Running Secret #262: Cycling Makes you a Faster Runner

You’ve heard it before. Cross-train, cross-train, cross-train, but you may not have the desire nor the equipment or time to do so…or at least that’s what you tell yourself. After all, how can you fit in cycling workouts along with your interval work, tempo runs, hill repeats, base mileage, LSDs, and recovery runs each week, right?  It’s a busy training schedule going for that PR or just trying to hit that new distance and they say you should get a rest day in there too or “run the risk”…see what I did there? …of over training.

Cycling however is a g-r-e-a-t, GREAT way to compliment your run training and will improve many aspects of your run. This is why if you see any current program I create for someone or just look at a plan that I’ve created for myself you’ll notice that I’ve put in at least one day of cycling whether it be a road bike, spin class or ye olde gym bike.

Here’s Why:

1. Mental Recovery

This isn’t usually listed as a cycling perk, but let’s face it, there are times when we need to take a break from running. Please hear me out before you start to warm up the tar and pluck the chickens. Running is a great time to think and solve the world’s problems, but there are times when we do dread going out that door with our kicks knowing that for the next few hours we’ll be pounding pavement. So let’s get a little variety to save our sanity and at the same time improve upon what we love to do the most, running, by spinning out a few revolutions in the saddle.

2. Improvement in Foot Turnover

If you are new to running or just haven’t done a lot of reading on running form then you may not know that increases in speed come from faster foot turnover, NOT by elongating stride length. What can help you with a faster foot turnover?  You guessed it, cycling. If you are hitting the bike try to go for a 90+ rpm rate and then build into a more difficult gear as you improve strength on the bike.

3. Works the Same Muscles in a Different Way

The primary muscles for the “power phase” of cycling are the glutes and quads.  On the “recovery phase” the primary muscles are the hamstrings and tibialis anterior on the front side of the lower leg.  The hip flexors are used at the top of the cycle going into the power phase while the calf muscles are used at the bottom of the cycle going into the recovery phase. So if you know your anatomy then you know these are very similar to the primary running muscles which include the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calf muscles and iliopsoas.

Therefore, you can work these same (or similar) muscles without all of the pounding of running so your joints will thank you for the occasional change of pace. I like to do a short bike ride at times putting in 5-10 miles on the bike before doing a run.  This is referred to as a “brick” in triathlon/duathlon training, but you as a runner can use it too!  This way you can get in the feel of a long run in less time….you still need to do long runs though.  😉

4. Active Recovery

Remember how you are supposed to rest occasionally?  Well this is 100% true.  You do need a day off now and again where you are doing NOTHING, but you may also choose on occasion to take an “active recovery” day where instead of laying on the couch all day (yeah right…I have yard work to do.) instead you choose to NOT run, but instead go for an easy bike ride.  I like to do this after a long run or any other run where I might have a bit of lactic acid build-up.  Just moving the legs helps to flush out the lactic and speeds recovery by improving blood flow in comparison to just resting.

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