If you've been with me on the channel before, you know this show is called Runner's High. But despite that, I've been a triathlete for almost 10 years now, which means I don't just run anymore. I also swim and bike. So, one of the things I wanted to know initially was, is cycling and to help my running. I started doing it in college. And I will say, again, this is anecdotal evidence, but when I started cycling and swimming, that year was my biggest gains in the 5K.
I dropped an entire minute from like 16:50 to 15:50 that year. There were obviously other things we did in training, but I attribute some of the gains to cycling. So, besides my anecdotal evidence, is there any evidence that cycling helps you be a better runner?
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Now, when we're talking about cycling, you're probably thinking initially, okay, I'm running, I'm using my legs. I'm cycling, I'm also using my legs. And we know that cyclists have really strong legs. I mean, if you look at pro cyclists, those guys and girls have really gnarly looking legs. They're super muscly. They're super lean.
And you're like, how do I possibly get that strong? Cycling must be the thing that's going to make me a better runner. But despite how awesome and just kind of sculpted that those pros legs can be, that's not really what helps you be a better runner.
When we're cycling, we're using actually a kind of opposite system of muscle firing pattern as we are to running. So, the muscle development that you get cycling doesn't have a direct adaptation to running.
Consequently, this is also why you can do triathlon, cycle really, really hard just about to your max, and then get off and still run almost to your max because you're using different muscle firing patterns. And you don't have the same kind of fatigue load as you would if you're using the exact same muscles.
That being said, I am a big advocate of cycling and there is evidence that it does have a part to play in becoming a better runner. One of those things and this is especially important if you're new to running is a robotic development. And along with that, reducing risk of injury. So, when I'm talking about aerobic development, I'm talking about building up your engine, your base, all those kinds of words we talked about.
What this means is your body is able to process oxygen more efficiently and turn it into energy. This makes you a fast runner because you can push off harder, which means you go faster and farther. You get there sooner, all that kind of stuff, right?
So, when you go out cycling, you're going to be using your lungs just like you would if you were running, but you don't have to get all the pounding on your joints that comes with running. So, that's where the reduction in injury rate comes when you go out cycling.
So, because of just that simple fact, those two benefits, that's where I'd say yes, cycling can help you be a better runner. If that's all you need, then subscribe to the channel, head on your way. But I do have more to say about it.
Cycling gives us another avenue though, to be a better runner. And that is when we are already injured from running. Because we don't have that pounding, we can often get on a bike and still keep our aerobic system going.
No, we won't have those direct benefits of the same kind of muscle firing pattern running to running versus cycling to running like I mentioned at the beginning of this video. But the benefit you'll have is keeping your aerobic capacity higher. And this is important.
Instead of starting from square one, you can maybe start from square two or three whereas you were in five, but you got injured and you had to back down.
Starting over means you have a higher hill to climb. But if you stay in some kind of shape by getting out, getting on the bike, putting some miles in while you're working on injury recovery and rehab program, depending on how severe your injury is and what your injury is, then that means that you can stay in shape and become a better runner in the long term.
One of the things I talked about on this channel over and over somewhat axiomatically is that consistency is key. So, when you are interrupted by an injury, then you lose consistency. So, if you stay consistent by doing something like cycling, that's going to help your long term outlook, even if you feel crummy right now, going through that injury rehab. Cycling also has the benefit of being active recovery.
Again, because we have a lack of pounding on the joints, and we can get blood flow through our muscles, then we can use it as active recovery. This means that we're clearing out all the junk in our muscles that gets built up. We're getting fresh nutrients, fresh blood, fresh oxygenation, all into our muscles.
Now, I say junk, I say this stuff facetiously, but it’s somewhat in jest. There are benefits to this active recovery. But there's a common misconception that we're trying to flush lactate out of our muscles by doing this active recovery when we're sore. Truthfully, lactate is gone well, well before we get around to the next day or day after, and we're sore, and we need to do active recovery.
So, don't think I'm saying that. That's not what's going on. It's more to do with getting that blood in there so that we can repair tissue with all those nutrients that blood brings along. And so active recovery is very important in keeping you as a better runner over time.
Now, another thing that you may like to ignore, but I talk about a lot on this channel, because it's so so important, and that's mental strength, mental recovery. Often I find myself doing the same thing. And that is the same routes of running over and over and over again. That means you can get mentally bored. Doing something different, helps that mental stimulus, it can help us be more engaged in our run the next time we go do it.
So, getting on the bike, doing something differently, seeing different scenery, getting together with a biking group, whatever it is, having something different or changed in your schedule can help give you a fresh perspective and renew your mind so that you're ready to go for a new run on a new day on top of all the other benefits that cycling can bring.
One of the other benefits and this is really going to depend on you as an athlete is cycling may help you improve your cadence with running. And what I mean is how fast your legs are turning over. It's easier to have a higher turnover rate on the bike than it is running for most people.
But running with a higher cadence is often more beneficial for the vast majority of people, and especially when we're talking about racing. Now, just having a higher cadence isn't the only thing that helps you, as my friend Todd Buckingham will share with you if you watch his episodes of the Smart Athlete Podcast, Episode Three and Episode 29. I interviewed him and he talked about his research that showed cadence is not the only factor.
Stride length is actually the biggest correlation factor in terms of running speed. He took this data set from the National Championship triathlon a few years ago, put it together for his Ph.D., so he knows what he's talking about. But it is important that you do have a higher cadence.
And if you watch Todd himself run, he has a very high cadence when he's running his like 32 minute 10 K's. So, I don't think you can say cadence is not important. But having that feel on the bike, where you kind of turn your legs over faster, can help you feel that on the run a little bit easier too.
Now, if you want to check out those interviews with Todd, they'll be coming up on the screen here shortly. He's actually in charge of the sports performance lab at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. They built this lab kind of for Todd. He's kind of a big deal, and a really nice cool guy. So, check out either of those interviews I did with him on the smart athlete podcast, my other show.
As always, be sure to subscribe to the channel so you can get future videos, both about running and with my interviews with experts on the Smart Athlete Podcast. Check out those videos above and I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.