Which Is Better, Cycling Or Walking: A detailed comparison


Many people will look to get into fitness through walking or cycling. But with so many resources out there, it can be tricky to work out which one is actually best. As a keen cyclist, hiker and doctor, I thought I would be well placed to take a look at whether or not walking was better than cycling.

Cycling is better than walking for weight loss, muscle gains, and general fitness, especially when you compare cycling and walking on a minute-by-minute basis. However, walking is more accessible than cycling, being cheaper, safer, and requiring no time commitment for bike maintenance.

So, cycling is better for general fitness and weight loss than walking is, but how did I come to that conclusion, and what are the ways that walking is better than cycling? Take a look at the rest of the article to take a deeper dive into whether or not cycling is really better than walking for you and why.

CategoryWhich is the best?
Losing WeightCycling
Gaining MuscleCycling
PostureWalking
JointsJoint Specific
General FitnessCycling
Muscle ToningCycling
AccessibilityWalking
Time CommitmentWalking
Underlying Health ConditionCondition Specific
SafetyWalking
FunCycling (But I am biased)

Is cycling better than walking?

Which is the best for weight Loss?

When it comes to losing weight, one of the main factors to focus on is calories in vs calories out. Therefore, when it comes to weight loss, the best exercises are those that burn the most calories.

Cycling burns around twice as many calories per hour as walking does. This means that if you planned to walk or cycle for the same amount of time, cycling would be much more effective for weight loss.

Time (Minutes)Calories burnt cyclingCalories burnt walking
54221
108342
2016784
30250127
60500253

On the other hand, when it comes to the distance you travel, walking will actually burn more calories per mile than cycling (it will just take you a lot longer). This means that if you plan to walk or cycle for the same distance, walking will be best for weight loss.

Distance (Miles)Calories burnt cyclingCalories burnt walking
0.52342
15584
2111169
5216422
10553844

Overall, if you have a 5-mile commute to work, you will be better off walking than cycling, however, if you plan to exercise for 1 hour a day, cycling will be best. I’m going to give this category to cycling as you are able to lose weight more efficiently by cycling than you can by walking.

Which is the best at gaining muscle?

When it comes to gaining muscle, neither walking nor cycling are the best-suited exercises out there. However, both have their own advantages when you are trying to build muscle in general.

Studies have shown that both cycling and walking can increase your muscle mass, particularly in the thighs and buttocks.

When looking to build muscle through walking, you want to try and walk up an incline and at a brisk pace. This helps to put more work through your calves and thighs which are the areas that are best suited to build muscle from walking.

When it comes to cycling, certain types of cycling are much better suited to building muscle than others. High-intensity training (HIT training) has been shown to be one of the most efficient ways to gain muscle from cycling. This involves doing short bursts of cycling as fast as you can, often on an incline for around 30 seconds, then taking a substantial break to give your body time to recover. This is then repeated multiple times.

The important thing to note with cycling is that the extra calories you burn while cycling compared to walking can cause you to gain less muscle. To overcome this you need to ensure you eat a calorie surplus (more calories in than out), to ensure that there is no risk that your body will break down this new muscle to use as energy.

Overall, if you plan to train in a way that prioritizes muscle growth, then cycling is the best option, however, if you were just hoping to gain muscle as a bi-product of walking or cycling, then both are roughly equal.

Which is the best for your posture?

When it comes to which helps you the most with posture, walking is a better option than cycling. Cycling has been shown to contribute to result in lower back pain due to the hunched over position you have to maintain while cycling.

On the other hand, walking allows you to open up your shoulders and neck, recruiting extra core muscles to maintain your shape.

Overall, when it comes to improving or maintaining your posture, walking is definitely better than cycling.

Which is the best for your joints?

When it comes to which is better for your joints, you need to focus on the specific joints one by one, as each will put more strain on different areas.

Cycling tends to be easier on the hips, knees, and ankles, this is because these joints are no longer having to carry as much body weight as if you were walking or running. These are the most common area affected by arthritis and as such are common areas where people feel pain while exercising.

On the other hand, walking is better for your spine, wrists, shoulders, and neck. All of these areas have extra forces put through them while cycling and can become cramped or painful as you cycle.

CyclingWalking
Spine (specifically lower back)Hips
WristsKnees
ShouldersAnkles
Neck
Knees (although less than walking)
A table showing the joints most used in each exercise

Overall, there is no best option for your joints between cycling and walking, it will just depend on which joints you are looking to protect.

Which is the best for your overall fitness?

The UK National Health Service suggests that to stay active, we should all be aiming to do 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Both cycling and brisk walking are included as examples of this moderate activity, however, casual walking is not.

As long as you are doing brisk walking, this means that both activities should be enough to keep you fit and active, although if you are looking to further improve your fitness with either of these methods, the best option will once again depend on if you are measuring your activity by time or miles.

If you are able to allocate a set period of time per day to exercising, cycling will work your muscles and heart harder for that time, overall improving your fitness more than walking would.

On the other hand, if you only have a set distance you can be active (for example a commute to work), then a brisk walk will be better for you overall as this will take you much longer and work out your muscles and heart for a longer period of time.

