by Jordan Galeles
We walk every day and have since we were about a year old, but how often do we run? “Only when someone’s chasing me!” is what you’ll hear from many cyclists.
Cyclists are often turned off by running, and sometimes for a good reason. If you don’t start slow and make sure the body has plenty of time to acclimate, it can be a miserable experience!
You may have heard stories of cyclists who went out for a first run and felt great! But then they could hardly walk for several days afterwards. Those stories, or perhaps your own experience, may have scared you away from running altogether. I want to reassure you that while those stories and experiences are very real, premature intensity and improper training were likely at work. It doesn’t have to be like that.
Now that I’ve stressed how awful running can be (when performed incorrectly), let’s clarify how to start running so you can actually enjoy it and reap the benefits. I want to scare you away from the madness of going full throttle in the early stages of running, but not from running altogether! For cyclists (and beginners) to avoid misery and injury and enjoy the benefits of running (or even running for its own sake), we’ll cover:
- Benefits of running safely
- Some differences between running and cycling
- Common mistakes that can ruin the experience and results
- Three proven methods to help you make that shift from cycling to start running safely and effectively
Why Should Cyclists Consider Running?
Cyclists often consider adding running or weightlifting into their training regimen to target certain muscles or abilities they know will improve cycling performance. Outside of the tremendous health benefits exercise and aerobic activity deliver in general, there are also some advantages that running can provide over cycling.
Running can help your cycling.
The body will efficiently carry over and apply the training done while running to your cycling performance (Millet, Vleck, & Bentley, 2009). And here’s the icing on the cake for cyclists: Running can potentially improve VO2 max and optimize other cardiovascular demands better than cycling can (Millet, Vleck, & Bentley, 2009).
Running gives you a great workout, but takes less time than cycling.
Running provides a quicker workout than cycling, in that you burn more fat in less time (Capostagno & Bosch, 2009). You’d have to work a lot harder while cycling to burn the same amount of fat, and perhaps still take more time to do it (Capostagno & Bosch, 2009).
Running helps improve bone density
Cyclists, particularly competitive ones, are at increased risk of decreased bone density, osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures (Mathis, Farley, Fuller, Jetton, & Caputo, 2013). One benefit of the impact in running is it can build bone density (Shanb & Youssef, 2014), while cycling does not. Some people avoid running altogether due to the impact on the joints, which is a good decision if they haven’t trained to run properly. If you prepare the body for that impact by working up to it or incorporating strength training, then you can mitigate the effects of running on the joints.
An easier option when you travel.
If you ever travel, running instantly becomes an attractive exercise option. Who wants to bring a bike to an airport? *crickets*
Could duathlons or triathlons be calling your name?
With cycling already covered, properly introducing yourself to running could spark an interest in duathlons or even triathlons.
Cycling vs Running Comparison
It may not seem like a big difference going from one aerobic activity to another. However, it would be flawed and dangerous to assume that cycling and running work the same way, simply because they are both aerobic activities. The biomechanics are distinctly different including: joint extension/flexion and tilt, posture and torso angle, muscles engaged, and forces (such as load and impact) acting upon the body (Wozniak Timmer, 1991) (Novacheck, 1998).
This is not a biomechanics or kinesiology 101 course, so we’re not going to go into too much detail, but an awareness and understanding of the fundamentals can help you better transition from cycling to running. Similar but different muscles are engaged in each activity. Depending on if you’re moving uphill or on level ground, muscles are activated differently and at different times between running or cycling (Sloniger, Cureton, Prior, & Evans, 1997) (Li & Caldwell, 1998). Also, running stimulates different muscles to aid in propulsion that aren’t as active while cycling (Hamner, Seth, & Delp, 2010).
You can’t go from working a well-trained muscle to working an untrained or weaker muscle with the same intensity, and not expect repercussions, potentially even painful or dangerous ones. In other words, if you’re not already a triathlete or someone who bikes and runs on the regular, your muscles and how they activate during activity will take more time to adjust (Lu & Chang, 2012).
How Cyclists Can Avoid Running Soreness and Injury
This may be hard to swallow, but even though you’ve probably got a great aerobic capacity from all your cycling, your body simply isn’t oriented to running yet.
Just as you wouldn’t expect a runner to get on a bike and complete a successful century ride without building up to it, it works exactly the same way in reverse for cyclists who want to run.
Right now, you are in the beginning stages of learning how to run properly. You learned how to ride well, and you’ve come to enjoy cycling. Now you’ll have to learn how to run effectively too, so you can become a proficient runner.
If you jump right into a new activity like running without working up to it, you’ll almost certainly end up injured, which will detract from your progress, enjoyment, and results. A new training method without proper application is the cha-cha that only goes backwards. At the end of the day, the attention paid to safety and the deference given to the body’s limits are sacrosanct.
Many common mistakes leave new runners with a bad taste in their mouth. Running headlong into it is perhaps the most common and most dangerous. It’s important to start out SLOWLY.
