The Benefits of Cycling For Runners: How To Use Cycling To Improve Performance

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Running and cycling are two pretty intertwined activities. They’re both forms of cardio that get you outdoors and cover terrain on your own. It’s no surprise that many runners like to hop on a bike occasionally and vice versa.

However, combining running and cycling in your training plan often leads to doubts and questions. Runners often wonder if cycling is actually helping or hindering their running game. Does all that pedaling fatigue your legs?

In this guide, we will explore cycling for runners, examine its benefits, and compare cycling with running. We will also include tips from expert guest writers on the best ways to optimize your training, and give you some example cycling workouts to try.

benefits of cycling for runners

Can Cycling Make You A Better Runner?

If you’ve been running for some time, you know that cross-training is an essential part of your running plan.

Whether you run for a healthy boost or weight loss or are training for a half marathon, building strength and endurance is the best way to get the most out of your run. 

Dr. Robert Berghorn, a physical therapist at Ascent Physical Therapy, helps runners and other endurance athletes train to compete while preserving their bodies.  

He advocates for cross-training in general but also emphasizes cycling for runners as an especially effective method. 

“Cross-training, just like in every sport, is a very important aspect of a training schedule for every athlete. Cross-training allows you to get out of the usual cycle of repetitive movements, using different muscles and muscle activation sequences that either complement or enhance primary sports performance when they return. 

benefits of cycling for runners

Cycling for runners is a wonderful way to cross-train, especially if you need to have a good recovery day after a hard training cycle in the off-season or if the runner is injured. 

Incorporating cycling as a recovery day during or after a hard training cycle can be used as a way to flush out the legs and reduce soreness while still getting a good cardiovascular training effect at the same time. 

Injured runners who cannot tolerate the impact of running but still feel fine cycling can use this as a tool to maintain some level of fitness and cardiovascular health while recovering.” 

Studies have also shown1Etxebarria, N., Anson, J. M., Pyne, D. B., & Ferguson, R. A. (2013). High-intensity cycle interval training improves cycling and running performance in triathletes. European Journal of Sport Science14(6), 521–529. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2013.853841 that cycling long intervals can improve running performance.

What Are The Benefits Of Incorporating Cycling Into A Runner’s Training Routine?

Recovery and cross-training are the two major benefits of cycling for runners, but those advantages run even deeper.

Active Recovery

  • Cycling aids recovery by increasing blood flow to your calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads – all the muscles you need for running.  
  • Cycling provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout and will build endurance for those who want to give their joints a break from pounding the pavement.
  • Cycling flushes out lactic acid, which removes stiffness and DOMS from your muscles. As your muscles burn more energy, they produce lactic acid, which breaks down into hydrogen ions. 

The hydrogen ions then lower the pH of your muscles, which slows down the muscles’ efficiency. That’s what creates the burning sensation and keeps you from getting the most out of your muscles during a workout.

  • Cycling is a good use of injury recovery time. If you are unable to run because of the impact, cycling on a flat surface can keep your muscles and lungs active and ready to get back on track. It is also a good way to prevent overuse injuries.
does biking help running


  • Cycling helps build up your cardio. Since you often cycle longer than you run, you get that additional boost of cardio training in your schedule. 
  • Cycling builds strength in complementary muscles. Both sports activate similar muscles, but each one targets the muscle in a different position. Using both will help build overall strength among those critical muscles used in running. 
  • Cycling improves run time. It develops stamina and endurance without putting a load of stress on your leg muscles. 

Adding cycling to my weekly schedule has helped me personally to skyrocket my run time.

When I was running only, I consistently averaged 9-minute miles on my long runs. I took a year-long break from running and replaced it with cycling (plenty of hills and long distances). When I started running again, I was able to easily hit 7-minute miles, even after the long break!

does biking help running

How Often Should Runners Incorporate Cycling Into Their Training Routine?

