Can Cycling Improve My Running?
Cross training in general, and cycling in particular, can greatly improve your running performance. We explain how...
Runners are renowned for being stubborn. They love running so much they can’t stop themselves from clocking up the miles, often leading to over training and sometimes resulting in overuse injuries. Substituting some of your running sessions with cycling can improve leg strength, your overall endurance and, crucially, allow your legs to work out without striking unforgiving pavements.
Cycling is well renowned as a great method of cross training, being a flexible, non-impact form of exercise. “Runners often undervalue the benefit of cycling, and see it more as an easy session to aid recovery after a hard run, or will sit on a bike only when they are forced to through injury. There is, however, definitely a place for consistent cycling in your overall training routine,” argues Sam Begg a British Triathlon qualified triathlon coach from Compete PR, experts in cycling, running and endurance sports (competepr.com).
Cycling is not just for recovery, it can also improve your cardio fitness
While cycling as a means of recovery is excellent to increase blood flow through your muscles, helping flush out waste products, it can also improve your overall cardiovascular fitness. “There’s no doubt that cycling offers you high-end aerobic training that will impact your fitness,” adds Sam. “Take sprint intervals on the bike. Done properly, these will both raise your heart rate to their highest levels, whilst enforcing a quick pedal turnover (cadence) as well, and quick cadence is what we strive for as runners. Not only will this impact your improving general fitness you will notice an improvement in leg strength, and the biggest plus is that it does both without putting stress and strain through the legs as running does.”
Try a mix of sprint sessions, longer rides and hill repeats
A sprint session on the bike will feel familiar. After a 10-minute warm-up of easy spinning, aim for 10 x 1-minute intervals at all-out effort. Take two minutes of very slow/easy riding to recover, and cool down with a slow 10-minutes at the end. Mix up your bike sessions with longer, endurance rides as well as hill repeats in a big gear.
Even when you do a tough sprint session, or a long bike ride, you will find your legs don’t feel as heavy or exhausted as when you do a similar sort of intensity when running. This can be useful if you are training for a marathon or longer; you can do your bike session and still feel fresh for your long run. “To build endurance, cycling is an excellent alternative to pounding out long training miles on foot,” says Sam, “as it’s kinder, less stressful to your body.
“When you have gradually built up your cycling endurance, you will find you can ride for hours without putting your body under the same amount of stress as it would experience in a marathon,” he says. “If you are prone to injury, especially when you up the distance of your long runs, swapping time on feet for time in the saddle may get you to your start line fighting fit.”
“To build endurance, cycling is an excellent alternative to pounding out long training miles on foot,” says Sam Begg, “as it’s kinder, less stressful to your body".
Cycling will develop new muscles that you don't use whilst running
Cycling will develop new muscles, that you don’t use as much when you’re running. Expect to engage your quads and gluteus maximus more; through using alternative muscle systems to regular running, you will develop overall leg strength, while resting your regular running muscles. Expect to feel the cardio gains but also notice how much stronger your legs feel at the end of race, if you’re regularly cycling.
It will open new horizons to a runner
Once you’ve got yourself a bike and have started exploring local routes, you might find you start a new journey, one with enough room for both cycling and running. Doing the same races can often reduce motivation, but bring cycling in to the equation and suddenly the world of competing in duathlons (usually a run/bike/run) and triathlons (swim/bike/run) opens up. Even though multi-event training will probably take up more of your time, you may find it vastly improves your running fitness without increasing your running training. And it will definitely challenge and reward you mentally; running after a bike section can at first feel a bit wobbly, but can also be surprisingly successful, after all, your legs are well warmed up and ready to push. New events means meeting new like-minded friends, and the beauty of cycling is that it offers lots of disciplines to try, including time-trialling, road racing, track racing and mountain biking.
If you decide to invest in a bike, it’s worth getting it set up properly by a local bike shop or bike fitter, to ensure you are in an efficient and safe riding position – this will help reduce the likelihood of injury.
When you first start out on the bike remember, too, the basic rules you learnt when increasing your distances with running. Make sure you don’t overload your muscles when you first start cycling, rather gradually increase both distance and effort to allow your body to adapt.