Cycling To Improve Run Fitness

female riding bike towards camera

Not only can you handle more training load, but you will also help balance your muscles through different movements.

Are you looking to improve your run fitness? Have you increased your mileage? Have you run specific intervals? What about adding cycling? For many runners, adding an activity such as cycling, swimming, or rowing can help improve their overall fitness. While running is a load bearing sport, these other options build fitness while limiting injury risk. 

Building Run Fitness

In order to build run fitness, you either need to increase frequency, volume, or intensity.  Each of those serve a different purpose based on what portion of the season you’re in (periodization blog). But what about when you reach 6-7 days/week of running, 50+ miles, and 2-3 key workouts each week. Due to running being a load bearing sport, you are more likely to become injured the more training load you obtain. At this point, we recommend you incorporate cycling into your routine. Not only can you handle more training load, but you will also help balance your muscles through different movements. 

Adding Cycling for Performance

The goal of adding activities to your running schedule is to increase training load where it makes sense. Remember that your goal is to be a faster runner. Therefore, we don’t want to take away from your key run workouts due to fatigue from cycling. Rather, If you have a key run on Tuesday, and another on Saturday, we may be able to fit a strong cycling workout in on Thursday along with an easy run. In this case, we are now adding another key workout (threshold, VO2) to the week without adding more impact.  If you were to do this with running, not only would you increase your risk of injury, but you may begin to limit recovery of your legs and take away from Saturdays key workout. 

Adding Cycling for Recovery

If you’ve never heard of active recovery before, we want to inform you of the benefits. With active recovery, you still get training load while helping your legs recover by increasing blood flow to muscles and removing metabolic waste. This exercise is meant to be done at an easy intensity to ensure recovery takes place. By doing this instead of taking an off-day, you help your muscles recover while maintaining fitness. An off-day is always welcome, but look to mix in active recovery when appropriate. On the bike, we would recommend a 30 minute easy spin (sub 100 watts) with cadence intervals around 95-110 RPM.

Specific Cycling Intervals

This is where you can really increase your performance. Understanding the demands of your running event makes all the difference. 

Let’s say you’re training for an upcoming 1/2 marathon. Your long run is up to 12 miles but you don’t feel comfortable adding more volume. Due to longer runs requiring more recovery, you are limited by how much you can do. What if you were able to add in a 90 minute ride.  Now, you are further training your proper physiological systems without risking a run injury. You will need to recover from this effort, but you can essentially add more specific efforts through the activity of cycling. Regardless of what event you’re training for, you can only run so much. Look to add cycling in a specific manner to boost your performance. 

Conclusion

If done properly, cycling can help build your running performance. We never want to make the mistake that you should cycle more than you run. Running is a specific movement that requires training. However, if you add in cycling to build more time at your specific zone and obtain more training load, you’re going to see a boost in fitness. This upcoming year, try to mix in a few cross-training days. Between adding performance and aiding in recovery, this can be a valuable tool for any athlete. Try out these new training tips as you go explore perfection!

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