As a bicycle fitter and technique coach, I see riders with all sorts of ailments and efficiency problems. Some have poor engagement of certain muscle groups while others lack core strength which hinders their ability to produce power on the bike. With the exception of poor fit, the main cause of body problems from cycling are caused by muscle imbalances and lack of appropriate core strength. These muscle imbalances may be the primary thing that is keeping you from improving your riding the way you would like. One of the ways that you can balance out your strength is by incorporating running into your cycling routine.
I am not saying you should completely give up your bike and don your running shoes. I am merely suggesting you create some balance in your routine. Think of it as focusing on your overall athleticism rather that just your cycling.
Our muscles are adapted to cycling
Many pure cyclists do no other form of exercise besides riding. This is a big mistake. Our muscles adapt to riding a bike but in many cases over develop in some areas and under develop in others. From a bicycle positioning and efficiency perspective, running provides an excellent supplement.
There are other benefits as well
Science suggests that some running may be beneficial for cyclists. Several recent studies have shown decreased bone density in cyclists compared to non-exercising subjects. Not exactly the news you want to hear. You spend a lot of time training and eating healthy only to find that your sport may be contributing to weaker bones.
Cyclists that supplement running have higher bone density
It’s not all bad news though. It turns out that cyclists that supplement their cycling with running actually have higher than normal bone density. This lowers your risk of broken bones and other health problems associated with low bone density.
Increased bone density from running is not the only benefit for cyclists. Running can give you a refreshing mental and physical break from long hours in the saddle. It maintains your cardiovascular fitness and because running takes less time, it can be a great way to stay in shape when you are traveling.
Keep it fun
Look for fun places to run. Maybe on some trails or even drive to a new area that you are not familiar with to keep things exciting. I enjoy exploring all the nearby neighborhoods and quiet streets that I rarely frequent in the car. The important thing is to not think about your heart rate, pace, or any other metric, just run. Remember that this is supposed to be a break from cycling not another competitive endeavor. Save the competition for your main sport.
Cyclist’s don’t like running
A big barrier for cyclists is that they despise running. Thats why they took up cycling in the first place. For many it may be the beginning of the run that is the problem. If that’s the case, try running with your children. One of my favorite workouts is to have my son ride his bike while I run along side. He pushes me to run a little harder and longer than I would otherwise. Kids love to see parents working hard and struggling to keep up. Going with your kids will help you completely forget about your aversion for running.
Be careful not to overdo it
A pure cyclist taking up running is at high risk of getting an injury. Your joints and muscles need time to adapt to running. Start small and work up slowly. Don’t be tempted to go out and do long fast runs because you will already have the cardiovascular fitness from cycling. I suggest starting out with short walk/runs once or twice per week depending on how much you are riding. During your racing or riding season you should still keep up with running once a week to help keep things in balance. Obviously when you are nearing a big event you will want to taper off your running for a few weeks but otherwise keep it up year round.
The off season is the best time to start but really you can start anytime. You will come back to the bike stronger and have better overall fitness.
Many cyclists and coaches believe that you should just spend more time out on the road to improve your riding. But in many cases what is needed is a little more variety. Running is one way to add that variety and should be a part of every cyclists routine. It has a lot of benefits. Strengthening your core and unbalanced muscles, improving your pedaling efficiency, and science has shown that running can help cyclists improve their bone density. The most important things to remember for cyclists taking up running is to keep it fun and don’t over do it.
If you really want to become a better cyclist and lower your risks for injury you should seriously give running a try.
Do you run and how do you feel it has improved your cycling?