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Cross Training For Runners

Cross-Training Powerhouse: Unleash Your Running Potential with These 6 Cycling Workouts

11 Mins read

Are you ready to take your running game to the next level? Then listen up because I have a secret to share with you – cycling can be your secret weapon!

Now, I know what you might be thinking – “I’m a runner; why would I want to get on a bike?” But hear me out. Cycling is one of the best cross-training options out there for runners, and if you do it the right way, it can help you become a faster, stronger, and less injury-prone runner.

In fact, studies have shown that incorporating cycling into your training regimen can improve your running economy, VO2 max, and lactate threshold. Plus, it’s a low-impact activity that can give your joints a much-needed break from the pounding of running.

So, if you’re ready to give cycling a try, then you’ve come to the right place. In this beginner’s guide to cycling for cross-training, I’ll be covering everything you need to know to get started, from the benefits of cycling for runners to the best cycling workouts to improve your running game.

But first, let’s start with the basics – cycling vs. running muscles. Trust me, understanding this will make all the difference in your cross-training routine. Ready to pedal your way to success? Let’s get started!

The Benefits of Cycling for Runners

If you’re a runner, you know how important it is to mix up your workouts and give your body a break from the pounding of the pavement. And what better way to do that than with cycling? Trust me; I’ve been there – I used to think cycling was just a leisurely activity to do on weekends. But after incorporating it into my cross-training routine, I quickly realized its benefits.

First off, cycling targets all the major running muscles, including your glutes, calves, and quads – which, as any runner knows, are key to a strong and powerful stride. The best part? Cycling does this in a low-impact way, meaning your joints won’t take a beating like they might during a long run.

And let’s talk about leg turnover – that all-important metric that separates the fast runners from the not-so-fast. A high cycling cadence can actually improve your leg turnover, which will translate beautifully to your running. Plus, with all the different workouts you can do on a bike – from interval sessions to hill climbs – you’ll never get bored.

But here’s something you might not know: cycling can also be an excellent form of active recovery. After a tough run, a low-intensity, low-impact bike ride can increase blood flow, reduce soreness, and flush out those pesky toxins that are keeping you from feeling your best. And who doesn’t want to recover faster and feel better after a hard run?

So, whether you’re a serious cyclist or a casual pedaler, there’s no denying the benefits of adding cycling to your cross-training routine. And the best part? You don’t even have to leave your house to do it – just hop on a stationary bike or set up a bike trainer in your living room. Trust me, your running legs will thank you.

Cycling For Runners – The Muscles Used

Let’s talk about the muscles used in cycling and running. When you hop on your bike, your quadriceps and hamstrings in your upper legs and the soleus and gastrocnemius in your calves contract in a continuous sequence to generate pedaling power.

In contrast, running engages more muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and iliopsoas, which help with hip extension, knee flexion, and pelvis stabilization.

But wait, what about muscle mass? It’s a common misconception that biking and running will make your muscles bulky. In reality, both exercises can cause muscle fibers to break down and shrink as the body tries to make muscle fibers more metabolically efficient. However, strength training can help maintain muscle mass and improve performance.

Beginner Biking Gear

Now, let’s talk gear. If you’re just starting out, an entry-level bike that costs around $1,000 will suffice. But remember, just like your running shoes, your bike must fit you properly to avoid discomfort or injury.

More Gear

Some of the essential items you’ll need to include a bike, helmet, glasses,  bike shorts, cycling shoes, cycling gloves, multi-tool, spare tube,  an inflation device, and working brakes.

Biking Shoes

Speaking of cycling shoes, you might be tempted to wear your trusty running shoes, but they might not cut it for long rides. Cycling shoes with rigid soles can help reduce the risk of foot cramps and pain while optimizing energy transfer to the pedals.

Cycling Clothing

As you probably know, a pair of padded cycling shorts is a must-have to prevent saddle sores and make sure your backside isn’t in agony after a few miles.

But it’s not just about the padding – you should also look for fast-drying and wicking material to help keep you dry and comfortable on the bike.

And don’t forget about a good cycling jersey – choose bright colors to make you more visible to oncoming traffic, and make sure it’s made of high-performance materials that won’t get squelchy if you sweat too much or get caught in the rain.

A jersey with a zipper can also be a great choice to allow you to easily put on and remove tight jerseys and improve airflow on hot summer days.


Safety is also paramount when you’re cycling, and that’s where a helmet comes in. Research has shown that wearing a helmet while riding reduces the risk of head injury by 50 percent and the risk of face and neck injury by 33 percent. With so many brands competing to design the best bike helmets, you can find a helmet that’s not only safe but also aerodynamic, comfortable, and breathable.

Additional resource  – Trx exercises for runners

A Water Bottle

Another essential item for your ride is a water bottle. Cycling is hard work, and you’re likely to sweat a lot, especially on long rides in the summer heat. Staying well hydrated is key to getting the most out of your cycling experience, so make sure to take a filled water bottle with you on every ride. A frame-mounted cage designed for water bottles is the easiest way to carry it with you.

