5 Ways Cycling Can Make You a Stronger Runner

Post written by Susan Lacke.

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#5: The Brick Workout (which actually looks nothing like whatever it is she’s doing)

Admit it — you runners love to poke fun at us cyclists.

We’re dork-ish looking people in our helmets and padded-ass shorts who think it’s fun to spend hours pedaling away through roads and up mountains, pretending we’re in the Tour de France.

But those of us who both run and cycle know a secret: cycling helps make you a better runner.

Many runners turn to cycling after injury- that is, they’re forced into riding a bike to stay sane while rehabilitating a stress fracture or joint pain. However, they soon discover something remarkable when they return to running — cycling actually made them better than ever before!

How cycling can make you a better runner

If you’re a runner, you might want to consider joining the ranks of Lance wannabes. Even if you’re not injured, riding a bike is an excellent cross-training activity, one which can improve your running performance significantly. Here’s why:

1. It’s a great form of active recovery.

It’s a story as old as running itself: You do your long run on Sunday, and come Monday morning, you don’t want to get off the couch, much less do any sort of active movement. For many, an easy jog the day after a long, hard run is about as much fun as a root canal.

But active recovery, such as moving your legs with an easy bike ride, can increase blood flow, flush out lactate, reduce muscle and joint stiffness, and help you get back on the trails sooner than if you were to just sit on the couch drinking beer. (Not that I’m saying sitting on the couch drinking beer is bad. Just, you know, do it after your bike ride.)

2. You’ll build strength in complementary muscles.

If your workouts are exclusive to running, you’re only building up certain sets of muscles to perform certain functions. Though your running muscles will become stronger initially, at some point you’ll plateau, because doing the same thing every day will eventually stop yielding results.

When you start cycling, you’re using muscles in your legs and core that complement the muscles used for running, making you stronger, more efficient, and yes — faster.

3. Leg turnover will increase like whoa.

Pedaling a bike requires consistent motion and a steady, smooth cadence. Sound familiar? That’s because the exact same thing is true for running. The world’s best marathoners have a leg turnover rate of about 180 steps per minute. ChiRunning, a form of run coaching with a focus on efficiency and injury prevention, suggests a cadence of 174-180 footfalls per minute.

Your cadence on the bike can transfer to running. Start by trying to achieve a 90 rpm (or revolutions of both pedals per minute) on the bike in an easier gear. Once you can hit this rate, move to your harder gears while maintaining the 90 rpm cadence.

4. Your ankles, knees, and hips will thank you.

Runners, especially those who do longer races like marathons and ultras, put a pounding on their body. Because of this, it’s hard for some to maintain high mileage without injury.

Cycling gives you a good workout without the impact of a run. If you’re not comfortable with replacing an entire run workout with a session on the bike, even substituting a portion of your run with a cycling workout can make your joints happy. Which brings me to my next point:

5. You can replicate the feeling of a long run…without actually doing a long run.

The secret to this is the brick workout, where you go from a bike ride to a run with no interruption in between. Though the term “brick” refers to the two disciplines pushed together in one workout, some athletes will swear it actually refers to the fact that running off the bike makes your legs feel like bricks.

If you’ve never done a brick workout before, you should ease into these gradually. Start with a 10 mile bike ride at a hard pace, immediately followed by a 1 mile run. Your legs will feel sluggish, as if you’ve already run a long way, but they won’t have taken the pounding they otherwise would have. Focus on good form and finishing strong. If the 10:1 brick feels good, gradually increase your mileage for the bike and the run (or immediately repeat the 10:1 brick for a different kind of challenge!).

Bonus benefit: Add a swim, and you’re a triathlete!

As your Resident Triathlete, did you really think I’d let you read this article without me trying to convert you to the church of SwimBikeRun?

Tips for getting started with cycling

  • It doesn’t matter if you have a mountain bike, a road bike, a hybrid, or a triathlon bike. What does matter is having a bike that fits. If you don’t have a bike yet, or if you’re riding the too-big (or too-small) wheels your neighbor gave to you for free, read this guide to buying your first bike.
  • Essential items: A helmet, glasses, bike shorts (these are padded in the crotch and butt), and a seat bag with a spare tube, multi-tool, and inflation device.
  • Optional Items: Cycling gloves, chamois cream, bike shoes and pedals which clip together, an indoor trainer, and a bike computer.
  • Before you go on your first ride, make sure you know how to change a tire if you get a flat. If you don’t have a cycling buddy to teach you how to do this, go to a local bike shop, and they will be happy to teach you.
  • Be safe and obey the rules of the road. Don’t be a bike salmon – ride with traffic, not against. Find routes with designated bike lanes and wide shoulders, and stop at every stop sign and red light (yes, even if you think no one else is around).