Until you are accustomed to running, you must avoid:
- Running hard
- Running long
- Running intervals or sprints
Since you’re probably already have a high fitness level from cycling, your cardiovascular system will be begging for you to run faster when you go out on your first runs. It’s very important hold yourself back. Stick to short runs (and I mean really short, like a single mile or maybe two, max) and do not run hard, pounding intervals. You’ll end up injuring yourself where you can’t ride or run. It’s worth it to force yourself to go slowly through this phase and it will pay off.
How long this phase lasts is different from person to person. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule to know when your body is accustomed to running and when you can turn up the intensity. Listen to your body. You should work up to the ability to run 30 minutes comfortably, without feeling major soreness the next day.
Some factors that affect body’s tolerance to running include:
- Time (Total time spent training)
- Method (Types of training used)
- Distance (How far you can run)
- Frequency (How often you routinely run)
- Consistency (How regularly you run the same mileage)
- Pain tolerance / Pain free (How comfortably you run)
- Fitness Level (Baseline of your body’s capacity for performance)
- Rest (How often you give your body time to recover and rebuild)
3 Methods to Prevent Running Injuries for Cyclists
Here are a few tried and true methods for cyclists (or any beginner) to introduce the body to running safely. Any combination of these is an excellent addition to a training regimen.
What’s so special about these three? Well, remember the difference in muscles used we highlighted earlier? Each of these three methods will help build your running muscles. They will also strengthen your tendons to help your feet and legs get used to the impact of running. They can do all this more safely and effectively than by going straight to intensity level 100.
Another commonality these three methods share is they all honor and respect the natural law that the body can ordinarily either handle high intensity for a short period of time or it can handle low intensity for a long period of time, but not both. Respecting this law will go a long way to setting the body up for success for performance and recovery.
Devised by Dr. Phil Maffetone, the Maffetone Method is a form of Long Slow Distance (LSD) endurance training. In a nutshell, low heart rate training places LOW stress on the cardiovascular system while it’s still acclimating to the activity of running. While using this method, runners wear a heart rate monitor, track their heart rate while they run, and aim to keep it below a certain rate by adjusting their pace. It is proven to help novice runners successfully prepare for marathons (Dolgener, Kolkhorst, & Whitsett, 1994). It is especially useful in building endurance.
By forcing yourself to keep your heart rate low, you’ll keep from pounding your legs into oblivion and you’ll build up your running muscles without as much of a risk of extreme soreness or injury.
Maffetone Cheats: If you don’t want to go through the complete MAF test to determine your precise heart rate, you can usually get close enough with the age formula that he also provides. Don’t have a heart rate monitor? Keep your mouth closed and only breathe through your nose, and you’ll naturally be limited to a very similar intensity level.
Run Walk Run
The Run Walk Run method, also known as “wogging” in some circles, was popularized by Olympian and running coach Jeff Galloway. It features running for a fixed length of time, punctuated with scheduled periods of walking, which allow the body to ease into the natural stresses placed on the body while running.
It’s right in the title: Run, then walk, then run again. Wash, rinse, repeat. To intensify training, the time periods of running and walking can be adjusted. It is particularly beneficial because this gives the muscles, joints, and bones time to get used to the impact of running without going all out right away. It has also been proven to allow non-elite runners to finish close to veterans with similar times and less discomfort (Hottenrott, Ludyga, Schulze, Gronwald, & Jäger, 2016).
Why does it help? As with the Maffetone Method, when you force yourself to adhere to the Run Walk Run Method, it helps prevent injury and extreme soreness by giving your body time to adapt to the stresses and impact of running.
Slow-Motion Strength Training
Invented by Arthur Allen Jones and popularized by Doug McGuff in the book Body by Science, slow-motion strength training is low-impact and high intensity, which makes it a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional weightlifting. This method is proven to: Improve cycling and running performance (Vikmoen, Rønnestad, Ellefsen, & Raastad, 2017); running economy (Jones & Bampouras, 2007); cardiovascular health, cardiorespiratory efficiency, and aerobic capacity (Hagerman, et al., 2000); and build bone density with minimal impact on the joints (Layne & Nelson, 1999).
It allows trainees to train isolated muscle groups better than cycling or running. This method is best used in conjunction with one of the other two training methods, performed with days of recovery in between them. As they say, you can’t learn to swim without getting wet. Similarly, your body will never get used to the impact and endurance of running without incorporating it and building up to full intensity.
Why does it help? Lifting weights help strengthen the muscles you use both for cycling and for running and also strengthens your tendons, so you’re less likely to feel as much DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after a run and protect your joints long term.
Summary: Running for Cyclists
I understand it can be painful to even think about running, but it doesn’t have to be. There are overwhelming health and training benefits to add running into your regular routine – when done properly. The biomechanical differences between cycling and running make it important to start slowly, and even though we are accustomed to walking and cycling – we can’t expect to jump right into running safely without first building up to it.
Building up to it entails starting SLOW and not pushing yourself too far, too fast, too soon. Everyone is different and there are many factors you should consider before turning up the intensity. We’ve highlighted three training methods that will help get you started running safely and effectively. We want to see you succeed in your fitness goals and wish you all the best in your training endeavors!
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