Should I Run or Bike First? Which Will Get You More Fit?

You want better stamina, endurance, and physical fitness, which is why you’ve decided to implement biking into your already busy running routine. This combination of activities, sometimes referred to as brick (biking + running), can help you meet your fitness goals, but which is better? And which should you do first?

Running burns more calories than biking and is also reliable for toning muscle, so theoretically, it could improve your fitness more. To get the most of both activities, take a bike ride first and then run, limiting yourself to no more than 10 percent of the mileage you biked as you first get started. Later, increase the distance to 20 percent. 

In this article, we’ll talk in far more detail about the benefits of running and biking together. You’ll also learn which to do first and how much energy to dedicate to both activities. You’re certainly not going to want to miss it!

Running vs. Biking: Which Is the Better Choice for Physical Fitness?

Perhaps you’ve only been running to this point, and you want to add bike riding into your regimen as well, or maybe it’s vice-versa. Of the two activities, which one will promote a healthier, fitter you?

That depends on how you define being fit, as certain activities are better for different areas of fitness. Here’s what we mean.

If You Want to Burn More Calories, Go for a Run

Is your health goal to lose some weight? Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you ingest. A huge part of achieving your weight loss goals is eating a healthy diet, but exercise plays a critical role as well. 

Between biking and running, the latter burns more calories by quite a large margin. The American Council on Exercise or ACE published a Fit Facts report that compared the number of calories burned at different body weights from one physical activity to another. 

According to ACE, when cycling at 10 miles per hour, here’s how many calories you’d burn per minute:

  • 120 pounds – 5.5 calories
  • 140 pounds – 6.4 calories 
  • 160 pounds – 7.3 calories
  • 180 pounds – 8.2 calories

Let’s say you go bike riding for 20 minutes. A 120-pound person would burn 110 calories, a 140-pound person would burn 128 calories, a 160-pound person would burn 146 calories, and a 180-pound person would burn 164 calories.

Perhaps you doubled your time and went on a 40-minute bike ride that still averaged 10 MPH. At 120 pounds, you’d torch 220 calories; at 140 pounds, it’s 256 calories; at 160 pounds, it’s 292 calories; and at 180 pounds, you’d torch 328 calories.

Let’s look at how many calories you burn per minute when running courtesy of ACE:

  • 120 pounds – 11.4 calories
  • 140 pounds – 13.2 calories
  • 160 pounds – 15.1 calories
  • 180 pounds – 17.0 calories

Right off the bat, you can see that you’re burning more than twice the calories per minute when running than you are when cycling. Even still, let’s compare the number of calories burned during a 20-minute run and a 40-minute run.

After 20 minutes of running, a 120-pound person would burn 228 calories, a 140-pound person would burn 264 calories, a 160-pound person would burn 302 calories, and a 180-person would burn 340 pounds.

If you weigh 120 pounds and you run for 40 minutes, you’d torch 456 calories. At 140 pounds, it’s 528 calories; at 160 pounds, it’s 604 calories; and at 180 pounds, it’s 680 calories. 

Those numbers are far higher than the 200 to 300 calories you’re burning when biking, even if you cycle for upwards of an hour. Running will certainly help you blast through calories so you might lose weight!

If You Want to Build More Muscle on Your Lower Half, Run or Bike

Do you want to build stronger muscles to look and feel more fit? Both running and cycling will work those lower body muscles.

We wrote a post here about the muscles you use when running. As a refresher, those muscles include the calves (and the gastrocnemius), the deltoids and shoulders, the hamstrings, the quadriceps, the peroneals, the hip flexors, the tibialis anterior, the glutes, and the abdominals.

Yes, some of those muscles are in the upper body, but many more are below the belt.

According to training resource Training Peaks, when cycling, you activate the tibialis anterior, the calves, the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the gluteus maximus, which is your rear. That’s even fewer muscles than you use when running and all are exclusively lower body. 

That’s not to stay you don’t use your upper body muscles during a bike ride, as you need to hold onto the handlebars to stabilize yourself. That’s much the same case as when running, you swing your arms. Yet compared to what you do with the lower half of your body, the upper muscles don’t get nearly as much love with either activity.

If You Want to Build More Muscle on Your Upper Half, Weight-Lift at the Gym

That’s why your best bet for full-body fitness as a runner or cyclist is to regularly go to the gym and do some weightlifting and strength training. You certainly want to focus on toning the muscles that get less use during your runs and bike rides, including your core, your arms, and your shoulders, but please train those lower muscles as well.

Some moves you might incorporate into your routine are forward lunges, front squats, overhead shoulder presses, and deadlifts. Try to get to the gym (or workout at home if you have the equipment) between three and four times per week when not prepping for a marathon. Then, as race week approaches, you might cut it back to twice per week.