Surely there are lots of cyclists out there in the NMA audience. If that’s you, help us out! How else does cycling help you run? Got any tips for beginners? Leave them in the comments below.

Susan Lacke has a triathlon bike named Pablo, a broken roadie named Bessie, and a deceased mountain bike named Otis. Tell her that bikes are inanimate objects, and she will look at you like you are nucking futs. “Like” her on Facebook for links to her latest articles in random corners of the Internet, and get a copy of her No Meat Athlete Triathlon Roadmap today.

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Comments

  1. Great post Susan. You mean ‘bricks’ aren’t called that because of the cement block like feeling your legs have when you exit the bike and start running? You just turned my whole world upside down. Also, you, and some other crazy friends, convinced me triathlon’s something worth trying. Just signed up yesterday for Trinona (http://www.trinona.com/ and @trinona), rated as Minnesota’s ‘Race of the Year.’ What are you doing June 10?

    • AWESOME! Welcome! June 10, I’ll be racing Escape from Alcatraz…AND checking the results for Trinona to see how your first triathlon went! :)

      • COngratz Scott, welcome to the world of Triathlon. How did your race go? hopefully you caught the bug. I will be completing both my first Half and Full Ironman triathlons this year. Can’t wait for them.

  2. I completely agree that cycling is great for running (I’m also a multisport athlete – tri & du, so I’m biased myself). Although the bike uses slightly different muscles than the run, the overall strength of your legs will improve, which translates to better run performance.

    • Totally agree iv been riding for four months about 10-20 miles 4 times s week fantastic makes you feel verry healthy and energetic. I also do it to fight anxiety works a treat,

  3. Love this post! I picked up cycling when I hurt myself running and it definitely made me realize what an asset it can be to my overall strength and training.

  4. Loved this! I have found a noticeable improvement in speed since I joined the chruch of swimbikerun. I give all credit to the biking.

  5. This post makes me happy! Cycling is where I go when running tries to break me in half, and it always heals me up and sends me back out.

  6. Great post!! I recently started incorporating spin class into my training and have noticed it has improved my running preformance and decreased injuries. I would love to start riding outside more, but am still sheepish from a bike incident. At least I am starting somewhere!!

  7. what do you guys think about a Spin class?
    similar enough or helpful at all?
    wondering if i should sprinkle one in w/ my marathon training this month…

    thanks!

    • Yes, absolutely!

    • Jon Weisblatt says:

      I highly recoomend it. I started doing spin 1x/week while traning for my most recent marathon and founf it very helpful. I took a little more weight off and the sprint portions of the class seem to help translate into improved foot turnover while running. Enjoy!

      • I dont really like spin classes, I have given them the good ole college try but they are not for me. My reasoning is rather simple and I will list them for you guys (and gals). 1) Most are in a room with no circulation and about 20 people who are working out really really hard, imagine the smell gross!! 2) The goal of the class is not necessarly inline with your personal goal; example the class is about an hour long hard intense workout which is good if your a Crit racer or training for a Sprint or Olympic triathlon but rather pointless if your training for a Half or a Full Ironman triathlon. 3) As a result of the class being one hour long and high intensity one heart rate is usually through the roof (I did 4 or 5 Classes and my average heartrate was roughtly 209 WAY TOO HIGH, outdoors or on a trainer pushing really really hard on the bike my heartrate is about 185 MAX).

        These are just my opinons and only opinions. Take them for what they are worth and I hope they help.

  8. Hey Susan, great post! It’s nice to be reminded of all the benefits of cross training.

    I have a question for you – biking seems to cause issues with my IT band, which makes running hurt, which makes both biking AND running difficult, and this is an issue for a triathlete, clearly! :)

    Any thoughts on what I’m doing wrong on the bike? It’s only my left leg that is having issues – I imagine I don’t quite have the right positioning or something?

