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Running vs cycling: what is more efficient for weight loss?

While running and cycling share similarities, they differ in terms of muscle engagement, impact on the body, and training duration.

Running and cycling are ranked in the top three most popular cardio activities globally, according to a comprehensive Ipsos study on sports habits across 29 countries. Both activities contribute significantly to enhancing cardiovascular health, building endurance, and triggering the release of endorphins for mood improvement. However, when it comes to weight loss, which workout should you choose?

Calorie burn

Running, being a weight-bearing exercise that engages multiple muscles, may potentially burn slightly more calories compared to cycling under similar conditions. On average, running can burn approximately 566 to 839 calories per hour, while vigorous cycling can burn around 498 to 738 calories per hour, as estimated by the American College of Sports Medicine. It’s important to note that the calorie expenditure may vary based on individual factors such as body weight, with higher weight potentially resulting in increased calorie burn.


However, how many calories you burn during cardio training depends on intensity and duration. According to Harvard Health, a 125-pound person will burn the same amount of calories running 5 miles per hour or cycling 12 miles per hour for 30 minutes (240). But for the same duration, conducting vigorous cycling on a stationary bike will burn more calories (278). In fact, according to research, you will burn more calories on a 15-minute maximum-intensity CAROL REHIT ride compared to a 30-minute steady state run. 

Belly fat burn

You don’t have to run marathons or do cross-country cycling in order to get leaner and fitter. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most efficient way of burning belly fat, according to studies. If your main goal is to lose weight, you can introduce interval training into both running and cycling sessions.


Alternation of high-intensity bouts of exercise with rest periods launches metabolic adaptations and leads to more efficient weight loss compared to regular training with the same energy expenditure. Athletes experience improved insulin sensitivity, increased excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, and enhanced lipolysis several hours following training. During a 15-week research program, young women who performed high-intensity interval exercise 3x per week demonstrated significant reductions in total body fat, particularly visceral fat, and insulin resistance.


Not only does HIIT show significant results in losing weight, but it also burns more fat in the abdominal area, problematic for many people. In a study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, participants were divided into 2 groups. The first group was doing regular gym training 4 days a week, while the second one alternated 2x HIIT sessions and 2x gym training a week. After 8 weeks, researchers found a significantly greater reduction in both abdominal girth and visceral adiposity among HIIT participants compared with conventional training.


Example of a running HIIT workout for beginners:

  • Jog lightly for 3 minutes to warm up.
  • Run at high intensity (80-90% max) for 1 minute.
  • Jog lightly for 3 minutes to rest.
  • Repeat the circuit 4 times.

Example of a cycling HIIT workout for beginners:

  • Warm up by pedaling easy for 3 minutes.
  • Pedal at maximum capacity at light resistance for 30 seconds.
  • Pedal easy for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Pedal at medium capacity at light resistance for 30 seconds.
  • Pedal easy for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Pedal at maximum capacity at light resistance for 30 seconds.
  • Pedal easy for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Cool down by pedaling easy for 4 minutes.

An average HIIT workout will take you about 20 minutes. However, there’s a more time-efficient solution for weight loss: Reduced Exertion HIIT (REHIT). REHIT makes cycling much more efficient than running for weight loss. CAROL Bike is the only bike fully optimized for REHIT— making it easy, effective, and safe. Read more below.


If you are pressed for time and are looking for the most efficient way to lose weight, there’s nothing better than REHIT. Research by Western University Colorado shows you’ll burn more calories on a 15-minute CAROL Bike ride compared to a 30 minute run.


REHIT has the following structure:

  • Warm-up – 2 minutes
  • Maximum intensity sprint– 20 seconds
  • Recovery – 3 minutes
  • Maximum intensity sprint – 20 seconds
  • Cooldown – 3 minutes

Here’s how it works: CAROL’s AI-personalization helps you push to your limits during the 2×20-seocond sprints. Like in a ‘fight or flight’ situation, your muscles are forced to mobilize about 25-30% of muscular glycogen—your emergency energy reserve—releasing key signalling molecules (AMPK and PGC-1a), telling your body it must get fitter and stronger. You develop more mitochondria, your blood plasma volume increases, and your heart gets stronger. Resulting in increased aerobic and anaerobic capacity. REHIT also significantly increases the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) which means that you actually burn twice as many calories after the workout than during it.


