Effects of regular running on cycling performance?

Hey guys,

Do you know if the effects of regular running, increased running endurance/vo2 max etc, would affect cycling performance? 

I ask because I tried cycling a few years ago and was terrible, but now after getting back in to shape through running I want to give it another go. Do you think I would struggle again like I used to? It was mostly aerobic weakness I think but also leg muscle was lacking in my younger teens. 

I'd like to hear if any of you guys cycle too, and if you think running helps or hinders a beginner cyclist.

Also what on earth is all this spam on the forum ? 


  • Do you intend to do both sports or just cycle?join a local cycling club that do regular weekend rides/time trials/road races and within time you should see a big improvement.

    Unless you want to do a triathlon theres no point in running if you just want to be fast on a bike.

  • It will help in that you will be fit and able to ride further / at a faster pace.

    If you do a lot of hill work running then it will help the hill climbs on the pushie.

    Spam - it's Saturday innit.















  • Thanks for the replies, I think I may have worded my real intention slightly wrong, what I want to do is be a runner, run 4 times a week and do regular ParkRuns. Buuuut I am also interested in including cycling in to my week, not specifically because I want to win cycling races, because I don't really, but as something I can do if I don't feel like a run. 

    I've seen some good trails near me, and I am just wondering if I could hop on a bike and be able to ride long enough for it to benefit my run times, as much as a long run etc. would.

    Appreciate the help guys!

  • I cycle as well as run and have raced a bit, I reckon good running fitness will help  your running but not so much vice versa. Having said that, cycling's a good way of cross-training, especially as it's often easy to ride for longer than you might otherwise run. Also good if you've got any niggles as a result of running - get to take the weight off your feet a bit.

  • I would not be able to say if I am a cyclist who runs or a runner who cycles! I do an equal amount. I would agree with Pethead above; if I have a few pains that are not agravated by cycling then I cycle instead of run, also cycling makes a nice change. I feel that a few hours on the bike is not much different to a few hours running as far as long slow distance/ cardio workouts are concerned. BUT running is much harsher on your body than cycling and consequently some of your training is conditioning for this; so too much cycling = more injuries in my experience! You should never cycle when you would otherwise be running if you want to improve as a runner! This article explains the different effect of cycling/running on your muscles from a 'cyclist who runs' point of view; http://www.53x12.com/do/show?page=article&id=52

  • I reckon there is a definite benefit in that cycling helps you run up hills and running up hills helps you cycle up steep hills - and then a general cardio vascular and loss of weight benefit.  

  • I dont cycle outdoors but I do use an exercise bike.

    Recently I've been showing some interest in heartrate zones and anaerobic vs aerobic training. Its strange but, perceived effort in running and cycling seems to yield a completely different set of beats per minute.

    At an easy 8:00 mile running pace I'll average 145BPM over say 30 minutes and feel like I could run for hours. However, on an exercise bike I can be pouring with sweat, working seriously hard and struggle to get near 140BPM.....and after 30 minutes be very tired with shaky legs (certainly felt like anaerobic training within an aerobic heart rate training zone). Strange!

    It must be therefore quite difficult for runners/cyclists to gauge what constitutes an 'easy' training day and what is actually aerobic training as opposed to anaerobic training when dicing between both disciplines.

    Incidentally, when I was injured last year I spent quite alot of time on the exercise bike. I didn't feel that my fitness or potential running competence had improved much. I'm not convinced that cycling is of much benefit to runners as a cross training exercise, though I do this type of training.

  • Jamie Newton 2; would agree with what you say, particularly with the sweaty bit. I think the reason you sweat so much and feel you are going harder on an exercise bike is because you are stationary, indoors and there is no air-flow to cool you down? Also I have been told that your VO2 max is different for cycling and running. But I am convinced the sports must compliment each other!

  • Hi SideBurn,

    I hope they do compliment each other, I'm certainly happy to stick with the exercise bike as a cross training exercise. A few of our leading locals cycle regularly.

    The problem with the exercise bike is that I try to keep my running to two hard quality sessions a week plus one longer run at easy pace. The rest of the days are easy / recovery runs. The question is, how hard to train on the bike, by perceived effort? Or by monitoring your heart rate in the faith that if you are in an aerobic heart rate zone.....then thats what you are developing. I'd hate to be taking out of the tank with cross training I'm sure there must be many in a similar boat.

