Indoor Cycling vs Running: Differences & How to Choose the Best for Your Needs

When people want to start doing cardiovascular fitness, the two most popular forms of exercise are cycling and running. That’s why when you go to a gym, there are so many exercise bikes and treadmills to choose from.

I was often asked as a personal trainer and someone who has spent years on the gym floor. “Indoor cycling or running, which should I be doing?” 

It can be confusing to choose, and we understand people’s dilemmas between the two because taking up both can take a lot of effort and time. Well, they both have a lot of advantages. In this article, I will explain everything you need to know by discussing factors that differentiate them.

You can also check my video on YouTube, where I compare the two types of exercise.


The first factor to mention is accessibility. Although on a gym floor, you will have lots of treadmills and exercise bikes, it’s different when it comes to training at home. An exercise bike is fairly cheap to buy, and budget options are available which are high quality.

When it comes to running for a decent treadmill for home, you can spend a fair amount of money. It’s also worth mentioning that cycling can’t be done outdoors without a bike, but running can.

Muscles Used

When it comes to muscles, both running and cycling predominantly use the lower body. You will find with running, you do get much more intensity going to the core and also put a lot more pressure on the back of the legs around the hamstring and calves area. 

Cycling works heavily into the quads, and you also need to use your glutes to power from the rear. Cycling uses the upper body too, so you need to use your arms and core for control when standing. Cycling is better for leg strength building on the quads and glutes, but running is better for the core and overall legs. 

Workout Intensity

Cycling has a much better range when it comes to workout intensity. You can cycle very lightly, barely breaking a sweat, or wind the intensity up to full gas and challenge yourself. This range helps mix up the workouts and gives you options for longer workouts.

When it comes to running, it’s much more intense. Unless you have phenomenal fitness and a jog doesn’t make you sweat, you will find running quite intense. This means you will do shorter workouts, and it can often be a longer recovery.

You can generally burn a lot of calories with both running and cycling. You are looking at between 200 and 900 an hour, in fact. Running can push more calories in a shorter time, but it depends on how hard you work.


When it comes to dynamics, both cycling and running are very different. Running, I feel, doesn’t offer as many dynamics as cycling. You are really just playing with speed and incline and decline more than anything. 

When it comes to cycling, you have cadence, sitting or standing, resistance, and even different hand positions to choose from. If you are looking for workouts that offer a more dynamic feel, then cycling could be the route to go down.

Smart Training

Cycling offers some amazing interactive training options with the rise of bikes such as the Peloton and the NordicTrack S27i. You can go into live online classes with automatic resistance and challenge others on the leaderboard to see who might be the strongest.

With treadmills, there are some interactive options, such as the Peloton tread. Still, very little compared to the bikes, and although they are excellent, the technology is fairly limited compared to indoor cycling.


Although it might not be your first thought, recovery is a very interesting subject. Indoor cycling can be done most days, and because it is such a low-impact exercise, you recover very quickly and even have the option of recovery rides. 

Running has more impact, and not only is this tougher on the joints, but with it being quite high intensity, it does require more recovery. After speaking to many runners and cyclists, I can say cyclists typically train more due to needing less recovery and having more intensity to play with.

Which Is For You, Cycling Or Running?

It really comes down to what you enjoy most over anything else. If you love riding a bike, take up indoor cycling; if you love running, I recommend running. It will be miserable training if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. 

Putting enjoyment aside, cycling does offer different intensities, a quicker recovery, and smart bike options, and it is very dynamic from one workout to another. Running offers high-intensity short workouts, can be done outdoors with no extra equipment, and uses different muscles.

Robbie Ferri CPT

Robbie from “Riding with Robbie” is a Personal Trainer living in in Norfolk, UK. He has bikepacked all over the World, and also raced ultra distance at a top-level. He has worked closely with industry leaders such as Shimano.

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