Cycling will help improve your running performance as you will develop endurance, stamina, and fitness. It is a great cross-training exercise that you could add to your training regimen as it is a low-impact cardiovascular workout that will not put too much stress on your body.
Cross-training is critical to becoming a stronger runner as it allows you to switch up your routine while providing a lot of cardio benefits and strengthening your leg muscles for running.
Cycling vs Running Muscles: What Muscles are Used
Both running and cycling make use of similar lower body muscle groups even though they may use them differently.
Cycling usually makes use of smooth rotational cadence of the legs while isometric contraction motion supports the upper body. The abdominals and lower back usually act as a stabilizing bridge between the lower and upper body.
Running usually puts comparatively more weight on the joints and results in more torque on the hips and lower back since you will continually have one leg in front of the other.
How Cycling Helps You Become a Better Runner
With this in mind, the following are some of the ways cycling is one of the best cross-training techniques for runners.
- Mimics Movement
The movement and position of the body while cycling in the vertical position mimics the running form. This is because when you are cycling out of the saddle the foot strike position is very similar to that of running.
- Strengthens Calf Muscles
Running is very stressful to the calf muscles particularly if you run with a midfoot strike. When cycling you will typically bike with the balls of your feet on the center of the pedals.
This means that you will be activating the deep calf muscles just like you would when running. The action will strengthen the calves and stiffen the Achilles complex which will provide a lot of power when running.
- Strengthens Shin Muscles
The tibialis anterior also known as the shin muscle will usually activate to pull the pedal upward on the upstroke while you are riding seated. This is most often the case when you are riding up hills.
This type of activation when you are pedaling strengthens the muscles of the tibialis anterior and may be effective at preventing shin splint while you are running.
- Engages the Core
A strong core is one of the most important things for proper running form. It will also be good for decreasing the chance of injury due to mechanical compensation from other muscles when the core is not strong enough. To improve your core while cycling you need to use proper cycling form both out of and in the saddle.
To ride with proper form while seated ensure that you do not have too much side-to-side tilting while riding uphill. The proper form out of the saddle is to tilt the bike from side to side while maintaining an upright and motionless torso position.
- Builds the Aerobic Engine
Most injuries come from overuse whether it is from cumulative mileage or a long run. The more time you spend on your feet the higher the probability that you may get injured.
By cycling to build endurance you will typically get a great aerobic workout with little to no impact on the body. The added benefit is that a cyclist can keep going for longer by shifting gears to maintain or reduce effort which is something a runner cannot do.
- Boosts Anaerobic Systems
Cycling can be very anaerobic when you adopt a high-intensity interval-based training program. Whether done indoors or outdoors interval training on a bike can simulate the intensity of a running workout but without too much impact on the joints and muscles.
You should note that while high-intensity interval training will help build muscle tone and strengthen lungs and heart, it will not enhance specific neural muscular pathways or running muscles. As such you should only use interval training in addition to running intervals rather than instead of.
Cycling and Running on the Same Day
Generally speaking, you can run and cycle on the same day with no problems. However, you need to perform the key session without any disruptions from the other session.
This means that if you are planning a cycling session and tempo run you should do a low-intensity cycling session to enhance blood flow and improve recovery. This will also prevent extra fatigue that may persist over the following few days.
Alternatively, if you are planning to have threshold intervals while cycling, you should have your run following the bike session. It is also critical to keep your heart rate and intensity as low as possible. This will help reduce fatigue and enhance recovery times.
Overall, you should always ensure that your secondary workout is short and low intensity. This will ensure that you get all the necessary recovery and do not have to deal with any cross-over fatigue.
Running and Cycling Training Plan
If you are looking for ways of combining cycling and running training, you have to make a plan beforehand. The big thing with cross-training is that you have to focus on one session at a time. This means restricting yourself from going too hard on both running and biking on the same day.
If you are looking to improve your running you should focus on running while recovering using low-intensity cycling. This would mean riding with as low a heart rate as possible for no more than an hour. This will keep your muscles supple and the blood flowing.
Alternatively, if you are looking to improve your cycling, you should do much less of running as a recovery exercise. While running is easy, it tends to have much more impact and is more stressful on the body. As such going too hard on your run may significantly reduce your cycling power.
Alternatively, if you are focusing on cycling, you would do something similar like:
- Monday – recovery ride
- Tuesday – Threshold Workout cycling + 30 minutes recovery run
- Wednesday – Distance ride + 30 minutes recovery run
- Thursday – Threshold or v02 intervals.
- Friday – Rest Day
- Saturday – Distance ride + 30 min recovery run
- Sunday – Long ride
Half Marathon Training Plan with Cycling
If you are training for a marathon, you should run three days every week and then combine it with two days of cycling, and then lift weights twice or once a week.
You should use weight training to target any muscle imbalances or weaknesses to make yourself a stronger cyclist and runner.