    • I should’ve mentioned… it’s worse on a spin bike than on my regular bike….

      • If I’m understanding you right, the cycling is causing the ITBS. If you aren’t cycling but just running, you don’t get the pain?

        If this is the case, I would take a look at your bike fit. If your seat is too high or too far back, that might be part of the problem. If you take your bike in to a shop to get a bike fit, they’ll be able to make adjustments to your seat, handlebars, etc, to minimize issues.

        Another thing I notice with runners who start cycling is there is an instinct to “mash” the pedals – I did this when I first started riding, too! When a cyclist pushes down on the pedal when the foot is at the top of the crank, instead of applying force all the way around the pedal (to keep a smooth pedal stroke), it’s incredibly inefficient and can set a person up for injury.

        Since this is an issue you’ve had before, I’d check with a doctor or physical therapist, to see if there are exercises you can do to strengthen the IT Band to complement your cycling.

        • Thanks! I forgot to check back for a response until now … oops. :) People on another forum had also thought it was a bike fit issue, so I will definitely be looking into that soon. Thank you for your thoughts!

          • Esther,

            You might want to invest in a foam rolloer or a magic stick. These guys are great for rolling out muscles and tendons after a hard workout. I have had eally bad IT band issues when I started running, I was a road bike racer/cyclist for 6 years before I moved into triathlons. The two items mentioned above worked wonders for me as did morning yoga sessions and stretching 2x daily.

            Hope things get better for you.

      • All excellent suggestions. You could also consider finding a Retul bike fitter in your state where the 3-D measurements are taken while pedaling on the bike, instead of in a static position. If you are riding long hours on the bike, the adjustments to your contact points (saddle setback, handlebar, pedal, stem, seat post, etc.) even if it’s millimeters…can mean a big difference in comfort, injury, or efficiency.

      • Thank you! Have gotten some advice from a yoga friend as well. :) It doesn’t seem to help once the pain is there, but is somewhat preventative…

  9. That is an excellent article. It’s really good to know that biking is such a good alternate exercise. I like to make sure that my bike has no-more-flats in them, then I never have to worry about getting a flat tire. I think beginners could benefit by knowing that a bike can become a cheaper form of transportation. http://www.nutribuff.com/weight-loss/biking-for-transportation-and-weight-loss/ Instead of driving your car to a friends house who lives less than a mile away. Why not just start riding a bike to get there? There are also a lot of errands that you can get done with a bike.

  10. Interesting. I usually bike a lot whenever I can. During the winter when it gets too cold for me to bike outside I go to the gym and use the bike machine. The machine gets boring after a little while so I run for a bit on the treadmill. a few days ago I ran for an hour an half and was surprised at the fact that I wasn’t getting tired compared to how I used to feel. I usually hate running and I never get tired of biking.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree! I trained for a marathon and half-marathon last year using the FIRST program (3 days running, 2 cross-training) and started cycling 2 days a week. I PR’d in both races and avoided injury and burnout. I’m currently using a bike trainer inside for the winter in addition to training for my next marathon, and shooting for a Boston Qualifier. Cycling has made that goal reasonable :)

  12. I LOVED THIS!!! Thanks for writing the great article Susan. I’m definitely going to start biking…swimming? Well, I don’t know how to swim, but you almost had me wanting to try….almost. :)

  13. I SO agree here. I have tried being a runner in the past and it always caused me shin splints or knee problems, always something. This time at 51 years old I started for 3 months on a good stationary recumbent bike for before I ever tried running at all. Now in the last month I am gradually starting a combination of running/walking, and it is working really well – the muscles I got from cycling are helping me run and NO pain at all anywhere.

  14. Susan,I totally agree with you about the cross training. I became a Triathlete last summer and really noticed how much better a runner I became. Plus, I felt in the greatest shape of my life at the age of 54! As my husband remarked, I think we found your new sport. I am a Tri junkie now.

  15. I love this post *like everyone else!*

    I picked up cycling a few months after my first marathon. I wanted to try something else and learned that it’s true: Riding a bike really IS just like riding a bike. I hadn’t ridden in over 20 years and it wasn’t so bad. Then I picked up Tri and really got to understand how cycling and running play well together.

    p.s.: I love your bike names!

