Cycling vs Swimming: Which is Better?

By Jiri Kaloc

There’s no risk of crashing when you go swimming. But cycling is much easier to learn. Which of these sports is better for your health? Which burns more calories and helps lose weight? Let’s take a closer look at both cycling and swimming to try and answer the question which one is better.

One hour of cycling vs one hour of swimming: Which one burns more calories?

How many calories you’ll burn always depends on intensity and your body weight. But with swimming, you also have to consider the type of stroke you use. Breast stroke usually burns the least calories, butterfly burns the most, and backstroke and freestyle are somewhere in between. For a 70kg person, this is what calories burned during 60 minutes of activity would look like:

Light cycling 16-19 km/h burns 422 kcal
Moderate cycling 19-21 km/h burns 563 kcal
Recreational swimming burns 446 kcal
Swimming laps breaststroke burns 744 kcal
Swimming laps butterfly burns 818 kcal

Road cycling
Which is better for burning calories? © Profimedia

Swimming usually burns a lot more calories per hour than cycling. You don’t have to support your weight while swimming, but it’s a whole-body exercise. Also, water conducts heat better, so you lose heat quicker. This forces your body to produce more heat, which burns calories. But it’s worth considering that swimming for 30-60 minutes consecutively can be quite a demanding workout, while you can easily go cycling for multiple hours, which allows you to burn more calories in total.

Swimming or cycling: Which one is better for weight loss?

When it comes to weight loss, you always have to consider your entire lifestyle. Eating habits are the most important, but sleep quality, lifestyle activity, and the form of exercise play a role too. Swimming might burn more calories per hour, but it’s easier to ride your bike for longer. So, both can be helpful for creating a calorie deficit that is necessary to lose weight.

Which one is better for your health?

Research shows a very positive relationship between both cycling and swimming and health. For example, a study of more than 80,000 adult swimmers showed 41% lower risk of dying of a heart disease and 28% lower risk of dying of any cause.

Similarly, a review of the effects of commuting to work on a bicycle showed that it significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

Research also shows that both swimming and cycling can ease symptoms of joint pain and stiffness after just 45 minutes per day 3 times a week for 3 months.

Both sports are the winner in this category. They are both equally beneficial to your health.

Both sports are great for your health. © Profimedia

Which is more convenient?

If you want to go cycling, you need access to a bicycle and a helmet. Arguably, if you get into cycling, there’s a whole list of accessories you might want to consider, so the spend ceiling can be quite high. But other than that, you just need some roads or trails to ride on, which are widely available for free.

The equipment for swimming is much cheaper. You only need swim trunks and goggles, which are both inexpensive. Some people might choose to get a wet suit if they swim in cold water, but that’s not necessary in swimming pools. This leads us to a more important obstacle – you need a body of water like a pool, lake, or an ocean. This can make swimming less convenient, depending on where you live and whether pools are open or not due to lockdowns, for example.

To sum up, cycling can be more expensive, but as long as you can afford a bike, it tends to be more convenient than swimming.

Which has a higher risk of injury?

With cycling, there’s always some risk of a crash. But other than that, cycling is very safe and often even used as rehabilitation after injuries because of its low impact on joints. Swimming is also a low-impact sport and there’s no risk of traumatic injury from crashing. There’s one thing to consider, however, which is your shoulder. It’s the most mobile joint in your body and the most susceptible to injury. Repetitive hard training in the swimming pool can pose a risk of injury from overuse. But overall swimming is a winner in this category by a small margin.

With cycling, there’s always some risk of a crash. © Profimedia

Which one is harder to learn?

Cycling can be a challenge to learn as an adult because of the fear of falling. But it’s usually not very difficult to get the basics down, especially when you’re taught as a kid. Swimming, on the other hand, is significantly harder to learn properly. Plus, proper swimming form makes a much larger difference in your ability to swim long distances than cycling technique makes for long rides. Swimming requires a perfect sequence of movements using most of your muscles and also timing your breathing. That’s why swimmers tend to spend much more time practicing technique rather than speed compared to cyclists. The clear winner here is cycling.

So, what is the final verdict on the cycling vs swimming question?

Both sports have advantages and drawbacks. Swimming can burn more calories per hour, while cycling might be better to burn more calories in total. Cycling is more convenient and easier to learn, but swimming is cheaper and poses a smaller injury risk. But the more important takeaway is that they are both great options. Both sports are beneficial for weight loss and both are great for your health.

If you can’t decide which one is right for you, why not try both? Add a few runs and you’re ready to sign up for a triathlon!