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Cycling vs Walking: Which is the best workout for you?

Aerobic exercise (“cardio”) is an important part of physical and mental health. It increases blood flow, strengthens your heart and lungs, burns calories, and releases a flood of feel-good chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, that help you to relax.


Running/jogging is the most well-known form of cardio; however it’s relatively high impact (which can increase wear and tear on joints) and many individuals simply don’t enjoy steady-state running.


Fortunately, there are numerous ways to get in your weekly cardio workouts. Two of the more popular alternatives to running for cardio are cycling and walking.


Both are great forms of exercise, but you may be wondering, “which one is better for my fitness goals?”


As with many things in fitness (and life in general), it depends on a variety of factors. Join us as we discuss which is better for you -- cycling or walking.


Which Burns More Calories: Cycling or Walking?


How many calories you burn during your cardio workout depends on several variables, including:


  • Your bodyweight (it takes more energy to move a heavier object through space than one that weighs less)
  • The duration of your cardio workout
  • The intensity of your cardio workout
  • The exercise of choice (walking, cycling, jogging, bodyweight circuits, etc.)


Suffice it to say, the longer and more intense you hit your workout, the more calories you burn.


That being said, does cycling or walking burn considerably more calories given the same duration and intensity?


Generally speaking, cycling tends to burn more calories than walking over the same period of time and is performed at the same relative level of effort (“intensity”).


In this context, cycling may be the more efficient cardio option for individuals that are short on time. However, if you have a longer amount of time to dedicate to your cardio and want to go at a more relaxed pace, then walking can also be effective.


Is Cycling or Walking Better for Building Strength?


Both cycling and walking work the lower body muscles; however, for most individuals walking will do little to build lower body strength once a base level of fitness is reached. That being said, most of us aren’t looking to traditional cardio workouts to maximize muscle and strength development.


However, cycling has a big advantage over walking in terms of developing leg strength -- you can increase the resistance on your bike by altering the gear ratio. The more resistance you have to apply to move the pedals, the more tension is applied to your quadriceps. Over time, this will increase leg strength and muscle development. Just look at the legs of competitive cyclists for further evidence at how effective cycling workouts can be for leg growth!


It’s true that you can increase your bodyweight by wearing a weight vest (or ankle/wrist weights), but all things considered this isn’t going to be a very effective way to maximize your lower body muscle and strength gains. But, remember what we just mentioned -- you’re not performing cycling or walking to build slabs of muscle or increase your squat 1RM. You’re performing them to build cardiovascular endurance and burn calories!


Cycling vs Walking: Which Burns More Fat?


During exercise our bodies burn a mixture of both fat and carbohydrates. Lower intensity exercise burns a higher percentage from fate while higher intensity exercise burns a higher percentage of carbohydrates.


Both cycling and walking can burn similar amounts of fat when performed at low-to-moderate intensities. However, since cycling tends to be more taxing compared to walking, it will generally require more effort and intensity over the long haul which could lead to less fatty acids being used for energy production.


REMEMBER, though, that just because you burn more fat for ATP production during exercise does NOT inherently mean you will lose more body fat. Research has shown that our bodies compensate by burning a higher percentage of carbohydrates for the remainder of the day, when fat is relied upon for fuel, and vice versa.


A calorie deficit is required to lose body fat, which means that you don’t need to worry about staying in a “fat burning zone” during your cardio workouts.


Cycling vs Walking: The Bottom Line


Both cycling and walking are effective, low-impact workouts that are great for burning calories, losing weight and building cardiovascular fitness.


While cycling can be more challenging than walking, both are easier on the joints than running, making each a good option for people with joint pain or injuries. Plus, both cycling and walking have a low degree of complexity, which means each is easier to perform for individuals who are new to training (or those coming back from time away from the gym).


Ultimately, the best cardio workout for you is the one that you enjoy and will stick to over the long term. If you love cycling, then go for it! If you prefer walking, then that's great too!


The most important thing is to get moving and stay committed to your health and fitness journey. If you ever have questions or are looking for supplements to enhance your weight loss or muscle building results, we’re here for you!


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