The best cardio cross-training for running

Swimming
Elliptical
Water Jogging
Indoor Cycling

These are common forms of cross-training for running however in our opinion, only one truly stands out as the winner as the best cross training exercise – Indoor Cycling.

While all of these cross-training modalities are good and provide benefits for runners, indoor cycling provides the most benefits with minimal downsides.

SPECIFICITY

When riding out the saddle, the downstroke of the pedal stroke closely mimics that of a runner’s foot striking the ground underneath their body. For runners that overstride in front of their body, cycling out of the saddle can help to increase their leg turnover and reduce or eliminate overstriding.

Additionally, by placing the foot at or near a horizontal position at the bottom of the pedal stroke, it closely mimics the foot position when running in respect to a midfoot strike.

RECOVERY

Unlike the other cross-training modalities noted above, only cycling allows an individual to sit down. Riding from a seated position (versus standing) also changes the muscles being activated. Being able to ‘switch over’ to different muscles and the ability to sit down in between standing efforts is a unique benefit that only cycling offers.

While the elliptical is a great exercise, the motion is designed to mimic running which can lead to it being taxing on the ‘running muscles.’ Therefore if you are cross-training for the purpose of giving your legs a ‘running break,’ the elliptical is probably not the best choice.

NO IMPACT

Riding a bike is a non-impact activity due to the feet not impacting the ground. This lack of impact is helpful in the recovery aspect of cross-training. A lot of runners get injured during long runs and during hard workouts. While the bike isn’t meant as a replacement for long runs (although it is great for building fitness), it is a great substitute for short, intense efforts such as repeats and hill sprints but without the impact!

VARIABLE RESISTANCE

Whether or not you are riding a spin bike or using an indoor ‘trainer’ to connect your bike to, you can vary the resistance to change your workout level. Want more of a leg workout? Put on a bit more tension. Looking for more of a cardiovascular workout and, or working on your leg turnover, take some tension off.

PROPER FORM

spin-bike-rider

While riding out of the saddle can mimic running, it must be done correctly. Like running, you should stand tall and lean slightly forward from the ankles. While it’s likely that your hips will be slightly more flexed while riding than running, you should aim to have your upper body as vertical as possible with your eyes looking straight ahead, not down. One way to facilitate this if riding a spin bike is to raise the handlebars (see the image above).

EASY CLEAN UP

Indoor trainers fold up and most can fit into a closet… try that with an elliptical!

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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