Overall, while both brisk walking and cycling are suitable to increase your fitness, cycling is a better choice as you have to do it for less time for the same outcome.

Which is the best for muscle toning?

Muscle tone is not really a well-defined term. In reality, it just means having a low enough body fat percentage in the area in question that allows you to see the underlying muscle. Tone, therefore, comes as a result of low body fat and high muscle mass. Therefore any exercise that causes you to build muscle and lose fat can help you to become “toned”.

Overall, cycling and walking can both help you to become more toned, however, cycling will be better if this is your main goal as it is better at burning fat than walking is. This means that the underlying muscle will be more visible and you will appear more toned.

Which is the most accessible?

There are a few key areas to think about when you consider how accessible a sport or activity is.

First of all, we should look at the upfront cost associated with each. For walking this is easy, all you need is a pair of shoes. On the other hand, cycling requires you to have a bike, a bike helmet, and somewhere to store those things. This can add up to quite the expense if you consider that a bike alone is going to cost at least £300.

The next area to look at is the skill required for each sport. Most people learn how to walk by the age of two, and I imagine the majority of people reading this article don’t have any issues with walking, however, cycling can be quite daunting. Getting back onto a bike after a long time away can be a challenge, particularly if you live in an inner-city where you will have to cycle on the road.

Finally, it is also important to take into account another benefit of walking which is how easy it is to fit walking into your daily life. If you find yourself with a spare 20 minutes, it is much easier to go for a short walk than it is to get your bike out and put your cycling gear on. This may mean people are more likely to walk frequently than they would be to cycle frequently.

Overall, when comparing how accessible walking and cycling are, walking is by far the most accessible option.

Which requires the least time commitment?

When it comes to which requires the largest time commitment, there are two key areas you need to consider.

First of all, is the time you will be required to actually do either of the activities. We’ve already established that cycling is more efficient per minute than walking is, and so cycling wins for this. If you have 1 hour to spend each day exercising, it will be much more efficient to cycle than it would to walk.

On the other hand, we also need to consider the time you have to spend while not exercising. While there is none of this required for walking, cycling is another story. Throughout the year your bike will require regular maintenance, a service at your local bike shop, and washing and cleaning between rides. All of this may sound quick, but it does add up over time if you have a busy schedule.

Even if you presumed that you would spend 5 minutes after each bike ride cleaning your bike, a couple of hours twice a year taking your bike to get a service, and 10 to 15 minutes a week performing basic bike maintenance, you will still be spending less time each week cycling than you would walking to burn the same amount of calories (presuming you cycled for 1 hour three times a week).

Overall, while walking does have no extra time commitments after you’ve walked back into your front door, cycling is still the most time-efficient way of exercising out of walking and cycling.

Which is the best if you have an underlying health condition?

While no specific sport is the “best if you have mean underlying health condition”, some sports will be better than others.

One of the most common health conditions people suffer from while exercising is arthritis, which commonly causes pain in areas such as your knee or hip. We’ve already established that these areas are worked more during walking than they are in cycling, and as such, if you suffer from arthritis in these joints then you may be better suited for cycling. In fact, some studies have even shown that exercise such as cycling can improve the symptoms of arthritis.

On the other hand, walking is less strenuous than cycling, and as such may be better suited for people who are new to exercise or have an underlying condition such as a heart condition. Walking will put less strain on your heart and so may be better suited.

Walking has also been shown to be beneficial for those suffering from lower back pain. Which is in stark contrast to cycling which can make back pain worse.

Overall, both cycling and walking can make great options for exercising if you have a previous health condition but it is important that you speak to your own doctor before starting any physical activity regime. They will have your previous medical history and be able to help you decide which is most suitable.

Which is the safest?

Many people who are starting their fitness journey will be concerned about which sport is safest.

First of all, walking is easier to do in wet or slippery conditions than cycling is. This is because you are moving more slowly so will be able to spot areas such as ice that may slip or trip you.

Traveling more slowly while walking also means that if you were to have an accident, the damage you do is likely to be less than that if you had been cycling.

On top of this, if you are cycling, you often have to cycle on the road in many areas. This increases the risk of an accident as there are many cars around which can cause you further damage if you were to fall.

Overall, walking is the safest option between walking and cycling.

Which is the most fun?

When it comes to which is more fun, the choice of cycling or walking is going to be a personal one.

For me, cycling is my favorite for a few reasons. First of all, there are multiple different ways to cycle, be that mountain biking, road biking, or bikepacking. All of these mean you can mix up the way that you exercise and keep things fresh.

I also prefer cycling to walking as you are able to travel further. When walking, unless you commit time to travel further afield, you will have to follow the same routes over and over again, being able to travel further on the bike means I am able to get more variability in my weekly exercise.

Overall

As you can see, there are many different factors to consider when choosing if you should cycle or walk, however in reality the best option may be a combination of both.

This would allow you to work more muscle groups each week, gives individual muscle groups longer to rest between sessions, and also help to keep things more varied which can keep things fresh and exciting for longer.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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