If You Want to Tone Your Muscles, Go for a Run and Do Strength Training

Although running and toning muscles aren’t synonymous, you can indeed keep your muscles looking good fit by running. You just have to add strength training on top of your jogs. 

Even if you’re an older adult, you can keep the hands of time from making your muscles small, loose, and saggy if you exercise often enough. That’s according to this 2011 report from the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine

In their study, 40 participants between the ages of 40 and 81 years old who were all regarded as master athletes exercised between four and five times per week. Then they were tested for quadriceps peak torque, body composition, and health. They also had MRIs done of their bilateral quadriceps, their intramuscular adipose tissue, their subcutaneous adipose tissue, and their mid-thigh muscle area. 

The researchers concluded that “this study contradicts the common observation that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of aging alone. Instead, these declines may signal the effect of chronic disuse rather than muscle aging.”

Should You Run or Bike First?

You only have so 24 hours in a day, and not all those hours can be used for exercise. To smartly utilize the time you have available, if you’re doing brick exercise (which, as a reminder, is running + biking), which do you start with?

Many brick enthusiasts will cycle first and then run. If you read our post on running before or after other exercises, then you should recall how you must create a careful energy balance when doing two activities on the same day. 

If you cycle unregulated, then you’ll have no energy for running. When you hit the trail, you’ll feel sluggish and tired, your muscles spent. Maybe you’re even sore by this point. Your runs will suffer. Since running burns more calories than cycling, you must have the endurance and stamina for it. 

That means limiting your cycling distance and then your running distance in kind. Plan your biking distance before you go and then ensure that your runs are no more than 10 percent of that distance, at least at first.

As an example, if you cycled for 20 miles, then you’d run for only two miles. Within a few weeks, perhaps even several months of you engaging in brick exercise, you can increase the amount of time you run to 20 percent of your cycling distance. Now if you cycled for 20 miles, you could run for more than five miles. 

What Are the Benefits of Running and Biking?

We won’t say that cycling and running during the same session are easy, but worth it. Here are some of the benefits you can enjoy once you start successfully bricking. 

Helps Your Heart Health

Both cycling and running are good for the heart individually, so when you combine them, you could help your ticker even further. 

Just make sure you’re not overdoing it. This 2014 report from Mayo Clinic Proceedingsnotes that too much exercise can be damaging rather than helpful for the heart. In this case, too much exercise would be defined as engaging in physical fitness more than an hour a day at least five days per week. 

Preps You for a Triathlon

Have you ever participated in a triathlon before? This three-part event combines running with swimming and cycling. By doing brick exercise, you’ve already got two out of the three parts of a triathlon down pat. Rather than always strength-train at the gym, you can start swimming at your community pool on some days. You’d be ready for that upcoming triathlon in no time! 

Burns More Calories

You already know that both running and cycling can burn a tremendous number of calories, especially running. When you combine the two into brick exercise, you can increase your calorie-burning potential even further. We would again advise you to save more of your energy for running, as this is where the more significant calorie-burning potential lies. 

Tips for Running and Biking

So you’ve decided to combine running and cycling. Here are some tips that will gear you up for success! 

Choose a Route

You want your routine to be continuous as you transition from cycling to running, so taking the time to get in the car and go from one park to the other is not an option. You need to pick a route in which you can safely cycle and then start running. That might be your local park, or it could be around your neighborhood, but scope out your path before you get started.

Pick a Safe Place to Keep Your Bike

Another factor to consider when selecting your route is where you’ll stash your bike. After all, when the time comes for you to stop cycling and start running, you can’t just throw your bike anywhere. Well, technically you can, just don’t expect it to be where you left it when you come back for it. Someone could have very well walked off with it! 

A bike lock will be your best friend when starting your brick exercise routine. 

Bring a Buddy

Sometimes having a beloved friend or family member on the sidelines to cheer you on is all you need to push through and do your best. Even if they’re not keeping you accountable, then at the very least, they can watch your bike while you run.

Don’t Expect Instant Awesomeness 

The first time you hop off your bike and begin running, your legs are going to feel like cooked pasta. You might have muscle pains that you usually don’t, and your stamina will be shot. This is all very normal, so please don’t beat yourself up for it!

The more you combine running and cycling, the easier it will become. You’ll learn how and where to allocate your energy versus when to spend more. Your muscles will become more attuned to what you’re doing as well. 

Final Thoughts 

Running and biking, aka brick exercise, is a great way to get fit. You can burn a huge number of calories and build lower-body muscles. Always start with cycling and then add running to the mix, running between 10 and 20 percent of the distance you cycled. Remember to start slow, listen to your body, and go easy on yourself. These exercises when done separately might be easy for you but combining them is a whole new ballgame. Good luck! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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