Cross training: learning to love the bike

When my husband and I started looking to buy a house in 2012, we had two primary conditions: 1. our commutes had to be reasonable and 2. we had to have a basement for the treadmill. Since moving into our house, we have accumulated quite a little gym downstairs, and I’ve got to admit, it’s my favorite room in our house.  One piece of equipment that we bought for my husband, but I have since come to really enjoy, is our spin bike.  We bought it second-hand from an equipment distributor, and it has all of the functionality that we need.


Our home gym is complete with pack and play

Originally, I only used the spin bike if I had an injury or if I detected that I was starting to get the niggle of an injury.  After running through pregnancy and acquiring a stress fracture in the process, I have learned to use the bike to also cross train.  Now that I am recovering from minor surgery, I’ll be on the bike a lot over the next few weeks.

The beauty of riding a bike is that it has minimal impact, so it is perfect as a recovery exercise or as cross-training for running. A leisurely ride after an intense effort or during the day(s) after a hard race can help increase circulation in the legs and improve recovery time. Cycling can also supplement a hard running schedule, so instead of running two-a-days, for instance, a runner could run one work-out, and then cycle for the second “run.”

There are different cycling workouts that are effective for replacing or supplementing running.  One of the benefits of cycling is that when executed with a high cadence, it can help teach your feet to run with faster turnover.  This article suggests to keep the rpms, or revolutions per minute, at 90 to simulate running cadence. It also suggests that 10-15 minutes on the bike is about the equivalent of one running mile, but that calculation is very subjective to effort level.

A study conducted in the UK last year actually showed that high intensity cycling training can improve running performance.  The trick in this high intensity work-out is to limit recovery time between hard efforts.  Cyclists in the study who rested only 30 seconds after 6 × 10-second sprints improved running speed by 3% compared to the control group.  Improvements were attributed to participants cycling at an elevated heart rate throughout the training period, as the 30 second rest period did not allow time for the heart rate to return to normal.


I rode before and after the Boston Marathon to make sure that I didn’t get any injuries after a tough training cycle with little sleep.

I like to wear a heart rate monitor when I cycle, but I’ve noticed that my legs start to burn well before my heart rate reaches what would be a normal rate for a good effort run.  There are a lot of articles and forums about this, and I’ve concluded that cycling utilizes different muscles than running, and the effort level will therefore be different in running than in cycling. This journal article notes: “muscles adapt specifically to a given exercise task over a period of time, resulting in an improvement in submaximal physiological variables such as the ventilatory threshold, in some cases without a change in V O(2max).” As the body learns to recruit the necessary muscle fibers for your sport, your heart rate will adjust.

There are many different cycling speeds and resistances that can be performed with the bike.  My standard is to ride with higher resistance and include bouts of fast turn-over.  For my surgery recovery, I will have to reduce resistance and rely more on high cadence.  One of my favorite ways to mix up my cycling work-out is to stand and ride.  This helps get my heart rate going and engages more of the muscles in my legs.  I listen to MotionTraxx while I ride, but I admit, I still read on the bike, so my intensity level is not so high that I cannot read and ride.


This may not give me the same views if I were riding outside, but I’ve got to say, that little baby makes any workout more enjoyable!

What do you use to cross-train? I also have a stair climber and I’ll walk on my treadmill at an incline when I need to cross-train.

Has the bike helped you work through injuries? I used the bike to train during the last two weeks leading up to my 50 mile race in 2015 because I was afraid that I had an injury coming on, and it helped keep my foot protected.

Any favorite cycling programs?

3 thoughts on “Cross training: learning to love the bike

  1. I love the workout you get from a spin bike vs. running. Like you, I also feel the burn in my legs when my heart rate is relatively low compared to running. I live in a big city, so most of my spinning is in a studio, but I love Flywheel and dream of one day owning a Peloton bike. If only classes weren’t so expensive I’d do it far more!


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