This exercise cannot be done on a regular bike because you must reach your personal maximum intensity. CAROL Bike helps you do this through its AI algorithms – by applying your personal optimal resistance, at the right time, in a fraction of a second. Most REHIT research has been conducted on special scientific exercise bikes. However, such equipment is very expensive and has to be operated by a lab technician. CAROL Bike is the first and only bike that makes REHIT for home users easy and affordable.

Research by Western University Colorado shows you’ll burn more calories on a 15-minute CAROL Bike ride, than a 30-minute run.

CAROL is the smartest, most effective exercise bike. With AI-personalized workouts suitable for any age and fitness level.

Building muscle

Building lean muscle mass is important when losing weight. Muscles help you burn more calories and make it easier to maintain a healthy weight in the long term. Muscle mass also helps you avoid a common problem of loose skin, giving your body a better shape.

Both running and cycling may help you grow your lower body muscles, but it largely depends on the intensity and duration of your training.


A 10-week program of 25 HIIT running workouts resulted in a 10.6% increase in the muscle fiber area of participants’ quadriceps, compared with the control group.


Cycling can be slightly more efficient for building muscle mass in your lower body because you have to work against resistance while pedaling. Your core and upper body muscles are also engaged in maintaining the correct posture, but not as actively as your legs. A study involving 11 men completing 24 sessions of eccentric cycling training showed a 2.8–5.3% increase in lower-limb, thigh, and trunk lean mass.


However, both physical activities are endurance types of sport, and they won’t be as efficient for growing muscle mass as strength training. This study suggests that cycling training will grow muscles only when the intensity of the exercise is performed at 75%-85% of the maximum heart rate. If you don’t push yourself to vigorous running or cycling, you will just get a better muscle tone without growing your muscles. You can try uphill sprints to put more strain on your muscles.


Muscle toning


Toning muscles involves reducing body fat percentage and sculpting muscles without necessarily increasing muscle mass. Both running and cycling contribute to achieving a lean and toned physique, but they have distinct impacts on muscle groups. 

Cycling primarily engages the quadriceps, hip flexors, and glutes, with less involvement from hamstrings, calves, arms, shoulders, and core. On the other hand, running activates a broader range of muscle groups, including the quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, groin, calves, shins, core muscles, back, and arms, incorporating diverse muscle movements. 


While cycling mainly entails concentric muscle activation, running incorporates concentric, eccentric, and isometric contractions. 

Endurance running primarily utilizes slow-twitch muscle fibers, suited for long distances, while cycling relies more on fast-twitch fibers for explosive pedaling against resistance. Consequently, cyclists often exhibit more muscular and vascular legs, but the muscle development may be less balanced, whereas runners tend to have leaner legs with a more balanced muscle composition.

Other factors to consider

Impact on your body

If you have a chronic health condition, this may influence your workout choice. Running is a high-impact sport, especially affecting your knees. Every time your feet hit the ground, the impact reverberates up to the kneecap and may cause knee pain leading to runner’s knee syndrome. Other common running injuries include IT band syndrome which causes sharp pain on the outer side of your leg and tiny bone fractures as a result of overuse.


Overall cycling is gentler on the body, especially on your joints. At the same time, this physical activity can increase lower back pain.

According to research, cycling is a safer choice causing 5.83 injuries per 1,000 hours, while running is more dangerous with 12.1 injuries per 1,000 hours.


Equipment cost

Cycling is more expensive than running due to the initial investment of a bicycle or a stationary bike and the maintenance cost over time. Some bikes also require a good pair of cycling shoes and training clothes.


Compared to cycling, running requires significantly less equipment. If you run outdoors, you will only need activewear and a quality pair of running shoes.

How to decide between running or cycling

Both running and cycling are very beneficial for your cardiovascular health, weight loss, and having a healthier lifestyle. Choosing between them is often a matter of personal preferences. Running engages more muscles while cycling is a low-impact exercise that can ultimately deliver a faster calorie loss. By introducing interval training into your running or cycling session you will achieve your fitness goals faster.


Experience effective weight loss results in just 5-minute training sessions with CAROL Bike’s REHIT workouts.

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