Most people don’t have an endless amount of time and energy to exercise, so it becomes important to make judicial decisions about what is the best type of exercise to do.
Two of the most common forms of aerobic or cardio exercise that people may choose to do are walking and biking.
Although there are certainly some obvious differences that can be pointed out in a walking vs cycling comparison, such as the need for equipment by way of a bike for cycling, there are also more nuanced differences that can be helpful to know when you are trying to decide whether walking or cycling is a better workout for you.
In this article, we compare and contrast biking and walking in a walking vs biking comparison, hopefully helping you determine the pros and cons to make the best choice for you.
We will cover:
- Which Is a Better Workout, Walking Or Biking?
- Walking vs Biking: Muscles Worked
- Walking vs Biking: Calories Burned
- Walking vs Biking: Health and Fitness Benefits
Let’s dive in!
Which Is a Better Workout, Walking Or Biking?
In most cases, people are interested in maximizing the efficiency of their workout time, preferring to choose exercises that provide greater fitness and health benefits per minute of hard work.
For this reason, questions such as “Is walking better than biking?“ or “Is biking better than walking?“ are very common.
There’s not necessarily a single, universal answer to either of these questions, as what determines a “better” workout can be somewhat subjective and variable based on each individual exerciser’s needs.
For example, walking will be a better workout for someone who can’t afford a bike or a gym membership where there would be access to an exercise bike or someone who lives in an area where it would be unsafe to ride a bike outside, or for someone who is looking to do weight-bearing exercise to increase bone density, among other reasons.
On the other hand, biking will be a better workout for someone who is looking to increase their heart rate more easily, has arthritis or joint pain, or has an injury that makes weight-bearing exercise painful or dangerous.However, if we put individual factors aside, biking is typically a better workout than walking In terms of its ability to be more vigorous, burn more calories, and increase aerobic fitness and muscular strength to a more appreciable degree in a minute-per-minute comparison to walking.
In other words, in a walking vs cycling in a head-to-head matchup, cycling is typically a more efficient, effective, and challenging workout.
With that said, while it’s more likely that you will get a better workout biking vs walking, it is also possible to get a better workout biking vs walking.
The difficulty of any workout is contingent upon the intensity and duration of the workout.
You can increase the difficulty of walking workouts by walking at a very brisk pace and up a steep incline. Pumping your arms, using walking poles, or wearing a weighted vest are additional ways to boost the intensity of a walking workout.
With cycling, you can increase the intensity by pedaling at a faster cadence, increasing the resistance on an exercise bike, or riding up hills outdoors.
Walking vs Biking: Muscles Worked
Because walking and cycling are both predominantly lower-body exercises, they work similar muscles, namely the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, shin muscles, and to a lesser degree, the hip flexors and core muscles.
If you are staying seated in the saddle the entire time you are riding your bike, this will pretty much be the extent of the muscles worked during cycling.
On the other hand, if you are riding an indoor cycle (spin bike) and climbing out of the saddle, and/or standing up on your pedals when climbing hills biking outdoors, you will also activate your upper-body muscles and core muscles.
This aggressive cycling position uses the triceps, abdominal muscles, upper- and lower-back muscles, deltoids in the shoulders, and pectoral muscles in the chest to some degree.
In addition to the aforementioned muscles in the legs used during walking workouts, walking works the core, shoulder, and arms, especially if you vigorously pump your arms while you walk.
Walking up steep inclines also increases the workload on the posterior chain muscles, such as the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Walking vs Biking: Calories Burned
The number of calories burned during any workout is contingent upon not only the type of exercise itself but also the intensity and duration of the workout, as well as your body weight, among other less significant factors.
The more vigorously and longer that you exercise, and the more that you weigh, the higher the number of calories you will burn.
However, in general, biking burns more calories than walking.
For example, according to Harvard Health Publishing, 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace of 3.5 miles per hour (17 minutes per mile) burns about half the number of calories of riding a stationary bike at a moderate intensity:
- 107 calories for a 125-pound person walking compared with 210 on an exercise bike
- 133 calories for a 155-pound person walking compared with 252 on an exercise bike
- 159 calories for a 185-pound person compared with 292 on an exercise bike
This gap expands when biking more vigorously.
For example, a 30-minute vigorous stationary bike workout burns approximately 315 calories for a 125-pound person, 378 calories for a 155-pound person, and 441 calories for a 185-pound person.
You can also compare the number of calories burned cycling vs walking by using the METS values for walking and biking at different speeds.
The higher the METS for any type of physical activity, the higher the number of calories you will burn per minute.
The Compendium of Physical Activities reports that:
- Walking at a leisurely pace of 2.8-3.2 mph on a level surface is equivalent to 3.5 METs
- Walking at a pace of 3.5 mph on a level surface is 4.3 METs
- Walking at a brisk pace of 4.0 mph on a level surface is rated at 5 METs
- Walking at a very brisk pace of 4.5 mph is 7 METs
Walking 2.9–3.5 mph uphill at a 1 to 5% grade is roughly 5.3 METs, and maintaining that pace while climbing a 6 to 15% grade bumps the metabolic demand up to 8 METs.
Cycling can be the equivalent of approximately 3.5-14 METS or so, depending on your cycling power and intensity or the effort level of your workout.
You can see the various METS for cycling at different intensities in the table below:
|METs||Exercise Biking Intensity|
|3.5||Very light, easy, low-intensity stationary exercise biking, 30-50 Watts|
|4.8||Low-to moderate-intensity stationary exercise biking, 51-89 Watts|
|6.8||Moderate-intensity stationary exercise biking, 90-100 Watts|
|8.5||Spin bike class, RPM cycling|
|8.8||Vigorous, high-intensity stationary exercise biking, 101-160 Watts|
|11||Vigorous, stationary exercise biking, 161-200 Watts|
|14||Very vigorous, stationary exercise biking, 201-270 Watts|
|7||General stationary exercise biking|
As can be seen, in general, the METS for cycling are higher than the METS for walking, so you’ll typically burn more calories in a walking vs biking workout.
Walking vs Biking: Health and Fitness Benefits
As both are forms of aerobic exercise, there’s a lot of overlap in the health and fitness benefits of cycling and walking, such as reducing blood pressure, strengthening the heart and lungs, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality, strengthening the legs, decreasing stress, improving mood, improving blood sugar regulation, and facilitating weight loss.
The main notable difference between walking and cycling from a health and fitness standpoint is the fact that walking is a weight-bearing exercise and cycling is not.
Both forms of exercise are low impact, so walking and cycling can be good for people with arthritis or joint pain.
However, because your weight is supported on a bike seat, biking can be better for people who have joint pain, as the impact stresses are even lower than they are when walking.
However, as a weight-bearing exercise, walking is more effective than cycling at building bone density.
Walking can also be easier for people with balance issues, although riding an exercise bike removes the challenge of having to balance yourself.
Overall, both biking and walking can be excellent forms of exercise and approachable for most beginners, especially if you start slowly and build up gradually, or use a treadmill or stationary bike where you can easily adjust the difficulty or stop when you need to.
Incorporating both walking and cycling into your workout routine is a great way to glean the benefits of both types of exercise, while preventing boredom, muscle imbalances, and potential relative deficits in your fitness.
So, looking at our walking vs cycling comparison, what seems to be the bettet workout for you if you can only choose one for now? If you’ve chosen walking, we have a great guide to get you on your way to walking your first 5k!