Swimming vs Running vs Cycling – Spice up Your Workout Routine

Having options in workout techniques to choose from is great. It doesn’t only help us find what best works for us but it also allows us to spice up our routines. 

Hi, my name is Morgan and I love to workout probably a little more than I’d care to admit it. It’s been seven years since I started working out. I weight about 280 pounds at the time and initially, everything was a struggle for me.

Thankfully, I started with the best trainer anyone could ask for and he mentored me into the toned and healthy body I flaunt today. In the course of my training, Frank, my trainer, has trained me through different exercises that have together worked every muscle in my body. Swimming, cycling, and running happened to be my favorite because of their effectiveness and fun factor. Here is how I think they compare in various respects.

Swimming vs Running vs Cycling Summary Comparison

Training Concern
Which technique rules?
Stronger Leg Muscles
VO2 Intake
Building Abs
Cardio Workout
Strength Training
Calories Burned
Swimming at 1100 calories
Least risk and danger
Best for terminal Illness
Best for muscle or joint injury


Swimming, running and cycling calories burned 

Out of the three exercises, swimming burns the most calories because it requires more energy from one to make a move against the water current as compared to running or cycling.

Swimming is an aerobic exercise that is also considered a full-body workout. The resistance caused by the water is ideal for muscle forming and strength training. It takes a lot to swim as opposed to cycling or running because of the limited oxygen usable.

The cool thing about calories is, the more weight you have, the more calories you will use. This is because calories are a measure of scale that references how much energy you spent working out.

Swimming one hour on the pool for a man weighing 130 pounds will see him burn at least 600 calories if you swim fast and 400 if you swim a little slower. An individual weighing 200 pounds will lose about 1100 calories at high speeds and 900 at a slow speed.

An individual with 130 pounds running for an hour at a 5mph pace, will lose about 578 calories and if you weigh 200 pounds, you will burn about 1080 calories.

If the same two individuals decide to go cycling instead and at a 12 mph pace, the one weighing 130 pounds will lose about 500 calories compared to the one weighing 200 pounds who will lose about 800 calories per hour.

Swimming, running and cycling for bone strengthening 

swimming exrcise routine

Running is the scientifically proven exercise that is ideal for strengthening bones because of its high impact which causes bones to get thicker.

Swimming being a resistance exercise, build, sculpts, tones, and develops muscles. It does nothing much for the bones and joints other than assisting them to move better underwater without exerting pressure on them.

That is why it is best to recommend swimming to anyone suffering from any flesh or bone injury that needs tenderness in its care. In this instance, swimming is the best ideal as it helps get the person back in shape quicker maybe because of the aesthetic effects of water.

Cycling, as witnessed in most professional cyclists, has weak bone density and this is because it is a non-weight bearing exercise that in the long term harms your knees. This weakening of bones is called osteoporosis which means you are wasting away more bone than you are replacing.

This condition weakens your bones and is irreversible. Once density is lost, you cannot regain it. Only manage it.

Running is high impact and while there is always going to be a concern around how much impact is harmful, it is instrumental in the development of strong bones. This is possible because of the weight-bearing properties of running which help them grow in density making them thicker and stronger.

It is, however, important to keep your training monitored to avoid overdoing it which would also weaken the bone’s density.

Swimming, running and cycling for cardio exercise

Of the three, swimming takes more from an individual to work out because of the limited supply of oxygen meaning more energy is needed to make a move. This will raise your heartbeat but not significantly your temperature.

Swimming for one mile in the pool equates to running 4 miles and 12 miles cycling. The difference is in the time and pace you decide to run, ride, or swim in.

Working up your heart rate to a level over 70% your normal heart rate will see you get serious cardio from your swim session. Taking on new swimming techniques in varied differences, counting your laps, and making sure to do the techniques perfectly will all contribute to how much you get out of it.

Running is great cardio and this is global knowledge. The ability to take in more oxygen with the big deep breaths increases your lung capacity and your blood flow through veins, arteries, and capillaries. These actions help to rejuvenate your internal organs such as heart, brain, liver, kidney, and all others.

Cycling could pass for a great cardio workout if you are adventurous outside or if you are intense in the gym while on the stationary bike. Taking in new terrains like hills and rocky surfaces will help you exercise more and the longer you go, the more you get out of it.

All three can give good cardio in varying intensities. If you have some pain or you are not feeling quite up to it on a particular day, you should opt to cycle or swim to raise your heart rate and body temperature.

For those in great health overall, running should be the way to go to get some cardio in your life. It takes a shorter time to achieve ad you could go up to 190 bpm.

Swimming, running and cycling for muscle toning 

Swimming is calming and the resistance in the water helps tone and sculpt the body as compared to cycling and running which both strengthen.

If you are working out intending to simply tone your body and not necessarily lose weight, swimming is the best option out of the three.

As an aerobic exercise, swimming helps you work your back which is important to strengthen for a tighter core. It works on the whole offering resistance that tones the body. Some swimming techniques have been identified as effective for figure sculpting.

If you are new to swimming, you will need an instructor and some floating devices to help you along. Pikes, dolphin kicks, and kickboard kicks are great techniques to try the next time you are out for dip.

To get the most out of it, you need to train seriously for about 30 minutes every 4 days of the week and in two months, you should see significant changes in your figure or its appearance.

Running, being high impact will shake off weight in your flabby areas and this will turn fat into lean muscles. With the increased intake in oxygen, this process is quickened. Otherwise, running is mass-wasting and will lose more than tone your body.

When cycling, a good way to target your core is to try cycling in periodic spurts of energy. These will have you working more muscles and joints than normal and this will make you stronger in the long run.

Adding to the challenge of your exercises will increase your tension which will translate to your results in a few weeks.

