for runners. Because it is so low-impact, it helps keep the blood flowing around the muscles, providing more oxygen to aid in the recovery process (Source).

It can even help with upper-threshold efforts by practicing high intensity interval training on the bike. This will prime your anaerobic system to take on those challenging sprints to the finish.

How Much Cycling Is Equal to Running? (Ratio)

As far as workout effort goes, the general guideline is a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3, running to cycling. That means for every one mile of running, you’d have to do 2 or 3 miles of cycling at the same effort level .

This is why you can cycle at a moderate pace for an hour and only burn 300 calories while a similar length of time spent running will have you burning upwards of 500 to 700 calories.

This is because running is a higher impact sport that requires all of the muscles in the body to keep propelling forward.

Biking, on the other hand, has a much lower impact on the body and doesn’t require the same level of effort at a moderate pace.

Of course, both activities can be made more challenging depending on the training goal, but running will generally be harder than biking when done at the same rate of perceived effort.

That being said, both forms of exercise have many benefits, and some athletes may need to swap one for the other depending on their goals or if they’re recovering from an injury. However, those training for a triathlon will need to practice both running and cycling – there isn’t a way to adequately swap one for the other and still be prepared to race.

For more on this, we recommend that you check out our post Is Cycling Better Than Running & Walking ? (Weight Loss, Fitness, Social Element & Joints Impact)

How Many Hours of Cycling Is Equal to Running? (Time)

An hour of cycling and an hour of running could be equivalent, depending on how much distance is covered. For example, one hour of cycling at 10 miles per hour is very different from one hour of cycling at 20 miles per hour. The same can be said for running: how many miles are you running in that hour? Is it an easy effort, a race pace effort, or a sprint?

It’s generally easier to compare mileage rather than time spent doing the activity. That being said, if the effort is the same for running and cycling (let’s say a rate of perceived effort of 5 on a 10 point scale), the run would overall be more taxing on the body.

Using the mileage ratio above, you could generally assume one hour of running at a moderate pace would be equivalent to three hours of biking at a moderate pace.

Is Cycling Better than Running for Stamina?

Cycling can be considered a better activity for building stamina because it’s easier to maintain a certain speed and effort for a longer amount of time. While a lot of people would struggle to run for two hours straight, many of those same people would be comfortable for that duration on a bike (assuming they have experience cycling). Because cycling is so low-impact, there is typically less chance of injury due to the exertion, making it a great way for beginners to start working on their endurance and cardiovascular health.

However, both running and cycling are great aerobic activities that can improve health and quality of life. It ultimately comes down to what your goals are (Source).

For example, someone looking to lose weight may prefer the superior calorie-burning effects of running while someone looking to complete an epic century bike ride would be better off cycling. Those who are looking to complete a triathlon will want to be proficient at both, though they will likely always have one that is stronger than the other.

Is Cycling Harder than Running?

Short answer: it depends!

Cycling is gentler on the body but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier than running. For someone who has been riding a bike since childhood, biking may come more easily. However, there are adults who never learned how to ride a bike – they may find cycling particularly challenging.

From a physiological perspective, running will overall be harder on the body due to the impact and force it demands (Source).

Of course, it’s more challenging to compare an easy run compared to a very challenging cycling ride. It’s possible to burn more calories on a difficult bike ride than on a recovery run (and calories are only one metric for comparing effort).

Cycling, for example, may build more muscle than running, especially if there are a lot of climbs involved. The force from moving the pedals creates a sort of resistance training that can help strengthen leg muscles. Running, on the other hand, uses all of the muscles at the same time, though there is often less resistance.

Things to Keep in Mind

Cycling and running are both great ways to build cardiovascular fitness. While running is generally considered more taxing on the body, both provide their own challenges and provide different strengths.

If you’re following a triathlon training plan, it’s important to stick to the plan, even if it can be tempting to swap a longer bike ride for a short run. Time on your legs is important for building the necessary muscles to complete the run portion of the race injury-free. However, if you’re just looking to be generally fit and healthy, you can build plenty of fitness just through cycling alone.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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