Question: In a past RBR Newsletter, you said there are studies showing that although hard intervals on the bike can improve running performance, the opposite isn’t the case — running doesn’t seem to improve cycling performance. Some of my running and cycling friends dispute this. Are you sure you’re right? — Jon P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: A number of studies back me up. One was done at Cal State Northridge in the early 1990s. Groups of runners trained either by running at a steady state, running intervals, or not running at all, but doing intervals on a stationary bike.
Those who only cycled improved their cycling VO2 max by 15 percent. Their running VO2 max rose the same. Ventilatory threshold (VT, another measure of improvement) rose 31 percent when measured on the bike and 13 percent when measured while running.
The subjects that did running interval workouts produced similar gains in running to those who did cycling interval workouts. But their cycling VO2 max increased only 9 percent and their VT while cycling didn’t improve at all.
These results suggest that cycling improves running a great deal, probably due to the ability to do high-intensity work without the pounding of running. But they also suggest that cycling fitness transfers to running better than running fitness transfers to cycling.
These results also agree with the practical experience of many cyclists. Running is a great off-season tool because it’s quick and can be done in darkness and bad weather easier than riding outdoors. Most people who have tried it both ways agree that running on the flat doesn’t help cycling ability as much as running uphill.