Spinning Vs Running – Which Is A More Effective Workout?


Running is great exercise and has a variety of benefits, including increased cardiovascular health, weight loss, and even building muscle. But there are many other forms of exercise that offer the same benefits. One of the most popular these days is spinning.

You can do them both if you wish. But between spinning vs running, which is the better workout?

Sometimes it comes down to which exercise you prefer. But each form of working out has slightly different effects on the body, and often the one that would be best for you depends on your workout goals.

Let’s compare the similarities and differences between spinning and running to find out which is a more effective workout.

The Workouts


Spinning is a low-impact, high-intensity workout that consists of intervals where cadence and/or resistance is increased.

Often, you’ll find that the intervals will consist of “hills”—when you cycle standing up—which will get the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves working hard. This will help to tone the muscles and give you great muscle definition. Cycling is, at its heart, all about being able to produce power, and these intervals will help you put down the watts.

You can join a gym and take part in the range of spinning classes they have on offer. Even if you join an intermediate or advanced spinning class, you’ll be able to take part at a level that’s comfortable to you, until you’ve improved your fitness level.

If you prefer to train by yourself, then you’d need to invest in some sort of indoor cycling set up. That could be a smart trainer for your road bike, or a stationary bike like a Peleton or Echelon.

Most stationary bikes come preloaded with workouts that you could do, which can include interval training, or you could stream a class or do a virtual spinning session.

If you do invest in your own bike, take the time to learn a bit about bike geometry before you start. Make sure you set the seat at the right height (most non-cyclists will, by default, set the seat too low), and take some time to experiment with resistant levels to find out which are suitable for you.

One note: you can also, of course, bike outside. But “spinning” to a road cyclist is a different thing than what you’ll get at a gym or spinning studio. On the road, spinning is a low-intensity recovery technique focusing solely on easy, fast pedaling rather than high-intensity intervals.


If you’re looking to start an exercise routine, you’ll find that running is one of the easiest forms of exercise to begin. You can choose to join a running club, run with a friend, or you may want to run by yourself.

If you have a smartwatch, check to see if it has a run coach app. This will help you to get started. When you start running, there will be times where you’ll walk for a distance and then run for a distance while you increase your fitness.

You may start off running around the block, or even on a track that’s close to home. As your fitness levels increase, you’ll find that you can choose different routes or even go trail running in the outdoors.

Running involves less initial investment than spinning (bikes are expensive), but even when you’re just buying running shoes, the range of options can be daunting. A good local running store can help guide you toward the right pair of shoes.


Both spinning and running are easy to do, and while both require some preparation beforehand, once you’ve started you’ll reap great health benefits.

If you’re looking to start spinning, you may have to join a gym or invest in a stationary bike to exercise at home.

If you’re looking to get a stationary bike, do some research on different bikes and the features they have to offer. This will help you get the bike that will best suit your needs.

When you start running, you’ll have to get a good pair of running shoes that will help reduce the impact to the joints. You can run by yourself, join a running club, or run with a friend. This will help to keep you motivated as you increase your fitness levels.

Cardiovascular Benefits


Spinning doesn’t just benefit the legs; it will also help to strengthen the lower back and core muscles.

It also improves one’s blood flow, increases cardio endurance, and can boost your mood. An effective spinning session will improve your lung capacity, reduce blood pressure, and increase your cardio fitness. As mentioned above, spinning is all about generating power – and that takes strong leg muscles. Check out the quads and calves on a professional cyclist for an idea.

Although spinning is low-impact, it is a high-intensity workout that will have you working up a sweat and burning calories, which helps to lose weight.


Running has the same cardiovascular benefits as spinning, and if you’re training for a 5k run, you’ll find your heart pounds just as much as it would in a 45-minute spinning session.

While running uses the legs to propel one forward, it also engages the core muscles and upper body muscles.

This helps runners to tone up and build lean muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories even when you’re resting, which will lead to greater weight loss overall.


Both spinning and running provide excellent cardiovascular benefits. It could be argues that running is better for toning your muscles without adding bulk, while spinning is better for outright strength development. One way or the other, this muscle mass will help to burn more calories, both during and after your workout.



Spinning is a low-impact exercise that places less stress on the joints when you pedal. If you’re currently running, then taking a spinning class as a cross-training option can help to improve your overall running performance.

Spinning can help a runner with their cadence, as well as strengthen the leg muscles. If you’re recovering from an injury—depending on the injury—it’s also a great way to maintain your fitness while you’re recovering. Interestingly, the “ideal” cycling cadence, about 90 rpm, is the same as an “ideal” running cadence – 180 steps per minute. Of course, your ideal cadence in either sport will vary a bit.

Make sure that your seat is adjusted to your height so that no stress is placed on the knees or your lower back while you cycle. If your seat isn’t adjusted properly to you, it could lead to lower back or knee pain. Sit on the bike’s saddle and place your heel on one of the pedals. At that pedal’s low point, your leg should be just slightly bent. Most people new to spinning set their seat too low, which puts more pressure on your knees.

Regardless of whether it’s too hot outside or it’s snowing and cold, you can do spinning sessions to achieve your fitness goals.


Running is a high-impact exercise that puts stress on the weight-bearing joints of the body—hips, knees, and ankles. Over time, the repetitive stress from running can lead to a person having a higher risk of injuries.

Running with proper form will make you both faster and more resistance to injury. That being said, a study has shown that exercises like running can provide more protection for the skeleton than exercises that are low-impact, like cycling. Your body adapts to the strain of running, and your muscles and connective tissues become stronger.

The long-term benefit of running can actually help to prevent the loss of bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Aside from strengthening your heart, running also increases your metabolism, which will help with weight loss.


