man running on treadmill

Which is better: cycling or treadmill?

There isn’t a universal answer to this question, because it depends.

Cycling and running both have advantages and disadvantages, and the weight of one over the other will depend on an individual’s circumstances and needs. What’s better for one person isn’t necessarily best for another.

Before we explore this in more depth, it’s worth noting that whilst both running and cycling are high-intensity exercises, good for both cardiovascular health and weight loss, only cycling is classed as low-impact. This is an important distinction and should guide your buying choice when deciding between the two.  Cycling, especially indoor cycling, is easier on the joints, suitable for those recovering from an injury, recuperating from illness or for anyone significantly unfit or overweight.

Running is a high-impact form of exercise and isn’t suitable for everyone. Those looking to start a fitness journey from scratch should take advice from a doctor or healthcare professional before undertaking any rigorous exercise.

Is the treadmill or cycling better for weight loss?

It depends on the effort you’re putting in. Running has the highest potential for calorie burn because it has a higher impact on the body. But it’s hard to calculate accurate calorie burn because you need to factor in a person’s weight and the terrain they’re running over.

One common but inaccurate way of measuring a runner’s calorie burn is based on an idea that the average runner burns 100 calories per mile.

We’ll use this to highlight our point, but it’s worth remembering that this figure is arbitrary and used only as an example.

If it takes you 10 minutes to run a mile and you then run 3 miles, that amounts to 300 calories in 30 minutes.

For a runner, that’s an achievable distance but if you hate running, can’t run, have a chronic illness or persistent injury or are just plain unfit, it’s a much bigger ask.

Cycling burns between 450 and 750 calories per hour.

It means that the advantage that running has over cycling can be mitigated by riding a bike for longer.  As cycling is a lower-impact activity, it’s easier for most people to ride a bike for 60 minutes than it is for many to run for half that time.

Cycling is, therefore, still an effective way to lose weight because it provides a more sustainable and achievable calorie burn, just over a longer duration.

Regardless of whether you’re running or cycling, there are ways to increase the calorie burn.  For treadmills, this means speeding up or upping the incline. For cycling, it’s adding resistance or taking a class.

Classes are short but intensive sessions led by an instructor.  You can also stand up on the pedals on an indoor fitness bike to simulate a hill climb.  It gives an impressive calorie burn and is a great cardiovascular workout. A 45-minute class can burn between 400 and 600 calories.  If you’re thinking of buying an indoor bike, it’s worth knowing the differences of indoor bikes vs exercise bikes

If you’re looking to lose weight, pick the piece of equipment that you’re going to use consistently and regularly.  Don’t pick a treadmill just because you think you’ll lose weight faster; pick it because running will help you achieve your goal or target weight.

What’s better for abs: treadmill or bike?

We know outdoor cycling can be good for the abs.

It’s the same with indoor cycling: standing up for those hill climbs engages the abdominals and strengthens the core.  Adding sprints into your running routine or incorporating HIIT sessions on the treadmill will also help but neither cycling nor running alone will give you abs.

Although, weight loss will make it easier for you to see your abs.

It’s actually the other way around. Cycling or running won’t give you defined abs but core strength exercises will improve your strength, stability and balance: all things that will make you a better cyclist or runner

Treadmill or exercise bike for belly fat?

You can’t target specific body parts for weight loss but fortunately, both running and cycling are highly effective at burning fat – including belly fat. The tougher the workout the greater the calorie burn. Don’t be afraid of cranking up the incline on your treadmill. You’ll also find a wide range of HIIT treadmill workouts on the internet and some models may have programmes built-in.  If you’re using an indoor bike, try indoor cycling; it’s a great way of increasing calorie burn.  Remember, too, that you may need to supplement your workout with a healthy eating plan.

line of spin bikes

Treadmill vs bike for legs

You’ll get a good lower body workout from both. Of course, to see muscle definition in your legs, you may need to reduce the amount of fat there but remember, you can’t spot-reduce weight loss. Incorporating strength training will maximise definition, too.

Treadmill vs exercise bike

There’s no definitive answer here.  Frustratingly, it’s always going to depend. Without knowing more about you, your fitness goals and personal preferences, we’d just be guessing.

If you’re a regular runner looking for a way to exercise indoors, then a treadmill makes more sense than a bike but equally, don’t expect a treadmill to solve all your fitness problems if you hate running.

If you’re new to it, try jogging outdoors first; it’s free and will give you an insight into how you cope and crucially, how much you enjoy doing it.  You can also buy pay-as-you-go gym passes which allow you to try out some of the equipment before committing to one in your home.  Treadmills, in particular, have big footprints and the last thing you want is something that takes up space and collects dust in the corner of your bedroom.  Already a gym member? Do both: exercise on the treadmill and the bike to add variety to your cardiovascular workout.

Pros of indoor cycling:

  • It’s low-impact and suitable for beginners.
  • You can set the resistance to a level that suits your needs.
  • There’s a wide range of bikes available for everyone no matter the budget.
  • Exercise bikes are often more affordable than a treadmill
  • If you already have a road bike, you can use a turbo-trainer to continue riding indoors during the winter.
  • It takes up less space in the home
  • An Energym bike allows you to generate clean electricity as you work out.
  • It’s easier to maintain an indoor bike than an outdoors one.
  • Indoor cycling fits in well alongside other forms of exercise such as strength training or yoga.
  • There’s a low-barrier of entry for beginners.  Most of us already have experience of riding bikes.

Cons:

It can be a monotonous way to get fit if you’re used to cycling outdoors or if you’re easily bored during exercise. It can be hard, too, to ride effectively without the benefit of a class and an instructor.  You can find plenty of Peloton alternatives if you’re not looking to splurge on one of its bikes but a community feel is important to some. If you’re using a turbo-trainer, connect your Energym bike via Zwift for an immersive ride and compete with others.

  • Cycling is a lower body workout but you can easily integrate strength training alongside it.
  • Some indoor bikes can be uncomfortable to use
  • Indoor bikes can be noisy

Pros of using treadmills

  • You can also use a treadmill to walk on for a low-impact exercise
  • They’re great for staying fit when it’s cold or dark outside
  • It can be safer during the darker months than outdoors in urban areas
  • You can add resistances to simulate uneven terrain for a wide range of workouts.
  • One offers an intensive workout without leaving the house

Cons:

  • They’re often more expensive than bikes
  • They take up a lot of space in apartments and houses
  • Treadmills are harder to repair if something goes wrong
  • They’re difficult to put into second-floor apartments
  • If you’re used to exercising outside, they can make running boring and repetitive.  Although, many people combat this by putting a TV in the room, listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks. You can also get Zwift for runners, too.

When it comes to picking between cycling or a treadmill, you need to think about which one you’re most likely to use.  You have a wide range of options both for indoor and outdoor cycling.  You can always run outside for free, too.

The best form of exercise is the one that you do making cycling and running pretty evenly matched.

Ideal for you to pick the one you prefer and get started.

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