We are in the month of May, and May happens to be the National Bike Month. Therefore, and for that occasion, I decided today to write something up about some of the many benefits of cycling for runners.
Therfore, I encourage you to give cycling a try—especially after you get acquainted with the many benefits that cycling has to offer runners, and how simple it is to start biking.
I hope you’ll find them useful and simple enough.
Cycling as Cross Training
I am a runner, and I run a lot.
But that does not mean that I shouldn’t be doing other things, especially when I know that they are beneficial to both my running and fitness level.
As you already know if you have been on my blog before, I’m big on cross-training. In fact, after a quick glance at my Cross-training page on my blog, you’ll notice that I have more posts in there than in any other category.
That tells you how much I value cross training. Therefore, today I decided to share with you a post on one of my least-practiced sports, cycling.
The fact is, cycling is, hands down, one of the best cross-training exercises that match running.
I’m not a pro cyclist
Before I get into the workouts, I would like for the record to clearly state that I’m not as quite as qualified to write about cycling as I am to write about running. The fact is, I’m not that good of biker, and I don’t do it that often.
Yes, I love cycling, but I wish I could do more of it.
I used to bike much more often in the past, but these days it’s a rarity.
It doesn’t happen that often.
I usually bike when I’m injured. When I’m tired from running. Or whenever running is not an option.
Therefore, the workouts I’m sharing with you today are not some advanced or complicated routines. They are a just some of the simple and straightforward workouts I do every now and then.
I just want to share with you what I do when it comes to biking. Nothing advanced here. If you like some of the advanced stuff, then this is not the blog post for you.
The Benefits of Cycling for Runners
I do believe in the power of cycling—whether you want to go all serious about it (I’m not), or just do it every now and then (which is my thing)—cycling has all sorts of health benefits—physical and mental.
Here are some of the main reasons to help convince you to hop on the bike:
Perfect for cross-training. Cycling, by far, is the ideal high-intensity low-impact cross training activity there is. In fact, I believe that cycling is the ideal example of a high-intensity alternative cross training exercise that can complement, or even replace, running.
Targets all major running muscles. Cycling builds strength and power in major leg muscles, such as the glutes, calves, and quads—key running muscles.
Low impact. Cycling targets these muscles in non-load bearing manner so there is minimal impact on the body and joints, so there is pounding as there is in running.
Also, cycling strengthens the weaker muscles, therefore, as a runner, it can help you fix muscle imbalances and prevent of all sorts of overuse injuries.
Improves leg turnover. A high cycling cadence—of roughly 90 revolutions per minutes or more—is an ideal way to boost leg turnover for runners. And as you already know, increasing your leg turnover is one of the fastest and best ways to help you increase speed and improve race times.
Cycling offers many workouts. Just like running, you can do all sorts of workouts on your bike, including interval sessions, tempo rides, hill rides and long steady ride workouts to build endurance.
The fact is, the best cycling workouts for runners are those routines that mimic standard and classic run workouts, just like the ones I’m sharing with you below.
Great for recovery. Or should I say, active recovery, any sort of low-intensity low-impact exercise after a hard workout.
According to the current theory, active recovery can boost blood flow, soothe muscle soreness, reduce joint stiffness, flush out toxins and help you back to hitting the pavement sooner than if you were not engaged in any form of physical activity.
Cycling has less impact than running so you can recover faster from the workouts.
Image Credit – Will Cyclist via Flickr
How to start Biking
Cycling is not meant to replace all of your running workouts—unless you are recovering and rehabilitating an injury, of course.
You need to find a way to wave cycling into your training program without throwing your training program out of balance.
For that, I strongly recommend that you get started biking by replacing one or two of your weekly easy runs with a 60 to 90-minute bike workout.
Things you will need
Unlike running, cycling is more of an equipment-centric sport that requires a few essentials. Nonetheless, I don’t think that one needs a horde of fancy gear to get started.
However, I don’t think you should be investing a fortune in biking gear to reap the benefits of cycling (and spinning).
Therefore, if you are thinking about becoming a casual biker—just like me—then I believe an entry-level road bike is enough—for now anyway, you may choose to upgrade for a more advanced ride in the future.
Some of the essential items you’ll need to include a bike, helmet, glasses, bike shorts, pedal shoes, cycling gloves, multi-tool, spare tube, an inflation device, and working brakes.
Other basics you might consider getting include a BPA-free water bottle (stay hydrated—a cardinal rule), a bike computer (helps you keep track of top speed, distance, time, etc) and a road ID (this can be a total lifesaver in the off chance of an accidence, God forbid).
Nevertheless, all things being equal, the bike must fit whether it’s mountain bike, a road bike, a hybrid, or triathlon bike.
In fact, the bike must fit, or it’s a no deal. If you don’t have a bike yet, check this quick YouTube video on how to pick the right fitting bike.
Be safe, please
And please be safe on the road. Keep an eye on intersections, red light, traffic, oncoming cars, other people, you know, common sense safety principles still apply here.
The Spinning Option
And the good news is, if you decide to do indoor biking workouts, then you’ll barely need anything, any gear.
Most gyms have them, and they are not that expensive. Not only that, some spin bikes come with their own pre-programmed workout routines, helping a lot.
All you need for an awesome spinning session is an iPod with a good playlist and (maybe) a training buddy to help you ward off the boredom of spinning in place.
The Best Cycling Workouts for Runners
Without further ado, here is a list of biking workouts you might consider adding into your training program. Your choice of a session and the number of times you do it a week depends, of course, on your current fitness level and goals.
