Just because you proudly call yourself a runner doesn’t mean you should scoff at other forms of training, especially when it’s a cycling workout.
In fact, cycling, the right way, can actually make you a faster and less injury-prone runner. That’s why it’s one of the best cross-training options for runners.
In today’s post, I’m sharing with the beginner’s runner guide to cycling for cross-training.
By the end of this guide, you’ll learn:
- The Benefits of Cycling for Runners
- Cycling Vs. Running Muscles
- Beginners Gear Guide To Cycling
- How to Cycle the safe way?
- Should you try a spinning class?
- How to Improve your Cycling technique
- How to Combine Running and Cycling
- The Best Cycling Workouts for Runners
The Benefits of Cycling for Runners
Cycling is, hands down, one of the best cross-training exercises that complement running, whether you want to go all serious about it (I’m not), or just do it every now and then (which is my thing).
Here are some of the main reasons to help convince you to hop on the bike:
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 a non-load-bearing manner. Basically, the pedal helps you to continue the movement impact, so your joints bear little weight.
Improves leg turnover. A high cycling cadence—of roughly 90 revolutions per minute or more—improves leg turnover that translates very well to running.
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 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.
Active recovery can increase blood flow, soothe muscle soreness, reduce joint stiffness, flush out toxins—all which can help improve recovery rate.
Cycling Vs. Running Muscles
If you’re a serious runner who cross-trains regularly, understanding the role of each muscle group in both running and cycling may help you cut the risk of injury while improving performance.
The primary muscles at work when cycling are the hamstrings and quadriceps in the upper legs and the soleus and gastrocnemius in the calf. These muscles contract in a continuous sequence to help generate the pedaling power.
But it’s a bit of a different story when it comes to running.
The main running muscles are the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and iliopsoas. These help with hip extension, knee flexion, and pelvis stabilization.
Neither biking nor running tends to develop overall muscle mass. In fact, these exercises can actually cause the muscle fibers to break down and shrink as the body tries to make muscle fibers more metabolically efficient.
How Can a Runner Get Started Cycling?
Cycling isn’t meant to replace all of your running workouts—unless you’re nursing an injury (or want to move on from running, please don’t). You need to find a way to wave cycling into your training program without throwing your running plan out of balance.
Beginner Biking Gear
Although biking requires more gear than running, all you need to get started is an entry-level bike. This can cost you around $1,000. You can also get a better deal online or get a second-hand bike.
Just like your running shoes, 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.
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).
Cycling The Safe Way
By now, you should have gathered all the gear you need and are prepared to hit the road. Are you ready to go?
Don’t rush out of the door yet. When doing outdoor sports, whether it’s running, biking, you name it, you should always put safety first.
Here’s what to pay attention to for staying safe while cycling.
- Know the laws. Look up your state laws regarding bikes and get to know common safety principles that can help keep you out of harm’s way.
- Keep it on the road. Sidewalks are the reserves of pedestrians and only pedestrians. Even when biking at a slow pace, you can be going as fast as 15 to 20 miles per hour. This is too fast to be coming down the sidewalk next to walkers and runners.
- Look for bike lanes. These provide more than three feet of space for you so you can comfortably ride your bike at any pace. Just keep an eye for parked cars.
- Use body language. Communication is key for staying safe on the road. Use common hand signals to tell other drivers when you’re slowing down or turning. Signal when turning or changing lanes, as well as when stopping for traffic signals.
- Be loud. Call out to other riders, runners, or walkers when you’re approaching or about to pass them.
Too much to digest?
Try riding with a cycling group or buddy until you get comfortable with the rules of the road. Riding in groups is a great way to stay safe on the road while having fun riding the miles.
The Spinning Option
If you decide to hop on a spin bike at your gym, then the only expense you have to worry about is your membership. Gyms have them, and they are not that expensive. Not only that, but some spin bikes also come with their own pre-programmed workout routines.
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.