Floor Pumps

And finally, don’t forget about a good floor pump to adjust your tire pressure to the conditions. In the hot season, you should increase pressures to avoid rolling resistance and cover more distance, while in the winter, slightly lower pressures mean improved grip on slippery roads.

Cycling For Runners The Safe Way

By now, you should have gathered all the gear you need and are prepared to hit the road.

Are you ready to go? Don’t rush out of the door yet.

When doing outdoor sports, whether it’s running, or biking, you name it, you should always put safety first.

Remember, whether you’re cycling outside or spinning in place, always prioritize safety. Taking the necessary precautions can help ensure that you have a fun and injury-free cycling experience.

Here’s what to pay attention to for staying safe while cycling.

  • Know the laws. Look up your state laws regarding bikes and get to know common safety principles that can help keep you out of harm’s way.
  • Keep it on the road. Sidewalks are the reserves of pedestrians and only pedestrians. Even when biking at a slow pace, you can be going as fast as 15 to 20 miles per hour. This is too fast to be coming down the sidewalk next to walkers and runners.
  • Look for bike lanes. These provide more than three feet of space for you so you can comfortably ride your bike at any pace. Just keep an eye out for parked cars.
  • Use body language. Communication is key for staying safe on the road. Use common hand signals to tell other drivers when you’re slowing down or turning. Signal when turning or changing lanes, as well as when stopping for traffic signals.
  • Be loud. Call out to other riders, runners, or walkers when you’re approaching or about to pass them.

Too much to digest?

Try riding with a cycling group or buddy until you get comfortable with the rules of the road.

Riding in groups is a great way to stay safe on the road while having fun riding the miles.

The Spinning Option

If you decide to hop on a spin bike at your gym, then the only expense you have to worry about is your membership.

Gyms have them, and they are not that expensive.

Not only that, but some spin bikes also come with their own pre-programmed workout routines.

All you need for an awesome spinning session is an iPod with a good playlist and (maybe) a training buddy to help you ward off the boredom of spinning in place.  Find out this detailed guide from TheDrive to compare the most popular spin bikes in case you would want to get one.

Cycling For Runners – Improve your Technique

Cycling is a fantastic way for runners to cross-train and build endurance while minimizing the impact on their joints. But, just like any new sport, learning to cycle can be a bit daunting at first. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your cycling technique.

It’s important to remember that improving your cycling technique is a gradual process that requires patience, practice, and time. However, there are a few basic tips you can follow to get started.

Want to know where to start?

Here are a few basic tips to help you improve your cycling technique.

  • Improve cadence. Cadence refers to the number of revolutions that pedals make per minute. Shoot for 90 rpm regardless of the terrain.
  • Stay relaxed. Avoid holding your handlebars in a death grip unless you’re in a dead sprint. Just like when running, staying relaxed can help you save energy and keep you from feeling too stressed out and tight while biking.
  • Shift right. Make it a rule to practice shifting to an easier gear before you need it. This includes when approaching hills and stoplights. Waiting for too long may force the chain to slip.
  • When tackling a climb, opt for a more upright position while keeping your hands on the bar tops. Aim for circular pedaling motion instead of pushing down.
  • To ensure a smooth and safe stop, lightly use both the front and rear brakes when you need to stop. Avoid pulling only the rear or front brake lever as well as sudden stops. That’s how accidents happen.
  • Pay attention. By far, this is the most crucial part of proper cycling technique. Just as you wouldn’t simply get lost in your head when logging the miles, you shouldn’t lose focus on the bike either. Sure, have fun, and enjoy the scenery but don’t bike yourself into oblivion.

Running and cycling training plan

Looking to mix up your training routine? Adding cycling into the mix can help improve your overall fitness and prevent injury by providing low-impact cross-training. But how do you balance the two? Here’s a training plan that will help you maximize your gains on both the pavement and the road.

When it comes to scheduling your runs, it’s important to avoid overtraining by performing double sessions of the same type on the same day. This can lead to injury and hinder your progress. Instead, try pairing an intense running workout in the morning with an easy bike ride in the evening. This will allow you to get the benefits of both workouts without compromising your recovery time.

The Best Bike Workouts for Runners

Here is a list of biking workouts you might consider adding to your training program.

I suggest that you do at least one of the sessions below twice a week, and choose another for a third hard day.

1.     The Road Bike Cycling Workout

Fartlek is a Swedish term that means “speed play.” First used by runners way back in the 30s, fartlek training has, over the last few decades, spread to other sports—including cycling.

You can perform this workout on flat sections or hills; just make sure you are biking on feel and picking up the pace every now and then.

The Workout

10 minutes of easy biking to warm up and get ready, then do the following:

  • 5 minutes of moderate biking
  • 2 minutes sprint
  • 4 minutes moderate
  • 1-minute sprint
  • 5 minutes moderate
  • 3 minutes sprint
  • 10 minutes of easy cooldown.

