A Female Runner Running Up A Trail On The Side Of A Mountain With Burned Dead Trees

Running for Cyclists: Good or Bad?

BY Daniel Paszek

While running uses different types of muscle recruitment, depending on the type of riding you do it can be a valuable addition to your early season training when applied correctly.

When winter’s bad weather comes, each and every cyclist in Poland begins their countdown to when they can attend a training camp somewhere warm. After the recovery cycle and the period of rest from a bike begins the nagging question: To run or not to run? The answer will vary depending on whether you are a road, mountain or cyclocross cyclist. But before analyzing any particular group of cyclists, it is important to know that, from the physiological perspective, we may perform aerobic work during both cycling and running, yet for our muscles, these will be completely different stimuli.

When you are running, concentric-eccentric contractions occur (concentric ones during propulsion and eccentric ones during braking). Whereas when you are cycling, only concentric contractions occur (muscle shortening). Therefore, the mechanical cost of your muscle work will vary considerably. When you are running, the muscle fiber damage that occurs is significantly greater than the damage occurring when you are riding a bike. Thus, a two-hour aerobic run session will be a much greater strain on your body than a two-hour aerobic training session on a bike.

Another issue is that when you are running, you do not develop the neuromuscular connections specific to cycling. In other words, running will not enhance your threshold power, nor will it give you the sense of “feeling the crank” better. Thus, is running good for a cyclist?

Running For a Road Cyclist

The first group encompasses road cyclists who have already finished the recovery cycle and are currently in the phase of total body conditioning. If you belong to this group, you may begin with run-walk intervals. This can for example, be a four-minute run with a two-minute walk, alternating for a total of 20 to 30 minutes. In the period of adaptation of the skeletal system, it is essential for you to focus on the frequency of running rather than on its volume, meaning three, 30-minute interval workouts a week will be a better solution than a continuous run of 1.5 hours once a week. At this stage, running will enable you to maintain the condition of your cardiovascular system and will bring variety into your cycling training. When you move into more advanced training sessions, you should consider stopping your running due to its high risk of injury.

Running for a Mountain Cyclist

With regard to mountain cyclists (mountain bikers), total body condition is of greater significance, thus, if you belong to this group of cyclists, you may treat running as an alternative form of aerobic endurance training in the pre-base training period. Frequently, after your first season’s peak race, running can also bring variety to your training, and it can also be a good idea for training during holidays to maintain fitness when perhaps cycling is not an option. What is more, when you are running, you improve your body balance and neuromuscular coordination, which is necessary for mountain biking. Enhanced body stability and total body condition may reduce the risk of injury in mountain biking. From my experience as a coach, I have found that running has a good psychological influence as it breaks the monotony of cycling training sessions and may “rebuild” an athlete suffering from overtraining or performance burnout.

Running For a Cyclocross Cyclist

Last but not least, there is the group of cyclocross cyclists for whom running is much more frequently applied in their pre-base training period. A remarkable cyclocross cyclist, Niels Albert, performs 30-minute run sessions once a week for most of his season. During such a training session, he repeats some sprints, uphills and downhills, but his sessions never last more than 30 minutes. Moreover, he never uses a bike during these run sessions. A regular and relatively short running session should then be treated as a part of one’s regular training cycle in cyclocross.

To sum up, depending on your main discipline and the preparation period, run training will perform different roles. Nevertheless, in order to avoid training injury, such training should always be implemented into the training plan under the supervision of an experienced coach.

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About Daniel Paszek

The founder and creator of the Cyclo Trener Training Platform, Daniel Paszek is an experienced cycling instructor and the manager of the cycling team Cyclo Trener Team, and is an active athlete with successes in cycling events throughout Poland. He specializes in a detailed analysis of data from power meters. A certified coach whose qualifications are attested by, among others, Polish Academy of Sports, Polish Cycling Federation, and TrainingPeaks Level 2. Daniel is also the author of a series of training-related articles for bikeBoard magazine.

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