When it comes to training for runners, a myriad of options pop up, ranging from low-impact exercises to strength training.
However, not all options are created equal, and it is important that runners consider how relevant and specific the exercise is to running when crafting a cross-training routine.
Factors like whether similar muscles and systems are used, as well as the reason for cross-training, are what runners will have to think about.
With this in mind, cycling is one exercise that makes for one of the best cross-training options.
The following are six of the reasons why cycling is one of the recommended picks!
1. Cycling Mimics the Running Movement
With respect to the activation of body muscles, the position of one’s body and how the body moves while cross-training should mimic the running form as closely as possible for a more effective cross-training session.
When one cycles out of the saddle with the body in a very vertical position, this very much mimics the posture when running.
This is especially true with regard to the foot strike position below the body.
While the ElliptiGO is not a bike per se, it is a great option for runners as it places the body in that vertical position with the ‘foot strike’ position happening beneath.
Additionally, the ElliptiGO is better than the traditional bike in the way that it requires stronger hip extension — the leg driving behind the body, similar to a proper running form.
2. Cycling Strengthens the Calf Muscles
Runners will know — running exerts a significant amount of stress on the calf muscles, especially when running with a midfoot strike.
As the runner lands with a midfoot strike, the deep calf muscle, also known as the soleus, is used the most.
Similarly, when cycling, the balls of the feet are positioned at the pedal’s centre section, which means that the contact points of the feet on the pedals are similar to that of the feet contact points with the ground when one runs with a midfoot strike.
This goes to show that when pedalling, especially when standing up and out of the bike saddle, the calves must be activated to stabilize the feet on the pedals.
This very strengthening of the calves is what leads to the stiffening of them, or the condition is also known as the Achilles complex, which is the huge energy source used when running as one of the body’s natural spring systems.
3. Cycling Strengthens the Shin Muscles
The shin muscles, namely the tibialis anterior, are activated when pulling the bike pedals upwards when the rider is in a seated position doing the upstroke of the pedal stroke.
This occurs most often when cycling up a slope.
For the shin muscles to be activated, the foot must remain horizontal during the upstroke, and there must exist some kind of cage, clipless pedals, or strap to be able to pull it up.
As the activation of these muscles while pedalling helps to strengthen the tibialis anterior, this can help in preventing muscular-based shin splints when running.
4. Cycling Engages the Core
A strong and healthy core is key for a proper running form, and for minimizing the risk of injury when running, as there are mechanical compensations when the other muscles are engaged to keep the runner upright, in balance, and moving forward.
In improving your core muscles when on the bike, you must check that you are in the proper cycling form, so as to properly engage the core in and out of the saddle.
Uphill Seated Cycling Form
The cyclists that have an unengaged and thus weak core, will most likely exhibit side-to-side, or tilt and rotation movements of the upper body half when cycling up a slope.
On the other hand, if your core has been engaged properly, then there would be little to zero upper body movement.
To test if your core is being engaged well, cycle in the seated position as you ride up a slightly steep hill, while taking note not to grip onto the bars.
Instead, have your palms placed on the bike bars with your fingers kept loose, as the lack of support from such loose gripping will thus put a heavier emphasis on engaging your core muscles.
Use this form to ride uphill while focusing to not bend or rotate your upper body from side-to-side, and you will effectively strengthen your core in time!
Out of the Saddle Form
Many novice cyclists often do not cycle with the proper form when riding out of the saddle, where they will have their bike kept in the vertical position while moving their body and hips up and over the bike.
However, the right form is to have your bike tilted side-to-side and to maintain an upright and almost motionless torso position.
This enables the hips to be aligned on the same plane, minimizing a dead spot in the pedal stroke.
5. Cycling Builds the Aerobic Engine
Many injuries that runners can get arise from muscles being overused.
The longer time you’re on the feet, the higher likelihood that you will get an injury.
Most commonly, this is due to fatigue, which affects the running form.
When cycling with a focus on endurance cycling, this allows runners to benefit from a great aerobic workout with virtually zero impact on the body.
Additionally, riding uphill allows the cyclist to shift gears so as to maintain or even reduce the effort used, which is an option that runners don’t get!
6. Cycling Boosts the Anaerobic Systems
Whether you’re cycling outdoors, or indoors on the stationary bike, doing intervals is an excellent way for you to replicate the intensity of a running workout, but minus the impact.
It must be noted that cycling intervals cannot improve specific neuro-muscular pathways and running muscles, but they can help in strengthening the lungs, heart, and overall tone of muscles.
In all, cycling is a great option for runners looking to switch up their cross-training.
Get on your bike and give it a try today!
As well as cycling, swimming can also be beneficial for cyclists.