Nonetheless, I suggest that you do at least one of the sessions below twice a week, choose another for a third hard day.
As you get fitter on the bike, add one or two of the more challenging routines. And please, be sure to allow for one day of rest between hard workouts.
1. The Road Bike Workout
If you are just starting out, then you will need just to get out there and get a feel for what’s like to bike by riding a few miles.
Fartlek is a Swedish term that means “speed play.” When this training method was first incepted and conceptualized in the 20’s and 30’s, it was mainly used by runners, but soon it spread to other sports—and nowadays a fartlek bike workout is an integral part of most training programs.
I love this workout. It mimics the type of fartlek workout we do in the running world—mainly exercising on feel, and following no specific training pattern and plan.
You can perform this workout on flat section or hills, just make sure you are biking on feel and picking up the pace every now and then.
10 minutes easy biking to warm up and get ready.
5 minutes moderate biking
2 minutes sprint
4 minutes moderate
5 minutes moderate
3 minutes sprint
10 minutes easy cool down.
Of course, there is no magic formula for the perfect fartlek biking workout. Hence, feel free to let your creativity carry you forward, and remember to have fun. It’s called “speed play” for a reason, you know.
2. Endurance Ride Workout
The endurance workout is one of my favorite biking workouts—especially on days when I don’t feel like doing something intense but still get a sweat going.
During this workout, you should be feeling tension and workload in your legs. However, perform this workout at a conversational pace—meaning you can still carry on a conversation without much huffing and puffing.
The main goal of this session is to build endurance and allow you to go the distance without showing signs of fatigue or slowing down.
Start, like usual, with a 10-minute easy-paced pedaling to get you warmed and ready.
Next, aim to keep up a steady cadence for the upcoming 45 to 60 minutes, shooting for an effort level of 6 to 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, and exercising at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.
As a beginner, you might need to opt for a low cadence—something in the range of 60 to 70 rpm for your first few endurance sessions. And as you get stronger and fitter, aim to work it up gradually up to more than an hour by gradually increasing your time each week.
Last up, finish the ride with a 5-minute slow spinning cool down at an easy pace.
3. Speed Intervals
Intervals are a crucial part of any cycling training program. These powerful sessions can help you increase aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and power, burn mad calories, and they are perfect for the time-crunched runner who is balancing a hectic life schedule with training.
You can perform this workout indoor, or outdoor—although I prefer doing it indoor because that way I can have more control over pace and intervals length and duration.
Start with a 10-minute easy-paced pedaling to get you warmed and set.
Next, perform at least six to eight one-minute fast-pedal intervals near top speed—nothing less than 90 percent of your max—then slow down and recover with a one-minute easy pace spin with minimal resistance.
After the last interval, slow down and ride at a neutral pace for 5 minutes to cool down.
Image credit – Nothingham Univer via Flickr
4. Tabata Intervals
Tabata intervals are the brainchild of the Japanese exercise physiologist Izumi Tabata, and this awesome and rigorous interval type of a workout consists of alternating between 20-second of high-intensity burst of work with 10-second of recovery.
To make the most out of this workout, you need to push your max and be gasping for breath by the end of the first few intervals—otherwise, you are not pushing hard enough.
The Tabata interval set is considered by many as the best cycling fitness builder ever incepted.
Not only that, the Tabata protocol workouts are perfect if you are short on time and looking to get the most out of every minute you spend on a bike.
These Tabata intervals increase cardiovascular fitness and shed crazy amounts of calories like nothing else.
For a timer to keep track of your sprint and rest periods, feel free to down this Tabata-timer app.
Begin the workout with a 10-minute easy ride as a warm-up of easy spinning.
Next, up the intensity by either boosting gear ratio or tension, then sprint for 20 seconds as fast as possible. Then, slow down and recover with a 10-second of easy spinning.
Repeat the on and off pattern for eight times to complete one round. Pedal easy for one to two minutes, then aim to do at least two to three more rounds.
5. Climbing Intervals
This session is going to help you build the strength and power needed to tackles the hills with ease, and will also totally challenge your muscular strength and endurance and power on the bike.
You have two options here: you can either opt for a moderate to steep hill. The ideal hill should take you at least two to five minutes to climb, has a steady grade of 7 to 10 percent with no stop signs or traffic lights. Once you reach the top of the hill, turn around and recover as you ride back down to starting point.
Or hop on a stationary bike with a riser block under the front wheel to simulate a hill by raising the bike’s front wheel.
Start with a 10-minute warm-up of easy pedaling.
Next, ride the uphill, aiming for an effort of 7 to 8 for at least 5 minutes, and aiming for 70 to 80 RPM.
Then, coast or recover downhill, and repeat for 25 to 30 minutes. Repeat the cycle for the duration of your session, then end the workout with a 5-minute easy pedaling cool-down.
For more challenge, feel free to stand and attack for 15 to 20 pedal strokes a time at the fastest pace possible.
6. The Recovery Ride
A recovery ride serves the same purpose as a recovery run: helps you recover following an intense workout. As a result, you shouldn’t be skipping them.
Do this easy workout on a flat course after a hard session to help you recover and increase your cycling mileage.
The recovery is going to help you to increase your biking mileage while also allowing your body to recover by spending some time at a lower-intensity training zone.
This is easy and straightforward: Ride as easy as you can possibly ride for 30 to 45 minutes. In fact, go as embarrassingly slow as possible, and do it deliberately.
Keep spinning easy, and don’t let your training buddy ruin this for you—regardless of how much they pressure you into speeding things up.
Featured Image Credit – Dermot MCelDuf via Flickr