Does running improve cycling?5 February 2023
Whether you cycle competitively, to stay in shape, purely for fun or a combination of all three, you may be keen to step up your cycling game. It’s often said that running can help improve your cycling performance, but is this true, and if so, how?
Does running improve cycling performance?
In short, yes - running can be extremely beneficial when it comes to improving your cycling performance. Below, we delve a little deeper into how donning your trainers for a run could be the perfect cross-training activity for you as a cyclist.
It’s no secret that cycling is a great way to improve your cardiovascular health - but did you know running is too? In fact, running is considered to be one of the best forms of cardio training that you can do, significantly lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. Running also lowers your resting heart rate - how often your heart beats per minute while you’re in rest mode.
But how does this improve your ability to cycle? Well, since running can seriously enhance your cardiovascular health, this means you’ll be able to endure more - including those long, challenging bike rides. The more stamina you have, the better you’ll perform in the saddle, whether you’re out on the roads or using a turbo trainer from the comfort of your own home.
Cycling is a non-impact sport, and although it’s the ideal type of exercise for your cardiovascular health and overall fitness, it doesn’t provide any weight-bearing stress in order to increase bone density. The truth is, your bone density can start to decline as you enter your 30s, which can lead to a number of health issues, including osteoporosis.
Running on the other hand is a weight-bearing exercise which triggers a series of reactions in the body, including strengthening the bones. The stronger your bones are, the fewer injuries you are likely to experience. So, combining your cycling with a regular running regimen is a great way to increase your bone density, helping you to continue feeling fit and healthy when you’re in the saddle.
The respiratory system plays a crucial part in your cycling endurance. This part of your body helps the blood carry oxygen to your muscles so that you have the energy and stamina to pedal all those miles - and this applies to running too.
When you go for a run, the capacity of your respiratory muscles increases, meaning that you are able to take fuller, deeper and more efficient breaths. Running on a regular basis means that more oxygen can get to the muscles quicker.
Endurance is everything when you’re in the saddle. So complementing your cycling with running is a sure fire way to make sure you’re physically able to take on any type of route, from rocky terrains to mountainous climbs.
While cycling and running are both aerobic exercises, the way each type of training affects your muscles differs significantly. The main difference is that cycling causes the muscles to experience concentric contractions whereby the muscles shorten, whereas running causes the muscles to experience both concentric contractions and eccentric contractions, which refers to the lengthening of the muscles.
So, if you focus on cycling only, it could be that your muscles develop in some areas, but not in others. If you want to up your cycling game, it may be more beneficial to take up running too so that your muscles are getting the work out they need to enhance your performance in the saddle.
Running can also improve your hamstring and glute strength, as well as your postural muscles - the muscles that can be found in your abdomen, pelvis and back. This can be especially beneficial to cyclocross and mountain bike riders who need heightened aerobic strength and muscular endurance to take on steep hills, ride through sand, and mount and dismount their bike regularly.
Switching up your usual cycling routine can work wonders for your mental health. Leaving the saddle to head out on a run instead is a great way to give yourself a break from the exercise you’re used to while still getting in those miles.
It could even be said that you can let your mind ‘check out’ more during a run than you could during a ride. Being out on your bike requires a lot of concentration as you navigate tricky trails and busy roads, and while you’ll still need to take care, running gives you more opportunity to let your mind wander free. Shutting your brain off could be just what you need to help clear your mind before taking on your next cycling adventure.