Running is, without a doubt, the higher impact activity. There is much more wear and tear on connective tissue. Cyclists are not immune to these issues, though. They, too, get tight IT bands, tendonitis, and the like. The key with both sports is to start slowly and not push your limits too far right at the start.



Research has shown that you can burn between 400 and 700 calories in a 45-minute spinning session. It’s all a matter of resistance level and cadence. While it’s easier in spinning to take it easy, it’s also possible to push yourself much harder. Which is to say, spinning has a wider range of possible calorie burn during a workout. Burning 1,000 calories per hour would be a leg-searing workout, but it’s not an outrageous result.


Running intensity can also vary. Your watch estimates calorie burn based on mileage, more than anything else. If you take a 30-minute jog, you’ll be able to burn between 200 to 500 calories. Do an interval or hard tempo workout, and that number will go up, because you’re covering more distance.

Due to the distance and the amount of effort a runner puts in, it’s possible to burn 500 to 1,000 calories in an hour of running.


The amount of calories you burn is more determined by how hard you’re working, more than by the type of workout you are doing. This will vary person to person. A cyclist will be able to workout harder on a bike, but might not be able to take it to the pain cave in quite the same way when running. Likewise, a strong runner might be put into the hurt locker very early on in a spinning workout. This will affect the calorie count.

All things being equal, running does have a slight advantage for calorie burn.



There are different spinning classes that you can do, including Tabata, HIIT, interval or endurance spinning. You’ll find that you’ll always do a short warm-up that can last up to 5 minutes, before spinning for 30 to 60 minutes.

If you do an endurance spinning class, this can last up to 75 minutes. To burn the same amount of calories as you would when running, you’d need to spin for a bit longer.

“Spinning” in this conception is restricted to structured interval classes, which is a less common format for runners, who are more likely to run steady-state cardio on a treadmill.


Running has a longer warm-up period. Runners will need to run for about 1 to 2 miles—which takes about 15 minutes—before they’ve warmed up nicely.

But once you get warmed up, you can run for another mile or 20. It’s up to you, your fitness level, and what you are training for. If you want an experience closer to what spinning offers, opt for a shorter workout, and choose a difficult interval program, whether that’s hills or sprint intervals.


When it comes to the duration of running and spinning, they’re both great.

While running wins for the number of calories burned, spinning is great because it requires less time to warm up than running.

Fitness Levels & Beginners


It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or you’ve been doing other forms of exercise, anyone can start spinning.

The low impact won’t place stress on the joints and you’ll be able to increase your fitness level in each class. You’re also able to set the resistance to a level that’s comfortable for you.


Anyone can start to run, but people who are just starting out will find that it will be challenging for at least the first month. The first two to four weeks will be a combination of walking and running until your fitness levels have increased.

If you can push past the first month when you start running, it will get better. Most people stop running after a few runs or within their first months, which is usually just before it gets easier.


If you’re new to exercise then spinning may have a slight advantage, as it’s better for beginners and easier to see progress.



If you’re looking at spinning as a form of exercise, then you’ll have to pay for a gym membership or pay extra to join a class. You can invest in your own stationary bike, which could have a starting price tag of $400 or more. The fancy ones in the tv commercials can be $3,000 and up…and that’s before you buy the app membership.

Some gyms have spinning bikes that need spinning/cycling shoes, as they have cleats that clip into the pedal. These can cost an additional $150 and $250. And if you though running clothes were expensive, just wait until you shop for high-end cycling shorts.


The biggest investment for running would be the shoes. A good pair of running shoes can cost between $100 and $150 dollars. Even if you are going to buy a treadmill + app subscription, you can get away for far less than a spin bike.


When it comes to the cost, running is the better and less expensive option.



When you’re spinning, you’re using the leg muscles—glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves—as well as your lower back and core muscles. The upper body is used to a small degree, especially when climbing, but it is minimal.

But you’ll find that your leg muscles are what get an effective workout, and it develops the muscles quite well. The key metric in cycling performance is not pace – it’s power. The same way runners are glued to their GPS watches, cyclists are glued to their power meters. Power can be roughly estimated by measuring cross-sectional area of a muscle. This is why cyclists have bigger leg muscles than runners.


Running requires efficiency more than it requires power. Runners develop lean muscle in the legs, and the arms, shoulders, chest, and core, also benefit from light, repetitive movements.

If you look at sprinters, you’ll find that they have big thigh muscles and bulging calves. This is because they need the explosive power to propel them and get them running faster as soon as possible.

But distance runners are the opposite. Within the bounds of good health, leaner is better. In fact, it is thought that having large leg muscles is actually a hindrance to endurance running.


Spinning allows you to change the resistance levels of the exercise, which gives you more resistance than you can get with running. This helps to tone and strengthen the leg muscles.


Why do spinning?

Spinning is a great option for those who are looking to start exercising, are recovering from an injury or may be injury-prone, as it’s low-impact.

The spinning classes at the gym can help to motivate you, especially if you love group training where you can meet like-minded people.

If you don’t like weight training but want to strengthen your lower body, then spinning is a great option for you. With the different levels of resistance, you’ll find that you’ll have toned legs in no time.

Why go running?

If you don’t like going to the gym as you prefer being outdoors, then running would be a great option for you.

Running can also be a great choice if you’re on a budget, as you’d only need to get a good pair of running shoes.

You can run on your terms as well. You don’t have to worry about being caught in a traffic jam and being late for your session, as running doesn’t have a schedule. If you prefer to choose the time, distance, and place where your exercise will be done, then running is a great option for you.

Running will also help to increase your cardio fitness, reduce stress, and lose weight.

Both spinning and running are great exercise options, but it will come down to what you enjoy the most.

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.