If you want to build that additional strength and endurance, riding a few laps around the waterfront will not do you that much good.

The number of times per week you engage in cycling will depend on your goal.

 If you are trying to just switch up your routine and run less days during the week to avoid some impact, you can replace one or two of your easy runs with cycling.

If you are injured, you may need to also replace your speed workouts, or other running workouts you have planned until you get the go ahead to be able to run again.

Tips On How to Cycle Correctly For Runners

Personal trainer and postpartum running coach, Alison Marie, gives advice on how to make sure you’re positioning yourself correctly on the bike. 

“When cycling one should check that the seat height is adjusted correctly to allow for the full range of motion without overextending: at the straightest the knees should bend at about 145 degrees (this happens to be around the knee angle of the ideal “triple extension” in running as well).

 Clip-in type pedals are ideal because they allow you to truly pedal through the motion instead of simply pushing the pedals down.

When cycling, the range of 80 – 100 RPMs is the ‘sweet spot’ for cardiovascular endurance. One can also use high-resistance intervals to simulate something like a hill workout or speed intervals to help work on running cadence.”

Dr. Berghorn also warns about jumping too quickly between cycling and running. 

One caveat I have about going to and from cycling and running is that you need to be mindful that each activity requires different musculature. If you are a cyclist who is trying to get more into running or a runner who took an extended breakthrough cycling, returning back to running may give you a little surprise. 

A good cyclist does not require the use of their calf during each revolution, acting as a strut to develop all power from the quads and gluteal muscles. When going from cycling to running therefore, the increased power and activation for propulsion of each stride through the calf can lead to tendonitis or extra aches in your calves or feet. 

Despite being cardiovascularly ready to run, easing back into running after a long stint of just cycling is best in order to prevent this type of breakdown.”

benefits of cycling for runners

What Cycling Workouts Help Improve Running?

Josh Muskin, a triathlete (Ironman and Ironman 70.3) and marathon runner, has coached thousands of triathletes and runners, and highly recommends cycling for runners during training for himself and all his clients. 

“I’ve found two main places that cycling fits in super well for running or marathon training: 

  • Recovery and/or use while nursing a running injury
  • Brick training or Tired Leg training

#1: Recovery Workout

Long runs, or even hard tempo efforts, usually result in sore legs – compliments of lactic acid being built up over those workouts. Cycling can be used as a method to flush that lactic acid from the legs to recover more rapidly. 

The way to do this is to get on a stationary bike or cycle on a mountain or road bike on a flat consistent road, and pedal at a very high cadence (95+ RPM) and at a resistance that allows you to move that quickly in a Z1 (maybe Z2) heart rate. 

In such an activity, you’ll utilize fast-twitch muscle fibers to move quickly, but not overload the main musculature of the legs. The rapid movement, done over 30 minutes or longer, helps slowly move that static lactic acid out of the legs without taxing them significantly.

A ride like this can be done after a hard workout or on a rest day to reset the body for the coming week.

#2: Bricks and Tired Leg Training

The other place cycling plays a role in run training is on a hard effort,” Muskin says. “Bricks consist of a steady effort on a bike, followed by a hard effort on a run.”

These are also great workouts for those training for a triathlon as you can work on your transition from running to cycling.

This allows for a short and intense workout on ‘tired legs’ without subjecting the body to unnecessary ‘pounding.’ 

I find this a great replacement for the occasional short tempo run or hard 5K, and often more impactful.”

#3: Interval Workout

If you also need to replace your sprints or interval speed workouts with cycling, you can do this workout to keep the effort level up and improve your running fitness.

For a sprint workout, warm up for 15 minutes pedaling at an easy effort level. Then, push as hard as you can for one minute, and pedal easily for two minutes to recover.

Repeat this 8-10 times, and then cool down for 10 minutes.

If you are a beginner, you may need to take longer recoveries.

cycling vs running

Which is Better? Cycling Vs Running

If you’re wondering which sport is better for you in the long run, you should know there are pros and cons to both. 