  16. This is so true! I was just a runner for several years, then I got injured and had to go to physical therapy. Since I couldn’t run, I had to do something else so I took an adult swimming class and learned how to swim freestyle for exercise. Then my sister (who does Ironmans) talked me into doing a triathlon. I got a road bike and completed my first two sprint triathlons last summer. I was in better shape and injury free due to all the cross training!

  17. Great post, Susan. A few years ago I had my best running year ever–completing my first two ultras. I give a good part of the credit to the fact that I was also cycling and swimming several days a week! It made me so fit (the hills in Cape Town where I was living also helped).

  18. Wow, what a great article. Now I HAVE to cycle. I can’t wait to make my training for races even better!

  19. I’ve been cycling for about a year and a half and I love it! The tips for getting started with cycling are all great suggestions and I would also recommend riding on bike paths when starting out without the interference of cars before hitting the road. Learn how to shift, start, stop and turn comfortably before riding on the streets — especially if using clipless pedals.

    I started running in December and am debating on competing in a duathlon later this year. It’s good to know that the sport I love can help me become a better runner.

  20. What a great post! I totally concur… I spent all of last spring/summer on my bike prepping for an epic ride from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. Once that was done, I switched gears (ha!) back to running and was AMAZED at how much faster I had gotten! Without doing any significant running in months! I’m currently training for my first marathon and looking forward to biking the Seattle to Vancouver and the Seattle to Portland this summer :)

  21. Yep! It totally works! When I was running a lot training for the Hood to Coast Relay, I was also training for a 55 mile charity ride at the same time. I noticed that the month of long bike rides every weekend improved my running so much. I was faster, I was stronger, I recovered faster and I could run longer distances. It was awesome!

  22. If it wasn’t for cycling, I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere with running! (I’d still rate my running as terrible, but it’s better than my swimming.)

  23. Charlie Smith says:

    I am a bit concerned. I am a sprinter but love cycling, however I am constantly told cycling is bad for running, I have heard it shortens the calfs? and that you just build muscles that you do not need? help? confused, mixed advice !

  24. Will cycling tone only the leg or the arms as well?? Are there chances of me developing a bad back due to over cycling?

  25. I am greatful for this. You are so encouraging! I broke my tibia and fibula in a race six months ago and am just beginning to cycle because I am not yet strong enough to run again. I have been severely depressed, missing my road time and feeling like a total lump for not being active. If I can learn how to love cycling, it will help me heal so that I can run again some day.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Then I headed the gym to cross-train on the bike (here is an article on why/how cross-training on the bike is great for runners – 5 ways cycling can make you a stronger runner) [...]

  2. [...] So there ya go!  If you haven’t tried spinning, you should!  It’s super fun & I hope these tips will help with you have a great first experience!  Also if you’re a runner, check out this article on how cycling makes you a better runner. [...]

  3. [...] time? Apparently the answer is yes. From building up complimentary muscles to increasing your leg turnover rate biking is a great way to cross train for your next [...]

  4. [...] a key part of marathon training, but it may help improve speed.Susan Lacke covered the topic in 5 Ways Cycling Can Make You A Better Runner that she wrote for the No Meat Athlete.com.  Susan believes cycling enhances running in a number of [...]

  5. […] works out a lot of your body levels when done correctly. Many cyclists are actually runners as well. I have even been known to run here and there at various cycling/running events and 5k […]

  6. […] you’re looking for more resources, here’s a 30 min speed workout from Fitness Magazine; No Meat Athlete has 5 ways cycling can make you a stronger runner, and here’s a few what to expect in a cycling […]

  7. […] 5 Ways Cycling Can Make You a Stronger Runner 5 Ways Cycling Can Make You a Stronger Runner http://www.nomeatathlete.com/cycling-stronger-runner/Runnersworld Community Forum […]

  8. […] We share the road. 3. Cycle to become a faster runner. 4. We have a love hate relationship. 5. We may or may not greet each other. 6. They make the best […]

  9. […] So I’ve decided to tackle this head-on like I do with everything else. I contacted my chiropractor, Dr. D, who apparently knows a lot about how to help sports injuries. He was able to fit me in this morning so I should have some more answers about what’s going on today rather than sitting on my hands all weekend waiting to see the foot and ankle guy. Depending on what he says, I will give my acupuncturist a call. In the meantime, I have a date with a bike and GUESS WHAT? Apparently cycling will make me a better runner. […]

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