Cyclists and runners are like two distant cousins. Both are content on their own life path until one becomes curious to meet the other. If you’re a runner who wants to test out indoor cycling, then chances are you’ll have an easier time making the transition than a cyclist will to running. Here we fill you in on why, and also recommend some workouts to get you started.

CYCLISTS AND RUNNERS: BROTHERS FROM ANOTHER MOTHER

Two important characteristics of cyclists and runners are solid endurance and high VO2 max. A well-honed diesel engine that’ll go all day coupled with the ability to perform short, intense efforts are what set them apart. But from a physiological standpoint, they have little else in common.

Both sets of athletes utilise different neuromuscular recruitment patterns and they activate different muscle groups. Cycling is quad dominant with some input from the hip flexors while running uses a host of additional muscles including the glutes, hamstrings, plantar flexors, shoulders, and back.

And to further cloud the intersection between both, some of our established gains don’t carry over so well. You see, VO2 Max is sport-specific, and when cyclists try their hand at running, they often find themselves quickly gasping due to the different muscle groups that activate while running.

If you’re a runner, then the good news is that runners are much more adept at cycling than cyclists are at running.

A RUNNER’S ANATOMY: WIRED TO RUN

A 2018 study carried out at the University of Colorado Boulder, measured the performance of well-trained cyclists and runners who each had their efficiencies tested in both disciplines.

The results showed two things. Firstly, and rather unsurprisingly, runners were more efficient than cyclists at running. But much more surprising was the finding that cyclists were no more efficient than runners at cycling.

Scientists believe that runners have better neuromuscular signalling than cyclists. They store elastic energy in their tendons and ligaments in something akin to regenerative braking in a car. This kinetic energy brings about efficiency increases over cyclists whose movement remains much more constrained on the bike.

3 REASONS WHY RUNNERS SHOULD CROSS TRAIN

In some ways, cycling is the ideal cross-training sport for runners. With its no impact nature, it provides a safe way to rev up the cardiovascular system without the long road miles.

1) LOW IMPACT

Due to its low-impact nature, cycling ensures minimal impact on the joints. Aside from diversifying your training, if you’re returning from injury and can’t yet handle the stress of running, cycling with its aerobic benefits is the ideal outlet.

2) WORK THE MAJOR RUNNING MUSCLES

Cycling helps build up strength in the major leg muscle groups used by runners. It also helps strengthen underdeveloped muscles that can lead to minor muscle imbalances and the possibility of eventual injuries.

3) IMPROVED RECOVERY

Active recovery rides done at low intensity (zone 1) are the ideal way to reduce joint stiffness, flush out lactic acid buildup, and increase blood flow to soothe sore muscles after hard runs. The low impact nature of such rides ensures no further breakdown in this critical rebuilding phase.

MAKING THE SWITCH: 4 CYCLING WORKOUTS FOR RUNNERS

If you’re a runner who just took the plunge and invested in a smart trainer, then here are four cycling workouts to help complement your running performance or eventual transition.

#1 HIGH CADENCE WORKOUT FOR LEG TURNOVER

One of the best ways to improve running performance is to increase your leg turnover. This refers to the stride frequency, and while its upper limit is capped genetically, there’s always room for improvement through targetted training.

The high cadence workout below will help activate your fast-twitch muscle fibres and improve leg turnover rates while running.

  • Warm up in zone 2 for 10-15 minutes with a cadence of 80 rpm
  • Using a small gear, bring the cadence up to 90 to 95 rpm while remaining in zone 2. Stay here for 60 to 120 minutes and every 5 minutes do a 1-minute high-cadence burst in the 110-125 rpm range.
  • Warm down for 10 minutes
#2 SIMULATE HILL REPS TO BUILD LEG STRENGTH

Riding uphill in a big gear will help develop muscle strength in the legs. The beauty of the smart trainer is its ability to simulate this effectively. Whether you’re using a 3rd party app like Zwift or the Tacx app, you can structure your very own workouts to emulate the climbs.

  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes in zone 2
  • Push hard for 2 minutes in zone 6.
  • Recover in zone 2 for 3-5 minutes, before repeating the above effort 5-8 times.
  • Warm down for 10-15 minutes in zone 2

#3 FARTLEK: VARIED INTERVALS

As fun to do as they are to pronounce, fartlek workouts alternate between moderate and high-intensity intervals. They’ve been a firm part of running training programs since their inception in 1920’s Sweden. And the good news for runners is that they also transfer over to cycling.

There’s no strict formula for a fartlek workout. It’s a form of unstructured interval or speed training that can help improve both run speed and endurance. On a bike, it involves riding at a varied pace where you alternate between fast and slow segments to help the body adapt to various speeds. Here’s a 40-minute template from which to work.

  • 10-minute warmup in zone 2
  • 5 minutes in zone 3 (tempo)
  • 2-minute anaerobic effort at >120% of FTP (Zone 6)
  • 5 minutes in zone 2 to recover
  • 30-second sprint at >150% of FTP
  • 5 minutes in zone 2 to recover
  • 2-minute anaerobic effort at >120% of FTP (Zone 6)
  • 10-minute cooldown.
#4 IMPROVE ENDURANCE IN THE SWEET SPOT

If you haven’t got the time or desire to put in the months of work to build a solid endurance base, then sweet spot riding is the ultimate hack. It involves riding at an intensity just below threshold at between 88 and 93% of FTP (6-7 on the scale of perceived exertion).

Sweet spot training brings about maximum benefit to your lactate threshold and involves minimal recovery time. If you train more intensely closer to threshold, it takes a much more significant toll on the body and thus requires more recovery time.

Most people start out with two 20-minute sweet spot intervals twice per week and build from there. Here’s the outline.

  • Warm up for 10 minutes in zone 2
  • 20 minutes in the sweet spot (88-93% of FTP)
  • 10 minutes recovery in zone 2
  • 20 minutes in the sweet spot (88-93% of FTP)
  • 10-minute warm down.

Smart trainer platforms breathe a whole new lease of life into the sport of cycling. Aside from offering runners some variation in training, they also embrace the virtual world like few other sports; meaning that you may not be the first rider to start exploring the world of Zwift and never go back. You’ve been warned!