Updated: Nov 15, 2021
More and more elite cyclists regularly mix up their training stimuli, this could be through running, hitting the gym or taking Yoga or Pilates classes. As discussed in the last post Jumbo-Visma riders Dumoulin, Roglic and Wout van Aert were running together during their altitude training camp. We already know that the latest crop of super stars (Wout van Aert, Van Der Poel, Pidcock) are not averse to a bit of running through the mud with their bike on their shoulder. However, in the traditional road cycle coaching scene allowing a general classification guy like Roglic to incorporate running is new.
So what use is running to the regular cyclist? Before we answer the question we need to establish what type of rider you are.
First, there is the cyclist who likes to run now and then. He or she sees this more as support and sets his or her goals primarily on the bike. This would be the category that I fall into.
Then there is the cyclist who has set themselves a running goal. This means that cycling is still a part of the training regime, but the cycling training should be allowed to suffer from the impact of running.
Of course, there are also plenty of runners who cycle occasionally. When i raced for TORQ Performance I noticed that the triathletes all came from a running background and were so much more efficient running than on the bike.
Running to ride your bike faster So as a cyclist can you use running to improve their cycling performance? As with any cross training, it depends on how you approach the new training stimuli and how well you adapt. Let’s be clear: running is not as disastrous for the cyclist as is often assumed. Firstly, running mainly uses the same muscle groups as cycling. However, the coordination (the relationship between strength and length) is completely different and an experienced cyclist will therefore benefit little from running on a muscular level. When you are running, concentric-eccentric contractions occur (concentric ones during propulsion and eccentric ones during braking). Whereas when you are cycling, only concentric contractions occur (muscle shortening). Therefore, the mechanical cost of your muscle work will vary considerably. When you are running, the muscle fibre damage that occurs is significantly greater than the damage occurring when you are riding a bike. Nevertheless, for the muscle running does contribute to the cycling condition but not threshold power as you are not developing those neuromuscular pathways specific to cycling.
Running trains the heart-lung system at a higher RPE, because running, unlike cycling, is always a weight-bearing activity, while cycling is only uphill, the intensity of running is soon much higher than on a bicycle. In other words, with running you can train the heart-lung system in a short time at a high intensity – and thus very effectively and efficiently. I have very few flat roads or trails to run on and I've noticed that my cardio vascular system has definitely improved through hilly runs.
Running is always weight-bearing So with running, you are constantly supporting your own body weight. This impact not only has repercussions on your muscles but also on your tendons, joints and even on your bones. Research shows that road cyclist, especially if you train hard or have been training for multiple years, you are more likely to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. This puts you at a higher risk for fractures; a risk that continues to go up with age and training. Again running can be hugely beneficial to those experienced road riders if they are willing to adapt their traditional training approach. That’s why, as a beginner, you have to build up the load very slowly and, as a beginner who cycles, you have to be very careful. The muscles, tendons and joints, will take a few runs to adapt so stick with it. A novice runner with a good physical condition should really start with a few minutes of running alternated with a minute of walking and be careful not to run for ten to twenty minutes straight. Even if your heart rate is zone 1 or 2, don't be fooled, you will ache afterwards.
Cyclists with a running goal
A word about the cyclist who, for whatever reason, has set a running goal. Firstly, the advice is to build up your workouts very slowly. And secondly, build up your workouts very slowly. It is precisely the running injuries among cyclists that have given rise to the persistent idea that running is inherently bad for cyclists. Because of this very slow build up, but also if you are already trained in running, you will notice that the total training volume with only running is lower than you are used to. This is why longer endurance trainings on the bike are an ideal addition. So for this cycling runner, the combination with cycling is actually very easy.
Practical tips Finally, a number of practical tips. As mentioned, it is especially difficult for a trained cyclist to start off calmly enough. In addition, in terms of technique, running is way more difficult than it looks. Therefore, especially in the beginning, do not run on an uneven surface, get advice on shoes that fit your physique and consider taking some lessons.. This will reduce the impact load to a large extent and you will significantly reduce the risk of injuries.