Cycling vs. Swimming: Which is the best exercise?

Two fantastic sports, similar in action but wholly different in circumstance – we’re pitting cycling against swimming to see which sport is better for you.

Swimming, generally speaking, gets you quicker results by engaging all of the major muscle groups. It’s a strenuous workout on the heart and lungs that doesn’t feel like one; it’s also particularly good for those with joint problems or weight issues, as the water takes away any stresses while offering the perfect resistance.
You won’t build up a whole lot of muscle by swimming. If you do plenty of sprinting laps you will get more definition in your upper body, but it’s going to be much harder than weight training. This prolonged exercise with low intensity is great for burning fat and losing weight however, and you can try to mix it up between using your arms or legs.
The only dangers you’re likely to experience while swimming are things like verrucas and athlete’s foot – easily treatable issues. It’s also a very relaxing, centering exercise for when you’re stressed out and want to be alone.

However it’s not a very sociable exercise, and the same environment can get boring after some time; you also can’t listen to music without buying a special waterproof mp3 player. Swimming in cold water also increases your appetite, so you might finish up and then want to pig out!

Swimming also means that you need to travel to a local swimming everytime to want to work out, which can be a pain. Unless you’re lucky enough to have your own swimming pool, which you’ll still need to worry about swimming pool maintenance (swimming pool covers and pool skimmers, for example).

Cycling is much more of a high stamina sport which is a great aerobic workout. Thanks to the support of the bicycle itself, it’s low-weight bearing, so it’s joint-friendly too – it’s also really easy to do! By cycling in high gears you can build up a lot of strength in the legs, or stand up in the saddle to help your upper and lower back. You won’t get muscular arms here though!


A higher cadence in a lower gear allows you to burn more fat. But the big selling point of cycling is the convenience – you can get exercise on the way to and from work without having to take time out to go to the gym.
Where you go to cycle will also make a difference: cycling among busy traffic can damage your lungs and heart thanks to pollution. It can also be potentially dangerous, especially if you cycle among road traffic, and you will need some mechanical know-how to maintain your bike.

The Numbers

A 70kg-80kg man is able to burn about 750 calories in each hour that he swims breaststroke at a moderate intensity. The same man, cycling at 10-15mph, would burn 600 calories an hour.
Ultimately though, it’s about what you enjoy! If you actively enjoy doing an exercise you’re much more likely to continue with it. If boredom is your issue, try mixing it up!

(Thanks to Paramount Pools Ltd for this intriguing article.)