  • Jamie Newton 2 wrote (see)

    I hope they do compliment each other,

    cycling self: that was an excellent run today sir.

    running self. thank you. and that was a great bit of cycling. very good.


  • Thank you skotty image

    Personally Jamie I stick to monitoring my heart rate with the 220 - your age x 80%; perceived effort would not work for me. But this is because my default setting is no pain no gain (particularly when running) I know it is bad for me and leaves me drained and injury/illness prone! I need that annoying 'chirp chirp chirp' to tell me to pack it in! I stick to the same heart rate zones for cycling and running. One of these days I will get my anerobic threshold tested but it is a lot of money and must be done at least twice, once for cycling and once for running! I have read that the 80% rule above is fairly accurate. It would be nice to find a definative scientific article about cycling/running but I have not found one!  Come on you scientists; you know what you have to do!

  • Nice one Skotty!

    If they didn't compliment each other the runner could always say 'On your bike!'

    Hi again Sideburn,

    Heaven only knows whether the rule works for both running and cycling. All I do know is that I can easily get my heart rate up to 85% of max (around 160BPM)  with about 800 metres of sub 6:00/mile running (I can keep that pace up for about 40 mins).

    However, even with my exercise bike set to maximum difficulty, I can't get near 160BPM within 3 minutes unless my perceived effort is at a much higher level than 6:00/mile running pace.......and it wouldn't be sustainable for 40 minutes either.

    I think training zones might differ by as much as 20BPM between runners and cyclists. I've got a feeling that if a runner's 'easy' pace equated to 145BPM, then a similar perceived effort on a bike might possibly be in the range 125-130BPM.

    I'd imagine that many runners question whether say 45 mins of easy work on a bike would be as beneficial as 45 mins of easy running?! Especially when you consider the possible lower heart rate (and probably lower calorie burn) of cycling.

    I might be totally wrong. I'd like to think that the cycling helps runners physiologically.

  • Would agree (again) with what you say Jamie.

  • I used to only cycle, including racing and would say that I used to be above average ability. I then started triathlons and although I never felt tired on the run my muscles and bnes took a beating from running and I struggled with it. I decided to do less cycling and focus on improving my run, now the run is the strongest of my tri disciplines and I am a fair bit slower at cycling, I used to be able to pull away and stay away on long draggy climbs but cant seem to find the accellaration anymore. I didnt do much cycling training whilst trying to get better at running which may be the problem. 

  • I have this year had to have a knee op and the surgeon has suggested that i stop my previous running training efforts of going out 6-7 x a week, and only run on alternate days, a max of 3 x week. To substitute for that loss of running, I have started cycling.

    I go out for individual rides which are probably consistently harder as you are always pushing the wind, and I go out on longer group rides which are around the same average speed but for much lnger distances (as you do a fair amount of drafting).

    In cycling, your body weight is supported, so this makes a difference in terms of PE but also how easy it is to get the HR up to the higher levels on a bike. Unless I am really sprinting up a sustained steep hill, I can't get close to the HRs I can sustain while running. Maybe that would change a little bit on a turbo-trainer, but I still expect the cycling to be relatively simpler.

    However, there is no impact on the legs from cycling, so you can perhaps sustain much longer bouts of training at slightly lower cardio intensity - your running will certainly benefit from higher training volume and this should lead to an increase in your lactic threshold. Good luck.

  • Your right, getting heart rate up on a bike (compared to running) is really difficult.

    Its hard to say whether you are doing anaerobic training or aerobic training....as you can often feel that your putting in an effort equivalent to doing an anaerobic training run, but your heart rate remains in an 'aerobic training zone'.

  • never really had a problem getting my heart rate high when trying to keep up with faster riders or in a time trial event,if i was out on my own on a hard training session i always kept in mind that if you want to race at 25mph then you've got to train at that speed to unless your on an easy longer ride.

    i did my first 10k in Liverpool about 18yrs ago with no running at all only cycling fitness,i started off near the front and kept with the leaders until abut 3k then my legs just gave up,my breathing was fine and i think i managed about 41 mins,some of my work mates who were runners at the time and trained all finished around similer times so the cycling must of helped.

  • Hi Robert,

    I suppose it would probably work in reverse too. If a good club level runner took part in a cycling race without any real training, they probably would do more than competently.......simply down to their weight being good, their good level of anaerobic/aerobic fitness/VO2 max etc and the fact that their legs will already have good athletic development (sport specific or not).

