Doing some cardio is essential for your health. Two of the most popular forms of cardio are walking and cycling.
They’re both easy and fun and provide great benefits. But which is a better workout, walking vs. biking?
They’re both great workouts. Ultimately, the one you choose to do comes down to what you prefer. In this article, we’ll look at both and see which might be right for you.
Walking vs. Biking: What Are the Differences?
Although walking and biking are great choices for exercise, there are some very specific differences between the two. Here are the most noticeable ones.
Weight-Bearing vs. Non-Weight-Bearing
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise, whereas cycling is not. The definition of weight-bearing exercise is that it forces you to work against gravity, which improves bone health and strength.
With cycling, you are seated on the bike. So the bike itself bears the brunt of your weight. You are, however, required to propel all your weight plus the bike’s weight when you pedal.
There’s only so much intensity you can throw out when you’re walking—even if you’re power walking! It kicks over into jogging or running at a certain intensity, so walking is a much less intense exercise.
Cycling, on the other hand, can be anything from relaxed to highly intense.
Due to the way the wheels work on a bike, you can cover a much longer distance cycling than you can walking, in the same period of time. For every step walked, you only cover the distance of your stride length, usually between 2 and 3 feet. Cycling can take you more than twice that distance on every “step.”
You really don’t need much to start walking—just a decent pair of shoes and a water bottle!
On the other hand, cycling is a bit more equipment-heavy. You’ll need a bike that’s the right size, plus a helmet. That’s a non-negotiable! Bike shorts, bike gloves, a water cage and a bottle are also helpful.
What Are the Benefits of Walking or Biking?
Both walking and biking offer a ton of health benefits. You can feel about doing either one, because your cardiovascular system will thank you.
The CDC recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate cardio exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio. So whichever you choose, as long as you do it regularly, you’ll meet that goal.
Both exercises build muscle, although cycling usually builds more. They’re both low-impact, which makes them excellent choices for people with joint pain. You can also lose weight with both types of exercise, as long as your diet is on point.
Other benefits you can expect when you start doing either one is lowered stress levels, a reduction in anxiety, improved digestion, better sleep, and a better mood.
What Burns More Calories: Walking or Biking?
Harvard Health studied calories burned in 30 minutes of activity by people of three different weights. According to their research, walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour can burn between 107 and 159 calories in 30 minutes, depending on your weight.
Cycling at 12 to 14 miles per hour—about half that of the average speed of professional cyclists—can burn between 240 and 336 calories in half an hour.
If you’re after calorie burn specifically, cycling wins. But if you want to lose weight and you don’t have a bike or can’t get to the gym to use theirs, you can still lose by walking. It’ll most likely take longer, though.
Which Provides a Better Workout?
Some people like to feel like they’ve worked out after an exercise session. But that usually depends on your own intensity, so it comes down to you and how hard you’re pushing.
Ultimately, what one person considers a good workout may differ vastly from what someone else considers a good workout. Let’s compare the two.
HIIT or Intervals
It’s hard to do interval training when you’re walking. Walking intensity is fairly limited, so it’s difficult to alternate between intense and easy intervals unless you do walking/resting.
With cycling, you can really go hard for your working intervals and then slow down to an easy pedal on the light intervals. Cycling wins over walking here.
If you aren’t really interested in doing HIIT workouts, walking and cycling are both decent workouts. Walking is still at a much lower intensity than cycling can be, but it still provides many of the same benefits.
Does Walking or Biking Work the Muscles Better?
Biking is amazing for building leg muscle. Your quads, hamstrings, and calves will get a great workout because they have to do most of the work to pedal. Your upper body gets a bit of a workout—mostly your shoulders and biceps as you hold the handlebars.
Walking will build some muscle when you first begin, but it builds less than cycling. Walking with excellent form and speed, you can build some muscle in the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
But ultimately, cycling builds more muscle than walking thanks to its mechanics and the intensity at which you can do it.
Both exercises have definite advantages, so you can be pleased with either. Here’s what you can look forward to with each exercise.
The bone-strengthening benefits of walking can’t be understated. Those prone to osteoarthritis will benefit immensely from walking because it’s weight-bearing but not jarring on the joints.
As you age, these benefits will be more and more important. The stronger your bones as you get older, the less chance you’ll fall or break a bone.
No Equipment Needed
You really only need yourself and a decent pair of shoes to walk! The most you’ll need to spend is a few hundred dollars getting new walking shoes and perhaps a water bottle or a running belt.
But chances are you already have a suitable water bottle and may even have a decent, supportive, and comfortable pair of shoes. Walking is one of the most low-cost activities you can choose.
Walking is fun with friends, family, or even your dog! You can always start a walking club, which can be motivating and helps to keep you accountable.
If you want to go hard, cycling is the better choice. There’s a limit to how intense you go with a walk, but cycling allows you to push yourself.
This means you can do HIIT workouts or steady-state cardio with equal effectiveness, adding some versatility to your workout routines.
Builds Leg Muscle
If you want muscular, toned legs, then cycling is going to be your best bet! Your lower body will get a great muscle workout, and those muscles will grow quickly the more you cycle.
Excellent Calorie Burn
Cycling burns many calories, even if you do it at a lower intensity. If you’re planning on dropping some extra pounds, then you’ll get down to your goal weight much faster cycling than you will walking.
Both exercises are low-impact and excellent for people with joint pain or weakness. They’re also both great for building cardiovascular strength and endurance.
The other pro comes down to personal preference. If you love walking, then walking is a positive choice for you. If you enjoy cycling, then that’s good for you. Enjoying your exercise makes a huge difference to how effective it is for you!
But like everything, each exercise also has its drawbacks. Here’s what you should consider about your chosen exercise.
Lower Calorie Burn
Walking is less effective for weight loss, as it’s much less intense. If you want to see steady weight loss, you’ll need to be very strict with your diet—calories in vs calories out—and understand that it will most likely take months, not weeks.
There’s only so hard you can push yourself during a walk. At some point, to go faster, you need to kick over from walking into jogging or running. This may be limiting for those who want to work up more of a sweat!
You need decent equipment if you want to cycle from home. Either you need to spend money on a stationary bike for home or invest in an actual bicycle, which comes with a helmet, decent cycling shoes, and a puncture kit.
While walkers may want to invest in a treadmill, you can walk anywhere. But you can’t bike without a bike!
The exception is if you’re going to the gym and using the bikes there. In that case, cycling isn’t so expensive, and you don’t even need a helmet! You will, however, be paying gym fees, so it still comes out more pricey than walking.
This isn’t a disadvantage, but it means you miss the bone-strengthening benefits. The good news is that you get these benefits when you walk around during the day, although not as much as a dedicated walk.
Walking vs. Biking: Which One is for You?
Still trying to decide which one you should choose? Here’s a quick overview to make the right decision for you, your needs, and your goals.
Who Should Walk?
Walking is an amazing exercise for older people. The weight-bearing benefits are extremely valuable as you age and will help to strengthen your bones, improve your balance, and keep you more mobile for longer.
It’s also an excellent choice for those on a tight budget. You can walk anytime, anywhere, so it can fit seamlessly into any financial situation. If you prefer exercising in a group, walking might also be easier to do. Get a group of friends together!
Who Should Bike?
Those looking to lose weight would do better with cycling. It’s a calorie-scorcher, much more so than walking. If you’re a fan of HIIT workouts, cycling will also be the better option.
Biking is far more intense than walking, so if you like to work up a sweat, this is the way! Those who want to build great leg muscle should also choose cycling over walking.