Technical Differences Between Biking and Running: Why Running is King

Technical Differences Between Biking and Running: Why Running is King


Humans have been running for a very long time, dating back to ancient times. Running is a fundamental human activity that has played a significant role in our evolution and survival. In modern times, we are seeing the emergence of biking as a common form of exercise. Whereas in the 19th century, the bicycle was invented as a practical mode of transportation, offering an efficient and affordable means of getting around. As biking evolved, we can now see how regular joes, elite athletes and companies like peloton utilize the bicycle as a form of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. 

Throughout this article we will break down why people may choose one over the other. We will then go deeper into the technical differences of biking vs running, including topics such as cycling muscles vs running muscles used, calories burned cycling vs running and what is good running cadence. We will bring it altogether towards the end with why we believe running is the superior form of exercise when executed correctly. 


Influencing Factors Behind Activity Preference


Often times people will opt for biking over running because: 

  1. It has less joint impact: Oftentimes people will associate this with a lower injury risk. 
  2. You can go further and carry more with you making it a day long experience. 
  3. Less of a learning curve: This is especially true when utilizing stationary bikes. Just hop on  and go. 
  4. ‘Good’ leg workout 


Biking vs running

While there are many other reasons one might prefer biking over running, the minimal joint impact and low learning curve factor is a very common reason for most to utilize this type of training. 



Often times people will opt for running over biking because: 

  1. Minimal equipment is needed. 
  2. You are free to explore any terrain. 
  3. You can burn more calories on average.
  4. Works out the entire body.  


As there are many other reasons for one to choose running over biking, the fact that minimal equipment is needed is huge. No need to think about which bicycle brand is better, just strap on some sneakers and head outside. 


Caloric Expenditure  

Another area to consider looking at when discussing influencing factors behind activity preference is calories burned cycling vs calories burned running. On average: 


Light Biking burns 422 kcal

Moderate Biking burns 563 kcal 

Vigorous Biking burns 844 kcal


Light Running burns 563 kcal 

Moderate Running burns 774 kcal 

Vigorous Running burns 1267 kcal 


As running utilizes more muscles, it makes sense that more calories are burned when analyzing intensity between the two. Although biking may be easier and ‘low-impact’ it seems like you get more bang for your buck when utilizing efficient running as exercise.  

Technical Differences Between the Two

As your sympathetic nervous system responds to the stressful situation of exercise, you want the rubber bands in the body to respond by going through continual states of stretching and contracting.  This is precisely what is happening when you run. When biking, the body is unable to go through these stretch and contraction cycles, ultimately leaving parts of the body overly lengthened and other parts overly contracted.

Cycling vs running  

There are quite a few differences between these two forms of exercise so let’s take a closer look. 


  1. Biking for the most part has you stuck in a constant lumbar flexion, meaning your lower back is always rounded, leaving your spine in a compromised position. The lower body never reaches full extension and is nearly impossible to hit hyperextension with your body even when standing and pedaling. This means you will never get your thigh bone (femur) behind your center of mass when you are biking, which is a pivotal position for your hip and spine health. 
  2. Properly executed running takes your leg bones and spine through extension and hyperextension (foot and knee are able to get behind the pelvis), which is a range of motion critical for spine and pelvic health. As your legs and spine go through these motions it also induces a hip flexor stretch meaning you are stretching and contracting muscles at the same time the way the body intended it to be. This also helps us account for how to run faster. 
  3. Biking mechanics mimic that of sitting which will leave you compressed and restricted. Sitting tall does not fix anything because you are still stuck in a folded position at the hips, leaving the glutes unable to fully contract. 
  4. Running mechanics mimic and respect how the human body evolved. When done properly it trains every single muscle on the body.


Biking does adversely affect your posture and most of the time when people can’t run, they turn to biking. Very seldom do you see people turn to running when they are unable to bike. Ultimately, biking leaves you with a lot of problems and being able to run solves them. 

When trying to achieve pain free movement, it must include three things: rhythm/cadence, timing, and tension. Oftentimes you will see people use cycling as cross-training to help their running when in reality, this doesn’t make any sense. The SAID principle stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands and is a fundamental principle in training and exercise physiology that states the body will adapt to the demands placed upon it. In other words, the more you use biking as exercise, the more it will result in specific adaptations in your body that are tailored to meet those demands.  

There is no global rhythm/cadence in biking. Sure the legs will go through some knee flexion and extension, but the hip and the ankle don’t get much movement. Along with this the upper body is essentially stuck in place. There is some timing involved as you need to properly gauge each time you pedal, but again, it is disconnected from the upper body. Lastly, although you   will create tension in your legs, this comes at the expense of your lats, glutes, pecs, and obliques really not doing much. Cycling is not an integrated motion, so why would it help you with running, an integrated motion. When someone has a good running cadence, timing, and tension distributed throughout their muscles, there is really no other exercise that fatigues all our muscles like running does. 

Cycling vs running 


Running is King  

The muscles that encapsulate the human skeleton evolved support the running gait cycle. Survival being the primary driving force, humans have been running as long as we can remember. As explained more deeply in the article, “Rethinking Pushups” (click here), the two main functions of running and throwing are essentially what drove the human organism to look the way it does today.  

Not only did running play a key role in the development of our muscles, but our brain as well. According to a study done in the National Library of Medicine, running has made a big difference in how our genes have changed over time, making us different from other primates. It helps us survive even after having babies. When we adapted to running, our brains started making more genes that protect cells from stress, get rid of damaged stuff in cells, and enhance energy production. (1) 

On the contrary, when we look at the effect of biking on the human organism it is clear that although your legs may feel like they are getting a workout, it is at the expense of your spinal and pelvic health. A study found in the National Library of Medicine shows that 63% of non weight bearing athletes had osteopenia (insert definition here) of the spine or hip, compared with 19% of weight bearing athletes. Cyclist were 7 times more likely to have osteopenia of the spine than runners, despite having similar age, weight, body mass index, body composition, hormonal status, current activity level and nutrient intakes. (2) As these statistics are staggering, it is safe to say your calories burned cycling may not be worth it. 

Cycling vs running


So, is cycling better than running? We would say no. Although there is a benefit from calories burned cycling, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. As most people tend to avoid running because they are afraid of getting injured, Functional Patterns helps provide all humans with a systems approach to training the body. With this approach we are able to take people who could never run before due to things like cerebral palsy, debilitating back pain, surgery and get them to run and move pain free. By respecting physics and human biology, we are able to transform people’s lives and provide them with a more sustainable way of achieving long term health and wellbeing. Humans evolved to run, not sit. There is a clear difference when it comes to the integration of tension of cycling muscles vs running muscles and FP enhances your ability to run via programs like the Functional Training System (click here). Make sure to continue thinking intentionally and not habitually. 





 (1) Mattson MP. Evolutionary aspects of human exercise--born to run purposefully. Ageing Res Rev. 2012 Jul;11(3):347-52. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2012.01.007. Epub 2012 Feb 23. PMID: 22394472; PMCID: PMC3356485.


(2) Rector RS, Rogers R, Ruebel M, Hinton PS. Participation in road cycling vs running is associated with lower bone mineral density in men. Metabolism. 2008 Feb;57(2):226-32. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2007.09.005. PMID: 18191053.




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