Improve your Cycling Form
Biking can be quite scary for beginners as there’s a lot to learn. But, don’t feel like you got to learn everything overnight. Just like any other sport, it’s a learning process that requires time and practice.
As you get your head around the bike, you’ll be able to improve your pedaling form and position on the bike for more speed and endurance.
Want to know where to start?
Here are a few basic tips to help you improve your cycling technique.
- Improve cadence. Just like in running, cadence refers to the number of revolutions that pedals make per minute. Shoot for 90 rpm regardless of the terrain.
- Stay relaxed. Avoid holding your handlebars in a death grip unless you’re in a dead sprint. Just like when running, staying relaxed can help you save energy and keep you from feeling too stressed out and tight while biking.
- Shift right. Make it a rule to practice shifting to an easier gear before you need it. This includes when approaching hills and stoplights. Waiting for too long may force the chain to slip.
- When tackling a climb, opt for a more upright position while keeping your hands on the bar tops. Aim for circular pedaling motion instead of pushing down.
- To ensure a smooth and safe stop, lightly use both the front and rear brakes when you need to stop. Avoid pulling only the rear or front brake lever as well as sudden stops. That’s how accidents happen.
- Pay attention. By far this is the most crucial part of proper cycling technique. Just as you wouldn’t simply get lost in your head when logging the miles, you shouldn’t lose focus on the bike either. Sure, have fun, enjoy the scenery but don’t bike yourself into oblivion.
How to Combine Running and Cycling.
When it comes to scheduling your running and biking workouts, avoid performing double sessions of the same type on the same day—the additional damage from the second workout will likely hinder your recovery and cause more harm than good.
For example, a good workout pairing would be an interval run in the morning then an easy bike ride in the evening. This means starting the day with the high-intensity session, then do the easy ride that can serve as active recovery.
Conversely, a bad example would be performing intervals on the bike in the morning then tackling hills in the evening. The morning cycling workout may undermine the gains of the hill session as you won’t be able to sprint up the hills at your best.
The Best Cycling Workouts for Runners
Here is a list of biking workouts you might consider adding into your training program.
I suggest that you do at least one of the sessions below twice a week, choose another for a third hard day.
The Road Bike Cycling Workout
Fartlek is a Swedish term that means “speed play.” First used by runners way back in the 30’s, fartlek training has over the last few decades spread to other sports—including cycling.
You can perform this workout on flat sections 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, then do the following:
- 5 minutes of moderate biking
- 2 minutes sprint
- 4 minutes moderate
- 1-minute sprint
- 5 minutes moderate
- 3 minutes sprint
- 10 minutes easy cooldown.
There is no magic formula for the perfect fartlek biking workout. Feel free to let your creativity carry you forward, and remember to have fun. It’s called “speed play” for a reason.
Endurance Ride Cycling 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.
The main goal of this session is to build endurance without causing too much fatigue. You should feel the tension building in your muscles, but keep the speed at a conversational pace—meaning you can still talk without huffing and puffing.
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 an effort scale of 1 to 10, and exercising at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.
As a beginner, go for a low cadence—roughly 60 to 70 rpm for your first few endurance sessions. As you get fitter, work it up gradually up to more than an hour.
Last up, finish the ride with a 5-minute slow-spinning cool down at an easy pace.
Speed Intervals Cycling Workout
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.
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. 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.
Tabata Intervals Cycling Workout
Tabata intervals are the brainchild of the Japanese exercise physiologist Izumi Tabata and consists of alternating between 20-second of a high-intensity interval with 10-second of recovery.
Tabata protocol workouts are perfect if you’re short on time and looking to get the most out of every minute you spend on a bike. These also 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.
Climbing Intervals Cycling Workout
The cycling climbing session helps build 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:
(1) Tackle 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.
(2) 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.
Begin 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.
feel free to stand and attack for 15 to 20 pedal strokes a time at the fastest pace possible.
The Recovery Cycling Workout
A recovery ride serves the same purpose as a recovery run As a result, you shouldn’t be skipping them.
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.
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