How Cycling Can Make You a Better Runner

Cycling as Cross-Training

Preparing for an upcoming race? Indoor cycling could be a crucial component for your training and your key to success. Read on to see exactly how, and to hear from two indoor cycling instructors about their personal successes from using cycling as cross-training.

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By now you’ve read and know the great benefits of indoor cycling. These benefits all culminate to make cycling an ideal cross-training method for running. From building strength and increasing speed, to decreasing potential risk of injury, cycling as cross-training has a lot to offer.

1. Quicker Recovery

Cycling is a form of active recovery while still serving as an effective endurance training session. Its low-impact qualities make it an ideal workout to relieve muscle soreness by working blood through the legs and “flushing out” any lactic acid built up after a long run. Also, a cycling workout in general requires less recovery time than a run, so incorporating cycling can allow one to produce high workloads for long periods of time while cutting down on total recovery time.

2. Decreased Risk of Injury

Supplementing a run with a cycling workout gives the body a break from the same repetitive running motions of training day after day, decreasing chance of burnout.  Cycling also helps build strength in certain leg muscles that are not otherwise worked when running, such as the glutes and the quadriceps. Using cycling to work these other muscles in the legs will decrease chance of muscle imbalances, and therefore decrease chance of injury, from repetitive running motions.

3. Run Faster and Build Endurance

Cycling helps develop a quicker turnover rate of the legs. The cadence of a bike is smooth and consistent, and the pedaling motion translates to your leg turnover rate in a run. Pedaling at a consistent 90 RPM on a bike translates to 180 steps per minute, an ideal stride rate for runners according to studies. A runner can use cycling to train for a desired stride rate by maintaining a certain RPM on the bike, benefitting from the smooth cadence and with very little impact on the body.

Moreover, cycling builds stamina and endurance. You can increase your performance running uphill by cranking up your resistance on your bike. You will also train your legs and heart to carry you longer and faster through runs, extending your length of power production before fatigue.


CycleBar cycling instructors Jean Nitchals and Libby Kapsner are both seasoned racers and no strangers to the benefits of cycling as cross-training.

Nitchals, a veteran racer of 15 years now, has participated in Twin Cities Marathon (2x), Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, multiple TC 10 Miler’s, and countless other races. She also competes in duathlons and triathlons, and was even a member of Team USA for the Duathlon Championships in Italy in 2007.

Kapsner has also run many marathons over the years, and her list includes Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Boston, Chicago, and Indianapolis. She’ll be running another marathon in Washington D.C. next month.

“Over the past few years I’ve focused more on adding indoor cycling [to my training] to enhance my endurance and strength, initially adding two rides per week, and over the last 2 years cycling 3-5 times per week,” Nitchals explains.

Nitchals says that her strength in bounding up hills has increased, and notices she has an overall stronger core while running, both of which she attributes to her cycling training. Nitchals also notes that her leg speed has gotten quicker, helping her trim minutes off of her race times. Nitchals’ Twin Cities Marathon time decreased from 4:02 with little cross-training, to 3:52 after training with cycling.

Most recently, Nitchals ran the TC 10 Miler and cut 30 seconds off each of her splits compared to multiple past years of running the same race, stating she also felt much stronger this time around. She approximates that 90% of her training consisted of indoor cycling.


Similarly, Kapsner has been using cycling more and more (and not much else) to train for her upcoming races. She’s found that the biggest benefit of incorporating cycling into her regimen was breaking away from the methodical nature of training and bringing the enjoyment back into the process from start to finish.

“When I used cycling as cross-training, running was less of a chore, and when race day came, I was excited and mentally present every time my foot hit that pavement,” says Kapsner.

This past fall, she ran her first marathon where she incorporated cycling into her training routine. Up until the race, she would instruct or take a CycleBar class three to four times per week, and run one to two times per week.

“I broke away from my [previous training] routine and instead really tuned into my body and my mind. I did what I thought would be the most beneficial mentally and physically for that day.”

Naturally, Kapsner kept cycling in her weekly workout routine. Like Nitchals, she felt stronger overall, maintaining just under 7:00 minute miles for the first 13 miles, and then just under 8:30 for the last half of the race. She explains she’s more in tune with the tempo of her music while running and attributes that to the way a CycleBar class is structured to “ride to the beat of the music.”  She also gives credit to cycling for her smooth recovery after her races, and even got up to teach a 6:00am CycleBar class the next morning after her last marathon.



Training Plans for Upcoming Races:

Both “CycleStars” are currently training for races coming up in the next few months, and they will be cycling weekly to prepare.

Nitchals is set to compete in her first half ironman in June and will be using a combination of strength training, cycling, and running to prepare. She instructs a challenging 75-minute endurance ride every Sunday morning at CycleBar, and has been using it as part of her brick training by completing a 4-7 mile run immediately after the ride with other riders in the class.

Kapsner will be running another marathon in March and says that for now her training consists of moving her body every day in some way, mixing in some long runs and following them with cycling the day after. Her training approach is more casual, sticking with her mentality of doing what’s best for her body and mind each day leading up to the race.

Both instructors are shining examples of the benefits of using cycling as cross-training, and are big proponents of the ways cycling trains the body. All technicalities aside, Kapsner leaves us with this:

“Make sure you love whatever it is you’re doing, whether you’re clipped into those pedals or your feet are pounding the pavement… You’ll surprise yourself with just how strong you are.”


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*This blog post was written for, and in collaboration with, CycleBar Uptown Minneapolis. All content written and composed by Meghan Bergman, NASM CPT.*

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