    There is the other factor too, competitive/competent athletic individuals tend to be seriously competitive whatever the discipline. This results in these folk putting a life or death effort into any form of 'race'.


  • There's a bit of crossover. Heart and lungs get work outs from both.

    The muscles used are different though. I'd cycled for years and started running. I did about 4 miles and was fine. Until the next day when I could barely walk.

    But if you want to be good at running run. Same with cycling.

    Cross training is better than nothing though.
  • Cougie, d'you think there's any truth in the argument that cycling is better for general fitness as you can do it for longer?
    For example, I'll enjoy a 3, 3.5 hour bike ride and maybe think I could go further, but a 2 hour LSR is pretty much the limit of my endurance - do they have equal effect?

  • Yes Cougie - I think that was what i was trying to say. I am finding that cardio-vascular fitness is established through running OR cycling. They dovetail nicely. But to reach a peak of performance in either discipline, then you must have intense, function specific training to accompany.

    The muscles used in cycling and running are different, so although your cardio system will have good ability to supply oxygen to them, the muscle fibres themselves are still required to burn the fuel and oxygen (create power). If you train hard on one discipline and then try to perform hard in the other, with little cross-training, you will quickly find those muscle weaknesses for yourself image

    I had a knee-op 3 months ago and am running a mara this w/e. I've really cut back on running training (only done 360kms in prep for this mara - usually I would do 1,500+ kms), but I have thrown in 900kms on my new bike.

    My observations.
    1) Hard to get same sustained HR intensity when cycling. Every uphill has a downhill.
    2) It is easier to go for longer on the bike and re-fuelling is much easier when sitting down.
    3) I get much more DOMS in my quad muscles after running now, as they are less used to/ adapted to, the impact stresses from running.
    4) The cycling is strengthening my hamstrings more than running does (because you pull upwards in the pedal stroke when wearing cleats)
    5) My neck/ shoulders/ back have been really painful after riding, suggesting I need to get some set-up work done. Running tends to cure any back pain but does nothing for my neck and shoulders.
    6) I get a buzz from the different training approaches. It's more interesting to ride than simply to run 6-7x week. But I really appreciate being able to run in quieter/ more beautiful places than road cycling gives me access to.

  • All sorts of opinions on this I'm sure.

    For most people, from beginner to elite, cycling can be sustained at a higher speed for a longer than running and hence I conclude that it requires less effort to cycle than to run.

    Whether 4 hous of cycling makes you "fitter" than 2 hours of running? Hmm, that is very dependant on what your definition of "fitness" is.

  • As a runner who recently took up cycling for commuting purposes, my experience tends to:

    • cycling is not a replacement for running training if you want to be a faster runner
    • it does build up your aerobic fitness because you can do it on days you cant run
    • use it as a supplement to training, alongside core work and weights etc., and you will benefit

    What I find (I dont train by HR) is that is has improved my leg turnover and my recovery times in terms of breathing from fast running and reps, but on the downsides, it makes my knees ache and makes my perceived effort when easy running out of whack (so I run harder than I should because I am used to increased leg turnover and the higher effort level for cycling).

  • Pet head - cycling definitely has advantages. Less strain on the body - easier to exercise for longer and see more countryside. Less chance of getting bored on the same routes.

    Disadvantage is that it takes ages getting ready in the winter with a your kit.

    I like to run and cycle - stops the boredom.
  • Singleton wrote (see)

    All sorts of opinions on this I'm sure.

    For most people, from beginner to elite, cycling can be sustained at a higher speed for a longer than running and hence I conclude that it requires less effort to cycle than to run.

    It depends on how much effort you are putting in.   I agree it's harder to put in full effort on a bike and harder to run easily - but both can be done if you have put the time in to get fit enough to do them - in other words you just need to be conditioned for it.  

    A cyclist should be able to ride a ten mile effort in 20 minutes or a touch over and be absolutely wiped out as much as you would be from a 5k running race.  One of the hardest sessions I do on a bike is 10*30 seconds on a turbo with a good recovery interval in between - I can do that so hard that I still feel wiped out the next day - but I probably need to be fairly bike fit to get that kind of effort out.

    The reasons running is typically seen as harder are you get more muscle and soft tissue damage so feel more beaten up for a few days after a hard effort, and there is a higher minimum effort threshold for running so new runners are working quite hard just for relatively short runs.   

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