Swimming vs Cycling (Which is Better?)

Cycling and swimming, even though they seem worlds apart, are both excellent cardiovascular exercises that can offer you great health and fitness benefits. They both produce proven results.

But which one is better? Which one should you commit your time and energy to? Which one will give you the best results in the long run?

Swimming vs Cycling : Which One is Better?

Overall, swimming burns more calories in a shorter time and is better for weight loss with fewer risks of injuries. Cycling can burn more calories in long run but you’ll need to invest more time and money. Swiming is better for people in shape who has less time to workout, and cycling is better for beginners who have more time and budget for gears.

Swimming and cycling are both safe and effective exercises. You can try both or go back and forth between them until you’ve discovered which one works for you better.

If you’re still not sure which one to try, experience both of them for yourself and then make a decision based on which one you like so you can continue doing it for long-term results.

Swimming vs Cycling: Weight Loss

Calorie burn is important if your goal is to lose weight. Even though the number of calories you’ll burn depends heavily on your body weight and how intensely you swim or cycle, both forms of exercise have significant differences when it comes to weight loss.

Swimming Advantage: Muscle Usage

Swimming is better in terms of muscle usage. While swimming uses almost all the major muscle groups in your body, cycling involves mostly your leg muscles only.

Swimming Advantage: Body Heat

You lose heat fast with swimming because of the heat-conducting ability of water, forcing your body to produce more heat, which in turn burns more calories.

Swimming Advantage: Continuous Calorie Burning

To keep swimming you have to keep your strokes up, making swimming a bit more intensive than swimming. When cycling, you can coast down a hill and let gravity do the heavy lifting, something you can’t do with swimming.

Cycling Advantage: Easier for Beginners

It is easier to lose weight by taking an easy long bike ride on the weekend than by swimming for a long time because it’s easier. To burn more calories by swimming, you have to be a confident and experienced swimmer to use the techniques that will burn more calories and to even swim for an hour.

Cycling Advantage: Better Result for Long Run

The only advantage cycling has over swimming in this context is how you can bike for a sustained period of time as opposed to swimming because of how demanding it is. Basically, you can bike for hours and burn more calories.

Swimming vs Cycling: Calories Burned Comparison

Generally, swimming can burn more calories than cycling as swimming is a whole-body exercise that requires no support, and it’s also quicker to lose heat. Since water circulates more quickly, your body produces more heat, which helps burn more calories.

Below are examples of how many calories you can burn with one hour of cycling versus one hour of swimming. This example is based on calories burned in 60 minutes for a person whose weight is 150 lbs.

CyclingKm/hCalories Burned
Light cycling15-19 km/h422
Moderate cycling19-21 km/h563
SwimmingCalories Burned
Recreational swimming466
Swimming breaststroke680
Swimming freestyle/butterfly748

For cycling, you’ll get better results if you choose an uphill terrain that will require more effort and hard pedaling than an easier route where you can coast most of the ride. Swimming using the butterfly stroke instead of the breaststroke burns more calories.

Swimming vs Cycling: Risk of Injury

While swimming is a low-impact sport that doesn’t involve significant trauma to the body, cycling is also considered to be very safe and can even be used as rehabilitation after an injury. Although there are risks of injuries for both sports, swimming is considered safer and a winner when it comes to the risk of injury.

Swimming Risks

Your shoulders are the most mobile joint in your body, they are also the most susceptible to injury. They also happen to be the body part you use most for swimming, making them prone to tears and inflammations.

Swimming poses the risk of injury to the shoulders and biceps while cycling increases the risk of injury to the hips, knees, and ankles.

Swimming with bad form increases the chance of developing shoulder injury with swimming over time.

Cycling Risks

Getting too much of your body used to perform certain riding positions can cause cycling-related injuries, and Improper riding poses can lead to falls from biking. About seven percent of cycling injuries are caused by collisions with other vehicles.

There’s always the risk of crashing with cycling, it is advisable to choose swimming if you have a vision or balance problems.

Both forms of exercise pose the risk of injury due to overuse. It’s very important to adopt the right form, use the right tools, and obey safety measures to prevent injury.

Swimming vs Cycling: Which is Easier for Beginners

We are not born with cycling or swimming skills installed in our DNA, both forms of exercises have to be learned correctly to do it right and reap the benefits.

They both have motions that need to be learned, but one has a steeper learning curve than the other.

Except you didn’t learn how to ride a bicycle when you were young, it is very easy to get started with cycling. And even if you didn’t, you’ll battle a fear of falling for a while, but getting the basics down isn’t that hard.

Swimming on the other hand is a bit more challenging because it’s a full-body workout, and you have to learn to breathe alongside swimming.

Where cycling engages your leg muscles, mostly the quadriceps, you’ll need your core, arms, shoulders, as well as legs to swim properly. All that coordination, plus timing your breathing, could take some time to learn and master.

Swimming is more challenging but you’ll need less time in the water to get a good workout than you’ll need on a bike because it involves almost all the muscle groups in your body. 

When it comes down to how long you can engage in either swimming or cycling, good form (which takes time to develop) is needed for extended swimming while you can ride long distances even as an amateur rider.

Swimming vs Cycling: Gear & Equipment Requirements

Swimming tends to be more convenient because you need less gear to get started, compared to cycling where you might need thousands of dollars for gear. Swim trunks and goggles are cheaper than a whole bike and all the myriads of accessories that go with it. Not to mention bike maintenance.

To engage in any sport you’re going to need some gear, the difference is how much gear you’ll need and how much it’ll cost.

To seriously get into biking, and buy all the gear you need, you might need to shell out thousands of dollars.

Even if you already have a bike, you’ll still need a helmet and a host of other accessories like cycling shoes, new clothing, and so on.

Swimming doesn’t require much to get started, as long as you have a pool, all you’ll need to get started is a pair of goggles.

The only thing that can make swimming less convenient is the availability of a safe body of water in which you can swim, but as long as you can find a pool, and you have a pair of goggles, you’re good to go.

Swimming vs Cycling: Better Choice for Long Run

Swimming and cycling are both sustainable exercises. Even though one requires more gear and maintenance than the other, they’ll both give great results if done consistently.

The only problem that could arise is sustaining and maintaining the equipment required.

For cycling, you’ll need to maintain your bike regularly to get the best out of it, and you need to at some point replace your gear.

Swimming on the other hand only requires a pool and a pair of goggles, and maybe a swimsuit. If you’re using a pool where you pay monthly, the maintenance of the pool isn’t your concern, reducing the amount of money you have to spend consistently.

Swimming is easier to sustain, compared to cycling, so it might give the best results in the long run because it’s easier to be consistent with it.