There is no magic formula for the perfect fartlek biking workout.

Feel free to let your creativity carry you forward, and remember to have fun.

It’s called “speed play” for a reason.

2.    Endurance Ride Cycling Workout

The endurance workout is one of my favorite biking workouts—especially on days when I don’t feel like doing something intense but still get a sweat going.

The main goal of this session is to build endurance without causing too much fatigue.

You should feel the tension building in your muscles, but keep the speed at a conversational pace—meaning you can still talk without huffing and puffing.

The Workout

Start, like usual, with a 10-minute easy-paced pedaling to get you warmed and ready.

Next, aim to keep up a steady cadence for the upcoming 45 to 60 minutes, shooting for an effort level of 6 to 7 on an effort scale of 1 to 10 and exercising at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

As a beginner, go for a low cadence—roughly 60 to 70 rpm for your first few endurance sessions. As you get fitter, work it up gradually up to more than an hour.

Last up, finish the ride with a 5-minute slow-spinning cool down at an easy pace.


3.    Speed Intervals Cycling Workout

Intervals are a crucial part of any cycling training program.

These powerful sessions can help you increase aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and power and burn mad calories, and they are perfect for the time-crunched runner.

You can perform this workout indoors or outdoors.—although I prefer doing it indoors because that way, I can have more control over pace and intervals, length, and duration.

The Workout

Start with a 10-minute easy-paced pedaling to get you warmed and set.

Next, perform at least six to eight one-minute fast-pedal intervals near top speed—nothing less than 90 percent of your max.

Slow down and recover with a one-minute easy-pace spin with minimal resistance.

After the last interval,  slow down and ride at a neutral pace for 5 minutes to cool down.

4.    Tabata Intervals Cycling Workout

Tabata intervals are the brainchild of the Japanese exercise physiologist Izumi Tabata and consist of alternating between 20 seconds of a high-intensity interval with 10 seconds of recovery.

Tabata protocol workouts are perfect if you’re short on time and looking to get the most out of every minute you spend on a bike.

These also increase cardiovascular fitness and shed crazy amounts of calories like nothing else.

For a timer to keep track of your sprint and rest periods, feel free to down this Tabata-timer app.

The Workout

Begin the workout with a 10-minute easy ride as a warm-up of easy spinning.

Next, up the intensity by either boosting gear ratio or tension, then sprint for 20 seconds as fast as possible.

Then, slow down and recover with a 10-second of easy spinning.

Repeat the on-and-off pattern eight times to complete one round.

Pedal easy for one to two minutes, then aim to do at least two to three more rounds.

5.    Climbing Intervals Cycling Workout

The cycling climbing session helps build the strength and power needed to tackle the hills with ease and will also totally challenge your muscular strength and endurance, and power on the bike.

You have two options here:

(1) Tackle a moderate-to-steep hill.

The ideal hill should take you at least two to five minutes to climb and has a steady grade of 7 to 10 percent with no stop signs or traffic lights.

(2) Or hop on a stationary bike with a riser block under the front wheel to simulate a hill by raising the bike’s front wheel.

The Workout

Start with a 10-minute warm-up of easy pedaling.

Begin the uphill, aiming for an effort of 7 to 8 for at least 5 minutes and aiming for 70 to 80 RPM.

Then, coast or recover downhill, and repeat for 25 to 30 minutes.

Repeat the cycle for the duration of your session, then end the workout with a 5-minute easy pedaling cool-down.

Feel free to stand and attack for 15 to 20 pedal strokes a time at the fastest pace possible.

6.    The Recovery Cycling Workout

A recovery ride serves the same purpose as a recovery run. As a result, you shouldn’t be skipping them.

The recovery is going to help you to increase your biking mileage while also allowing your body to recover by spending some time in a lower-intensity training zone.

The Workout

This is easy and straightforward: Ride as easily as you can possibly ride for 30 to 45 minutes.

In fact, go as embarrassingly slow as possible, and do it deliberately.

Keep spinning easy, and don’t let your training buddy ruin this for you—regardless of how much they pressure you into speeding things up.

Top 6 Bike Workouts for Runners – The Conclusion

Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of our exhilarating ride through the top 6 bike workouts for runners. I hope you’ve found the information you were looking for and then some!

With today’s article, we’ve got you fully covered when it comes to finding the perfect bike workouts to complement your running routine. Plus, I’ve dished out plenty of valuable tips to help you maximize your cycling experience, including an exclusive running and cycling plan tailor-made for runners like you.

But hey, this journey doesn’t have to end here. I’m here to answer any burning questions or hear your thoughts on this topic. So, don’t be shy! Drop your questions and comments in the section below, and let’s keep the conversation going.

Thank you for joining me on this exciting adventure. Until our paths cross again, keep pedaling and running toward your fitness goals!

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