Using Cycling to Cross-Train
Spending a little time in the saddle is a great way to make you a stronger, faster runner.
Cycling is one of the best ways to build overall fitness including cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength in your glutes, quads and hamstrings and flexibility through your hips and ankles. The fitter you are overall, the stronger and faster you'll be able to run!
There are many specific benefits to cross-training:
- Injury prevention. If you're new to running, cross-training with cycling can help you establish a base of fitness and get your muscles and joints used to repetitive motion without the impact. As you begin to mix in more running mileage, you'll be stronger and better able to handle the impact. This decreases the chance of injury and makes running much more fun! The same goes for seasoned runners. Cycling builds and helps maintain strength in the glutes, quads and hamstrings, minimizing muscular imbalances that lead to injury.
- Rehabilitation. If you ARE nursing an injury, cycling is a great way to maintain fitness and potentially correct the cause of the injury.
Improving overall fitness. Almost every runner can benefit from cross-training because it:
- Enhances efficiency
- Increases power
- Increases overall training time without increasing risk of injury.
- Avoid getting bored. No matter how much passion you have for running, if you do it often enough, the excessive repetition of routes and routines can become boring. Psychologically, the monotony of a relentless training program in a single sport can be draining. Cycling can help you maintain your enthusiasm for running, making it possible to train harder and more consistently. Ultimately, this can help you perform better in races.
- Rejuvenation. No runner can train hard the entire year. That's the way nature made us. To perform your best (and avoid injury), you should give your body and mind a break from formal training for at least a few months each year. Cycling is a great way to stay fit between running events. So now you know that physically, mentally and emotionally, cycling can make you a better runner. Here are some suggestions on HOW you could incorporate cycling into your training routine.
First, if you are new to cycling, ease into it gently just as you did when you first started running. Be conservative, safe, and increase your effort gradually.
Cycling can supplement or replace your running workouts. No matter what you do, be sure not to overdo it. Substituting one to two runs per week with well-chosen bike sessions can help you feel better and be able to go farther and faster on the days that you do run. Note that beyond a certain threshold of about 40-60 miles per week, you're probably better off adding bike rides instead of increasing your running mileage, because you'll improve your fitness level without increasing your risk of injury.
Just like in running, you can mix up your bike workouts with intervals, tempo rides, and hills. Go ahead and spin easy for some active recovery when you're feeling tired or join a group for a solid workout. On the day after a race or a long run, it's a great idea to spin on your bike instead of going on an easy run. Your aching muscles and joints will thank you for the break from their normal pounding. Cycling will actually help stretch out muscles and loosen up your hips that might be tight from the day before.
When riding, be sure to focus on utilizing your glutes during the pedal stroke, keep your knees equidistant from the top tube of the bike and in line with your hips and ankles. Let your ankles flex and extend as you pedal, similar to scraping gum off the bottom of your shoe at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Also, keep your leg turnover, or, cadence, high. (Think: Spin to win!) This teaches you to rely more on your major muscles and gets your nervous system to fire quicker, which is great for increasing your stride turnover in running.
Though your body still needs to run to adapt it to handle the force during running training - cross-training with cycling is a great way to stay happy and healthy all year long.
So go hit the road and the trails - not just with your running legs, but with your bike too! You'll be happy you did.