Cycling for runners

Find out how cycling can benefit runners.

Cycling is one of the most popular cross training activities because it’s a terrific way of maintaining and enhancing aerobic fitness. In fact you can work harder on a bike, without having to absorb the impact that running imposes on your joints. So think of time spent on the bike as money stored in the fitness bank, without the stresses and strains of pounding the streets.

Hit the road

There are plenty of cross training activities to choose from, but cycling is one of the most popular. There are two ways of going about this. You can hit the exercise bike or the spinning class, or you can hit the road on two wheels. Both are perfectly fine, but it is worth bearing in mind that cycling on the road does present its own challenges. You will have other road users to contend with, who might not be as accommodating as you. You have to stop at junctions and be aware of changing weather conditions, especially the wet. And of course if you fall off, road rash is a rather painful and inevitable result, and possibly even worse.

Or stay indoors

You certainly don’t have that problem cycling indoors, which is definitely a pro. But one of the cons of indoor cycling is that if you want to spend a couple of hours on the bike, it can be a little boring staring at a wall. Bear in mind that three or four miles (4.8-6.4km) on the bike is the equivalent to running one mile (1.6km), so that will give you a rough idea of what kind of distance should work best for you. But whatever distance you choose, the benefits of working out on two wheels are potentially significant.

Strength

Cycling enhances leg strength without the relentless pounding that your lower body takes from running. Runners are used to having strong hamstrings and calves, but they tend to have weaker shins and quads. This is the area that cycling works hardest, so the combination of the two disciplines equates to all round strength. And while you’re working on the weaker areas of your body, you are resting the over-worked areas too.

More power

Strength means greater resistance to injury, plus increased power and that offers greater potential speed. And you can push your aerobic capabilities in much the same way as a runner. In fact cycling up a really steep hill can be harder work aerobically than running up it.   You can also mimic your running intervals on two wheels. Aim for the same kind of intensity in your workout in terms of heart rate, leg turnover and duration of intervals and you can achieve the same kind of workout results.

RPM

The idea is to try and replicate your running pace with your cycling effort. Aim for around 90 rpm (revs per minute – indoor bikes will have displays which will include speed), or a little lower if you are new to cycling. The aim is to try and maintain that pace, just as you would if you were running. On hills, aim for around 60 rpm and try to cycle uphill in a seated position. It’s definitely harder! But don’t set the gears too high. This is a common mistake among runners who opt for the stationary exercise bike, but they quickly realise their error when they see how tough it can be on the knees.

That said, if you can maintain a high work rate on the bike, of between 110-120 rpm, it has the potential to really improve your cadence. That’s because the sustained turnover of your legs teaches them to work in tight, smooth circles at a higher cadence than you would usually run. Essentially you are honing your technique. And if you can sustain that technique for a lengthy workout on the bike, it will translate to your running.

Rehabilitation

If you are unlucky enough to have a running injury, cycling is a fantastic rehabilitative tool. The motion and leg turnover is similar, but without the impact. Depending on your injury, it can be a first step on the road to recovery and can help restore or maintain your cardiovascular fitness levels. If you can use it as an active recovery, it will shorten the length of time you need away from running by speeding the recovery process along. And from a mental perspective it is refreshing. Whether injured or not, almost every runner would benefit from a literal and metaphorical change of scenery. It keeps you fresh and motivated and that is something every runner should aspire to be. 

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