Is Running Or Cycling Worse For Your Knees?

It’s time to get moving and get fit! Running is the easiest form of exercise and I would argue that cycling is not far behind! However, you might have some niggling injuries or are worried about an old joint issue. So is running or cycling worse for your knees?

Cycling is a low-impact exercise so cycling is better for your knees than running. Due to human biomechanics, running places a lot of stress on your knee joint and the surrounding muscles. Running also places pressure on your ankles and entire spine, which can lead to issues with your knees.

That being said, cyclists can still suffer from knee injuries if they don’t have the right setup!

Also, if you enjoy running and it helps you keep fit and you don’t suffer from knee pain, keep running! It’s always preferable to exercise in a way that you enjoy than nothing at all.

Woman cycling and man running

Cycling vs. Running: Which Is Better For Your Knees?

The knee is the largest joint in our body, and it’s also one of the most complex joints to function properly.

The knee has three main functions: flexion, extension, and rotation. It can be a very powerful joint when used correctly, but if you use it incorrectly or overuse it, then there are many problems that may occur.

Running

When we run, we put stress on our legs by pushing off with each foot as they strike the ground.

This causes us to push against the ground which puts pressure on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone, etc., all around the leg. This creates friction between these parts, causing wear and tear. The more miles we run, the greater this damage becomes. 

We’re effectively putting six to seven times our body weight on our knees each time we strike the ground. Not good news for your knees if you’re running long distances!

Cycling

In contrast, when we cycle and depending on gear, there is very little impact or force on our knees. We can just sit back and let gravity take care of everything, especially if you’re coasting downhill!

That being said, if you’re cycling long distances and you haven’t been set up correctly, then this can lead to a whole host of problems. You can read more about bike geometry here and I would recommend you visit a local bike shop if you’re just starting out. They’ll help you pick up the correct size bike and set up the seat so there’s minimal impact on your knees.

Woman MTB and man running

Why Cycling Is Good for Your Joints?

Cycling is a great exercise option for most people. A regular routine of cycling keeps your knees moving through their range of motion and it also helps to strengthen the muscles around your knee. It also helps to strengthen your bones and the connective tissues in your leg.

As mentioned, because we aren’t putting as much force into moving ourselves forward, we don’t have to work as hard to keep up speed. As long as we maintain good posture and form, there’s less chance of hurting our knees.

Cycling also offers quite a few other healthy perks, like weight loss, increase blood circulation, and reduced cholesterol levels. When kept up with a good nutrition program, cycling really shines and can help improve your posture, reduce risks of osteoporosis, lower blood pressure, and decreased the risk of diabetes and obesity.

How Can I Strengthen My Knees For Cycling?

Knee strengthening exercises will increase flexibility, range of motion, and stability. All good things for cycling. You can perform most of these exercises without weights, although some of them benefit from adding resistance. Here are some to get you started:

Squats

These are great for building thigh power and improving core strength. Start out standing straight and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then stand back up and repeat 10 times. Complete 3 sets.

If you want to become a super hill sprinter, slowly add more weight over time, but I don’t find that this is necessary for cyclists.

Calf Raises

Stand tall with your arms crossed over your chest and raise one leg behind you. Raise your heel up with the foot that’s still on the ground. Repeat 20 times. Switch legs after every set.

Lunge With Twist

Lunge toward it, twisting your upper body to face away from it. Return to starting position. Perform eight to ten repetitions per side.

You can make this harder by holding an object above your shoulder height.

Stretches

This isn’t a “strengthening” exercise per se, however, this will definitely help with overall knee health. My favorite after a long ride is a static quad hold stretch. Here are some of the best stretches for cyclists.

Woman squat exercise outside

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Cycling Daily Bad For Your Knees?

If you have the correct bike setup, then no, cycling daily is not bad for your knees. If anything, it will help your knees be nice and healthy!

However, if you’re hunched over or overextending your leg as you peddle, you can cause some serious problems to your knees. Consult a local bike shop and or physician if you’re experiencing pain whilst cycling!

Is Running Or Cycling Better For Weight Loss?

As far as weight loss goes, I think that’s where people get confused about whether cycling is better than running. Because both activities require energy expenditure, it doesn’t matter what kind of activity we choose; it matters how active we are during those activities!

So, if you want to lose weight, then cycling might actually help you achieve that goal faster than running since most people can usually sustain a hard cycling effort for longer than they run. 

However, if you want to build strength and endurance, then running might be a better choice.

Related article – Can Indoor Cycling Help Improve My Running?

Final Thoughts

Well, there you have it, some of the background information on why running is worse for your knees. If you’re just starting out and building up fitness, I suggest starting on a bike to help you ease into your fitness routine.

However, as I said up top, “do” the exercise that you enjoy. It will be easier to keep you motivated and you’ll more likely stick with your plans. 

Heck, why not run and cycle!

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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