If you have the option to combine all exercises, it would be highly ideal. However, if you prefer one over the other, remember that dieting is mandatory to keep those calories in check. When the calories are low, your fat concentration will be low and this will result in a leaner looking body.

Swimming, running and cycling speed


2 mph swimming, 65 rpm in cycling, and 6 mph while running are good speeds to reach and maintain in your workout. 

Depending on your current weight, your intake of oxygen, and of course your DNA. All these plays to how fast or slow you can lose your weight or change your appearance. To lose a pound of weight, you need to shed off about 3,500 calories. While this is not achievable in one go, you can keep a daily or weekly workout routine to help you achieve your weight goals.

Breathing techniques incorporated in either exercise is different. While swimming, less air is used and needed to finish a race and while running, your lung capacity is expanded with the high oxygen volume intake needed to propel you forward.

Runners have a love for swimming as an alternative training for them especially if they are injured. This is because swimming will work muscles because of the water-resistance. This cross-training also makes them faster runners as they gain better control of their breathing.

Swimming for 2 minutes per 100 meters is a good time to clock for a healthy and well individual. It translates to about 2 miles per hour. If you consistently train daily for an hour you could build up this training speed to 5.3 miles per hour in a short distance.

Cycling at 6 mph or 70 rpm on the stationary bike will make your muscles tighter and firmer and you can improve this by HIIT training methods that will develop your endurance.

Running will charge you up and the faster you get, the faster you want to become. This is why athletes are always improving themselves to better their speeds.

Eating well, addressing any arising issues immediately, and cross-training consistently will make you a faster, runner, swimmer, or cyclist. That’s is how they all correlate.

How many miles on a bike are equivalent to running?

12 miles on a bicycle are equivalent to running 4 miles. Meaning for every mile you have run, another has cycled 3 miles. 

It is great to mix up the two techniques and switch up your training routines. This makes you a better athlete or overall an all-rounded healthy individual.

After training for a few years as I have, you get the hang of identifying your heart rate and this helps you determine how hard you are working out and how much longer you can go.

While working out on the bicycle is much more comfortable, some factors such as seat and pedal placements contribute to how long and far you can go.

Test yourself by venturing into new terrain with your bike or while on foot as well. When comparing your performance for each technique, consider your effort. You should identify a difference based on your intensity during the workout.

In the end, look at your cycling or running miles and see which one you did better about the average. That’s another way to determine which exercise between the two is perfect for you because we are all different.

Run to swim ratio

The run to swim ratio is 4:1

Four miles of running is equal to one mile of swimming which makes the universal run to swim ration 4:1. In terms of time, it means that for about 32 to 40 minutes, you will have swum a mile or have run four miles.

As a triathlete, doing these exercises one after another takes a lot from you and you need to have built strong endurance and persistence to succeed at this level.

Moving from sea to land or land to see trips up your psychological and physical senses with them working different muscles every new turn. These two will push you to the edge but the results re also super worth it.

Running will loosen up the joints and pump up the blood supply and swimming will tone and sculpt these muscles.

Most people are concerned that mixing training techniques would affect their performance and they are right. Cross-training is the best way to engage new joints and muscles, build endurance, and to spice up your workout routines.


Which exercises are equivalent to swimming?

Cycling, rowing, and strength training techniques are best to replace a swimming routine.

If you need to change, upgrade, or spice up your normal swimming training, there a few options that could effectively work muscles that are ideal for swimming. Getting on a bike, going on the elliptical, rowing and even yoga are great alternatives.

Depending on how long your workout normally goes for, you can as well split the different alternatives into smaller sessions with breaks in between to get a much better work out.

All the alternatives work on the arm and leg muscles strengthening them and toning them which improves their endurance. This will all be notified when its time to go back to swimming.

Swimming vs running vs cycling with lower back pain. Which is the best?

Swimming is the best exercise option for anyone suffering from back pain because it helps soothe it.

Back pain is the worst kind of pain to experience, after toothache, and the last thing you want is to make it worse. Strapping on your sneakers and decidedly going for an evening or morning run in hopes of clearing out that back problem is a bad idea.

Get your feet off the ground and your weight off your back and on some well-cushioned sofa or bed. If you are the active type as I think you are, you want to be weighing your options between the spin classes and swimming sessions.

Spinning is said not to exert pressure on joints but no mention is made of muscles. If your muscles ache, the pain is flaming hot and unlike any other. You want to be cooling off in the cool waters of a pool somewhere serene where you can move about to get your entire body stretched out.

Does swimming make you a slower runner?

No. If anything, swimming will make you an even better runner.

The same is not true for swimmers who try to run through. Swimmers have the propensity to hold their breath and suck in energy and their bodies are great performers under low oxygen levels.

The ability to control your breath underwater and on land would make the runner’s lungs even more adaptable to new changes which help the runner do more with more stamina.

When runner suffers injuries as is very common with their craft, they are banned from most activities other than cycling or swimming. If the damage is bad enough, cycling is not an option. Swimming is safe, low-impact, high-calorie burning, and effective resistance training.

Can cycling replace swimming?

Yes. It is equally a low-impact exercise and has the potential to produce the same or even better results compared to swimming. 

While the techniques of training are different and the environment also varied, swimming can be alternated with cycling sessions. This will not only help develop endurance and bigger lung capacity but it will also strengthen and tone the abdomen, back, leg, and thigh muscles which come in handy when swimming. It is a great idea to cross-train for exceptional results.

To wrap it up

All the exercises summarized here give benefits in cardio, calorie-burning, belly fat burning, muscle toning, and development. They are high up on the techniques everyone could adopt to progress towards a healthy and fit body. Now that you know how they impact you, pick one to try or try all of them. Just not all on the same day.