Cycling Pros

  • Cycling makes it easier to hold your heart rate in a lower zone. Your heart rate directly correlates to your oxygen intake and affects all heart-related diseases and issues. 
  • Cycling has less impact than running. There are many more injuries associated with running. 
  • You can cover more distance cycling, which can make the workout more exciting. 

Cycling Cons

  • Cycling workouts need to be longer. Because running takes so much more effort, a 30-minute run could be the equivalent of a 2-hour bike ride (depending on the resistance level). 

Running Pros

  • Running burns more calories in a shorter amount of time.  
  • Running increases bone density as it is a weight-bearing exercise.
  • Running requires less equipment than cycling.

Running Cons

  • Prolonged running causes more fatigue2Millet, G. P., Vleck, V. E., & Bentley, D. J. (2009). Physiological Differences Between Cycling and Running. Sports Medicine39(3), 179–206. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200939030-00002 and a decrease in strength than cycling does.
  • Running is a higher-impact sport and puts more stress on the joints than cycling, which could lead to overuse injuries.

When it comes to biking vs running, I advise including both in your training program. The two complement each other well. 

However, if you need to choose one, then consider your goals in doing so. If you’re just trying to exercise for health, then take into account the time you have to commit. 

If you’re wanting to build muscle, then either one is fine, as long you incorporate hills and resistance. 

Both disciplines are also great aerobic training options and will improve cardiovascular fitness.

If you are prone to injury, cycling is a safer option. 

benefits of cycling for runners

If you’re training for a marathon or half marathon, focus on running but include cycling as part of your cross-training. 

If the last one fits your description, download one of our free marathon training plans. They are fully customizable, which means you can pencil in your cross-training with ease. 


  • 1
    Etxebarria, N., Anson, J. M., Pyne, D. B., & Ferguson, R. A. (2013). High-intensity cycle interval training improves cycling and running performance in triathletes. European Journal of Sport Science14(6), 521–529. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2013.853841
  • 2
    Millet, G. P., Vleck, V. E., & Bentley, D. J. (2009). Physiological Differences Between Cycling and Running. Sports Medicine39(3), 179–206. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200939030-00002
Photo of author
Mia Kercher is a hiker, cyclist, and runner. After finishing her first marathon in 2013, she continued the sport but found a new passion in trail running. She now explores the glorious mountains in Portland, Oregon.

5 thoughts on “The Benefits of Cycling For Runners: How To Use Cycling To Improve Performance”

  1. Hello, thanks for this article. Clarified some of my questions about the benefits of combining cycling and running. I however did not fully grasp how to incorporate cycling in the 6 months marathon training plan. I do cross-fit for the cross training day (targeting core strength and posture). Would you recommend the cycling to be in a cross training day, during a rest day (for instance after the long run) or to switch a short run day to a cycling day?

    • Hey Benoit,
      As with any busy training plan, the risk of introducing more activity is that you’ll overstretch yourself – there are only 7 days in a week, and recovery time is very important.

      Since you’re already doing CrossFit on your crosstraining days, I don’t know if you’ve got room in your schedule for a proper cycling workout – but you can experiment with it.

      For your cross training day, I’d suggest that crossfit is probably better than cycling as strength training brings a big host of benefits to your running.

      On rest days, you’re best to rest. Only if you are feeling an abundance of energy, and are used to exercising many times a week, would I think that cycling on a rest day would be beneficial.

      Probably the best option, if you really want to cycle, is to substitute a short run day for cycling….but if you’re purely focussed on getting the best marathon result, then do the short run.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Outstanding article. Cycling is certainly a GREAT alternative to running and definitely not as much stress on the ligaments and tendons. I’ve had three knee surgeries. Fortunately, my last was in 1997 but there is so much concrete and pavement especially here in the states for runners. Cycling, as well as pool running, are excellent alternatives that can certainly add to fitness and preparation for runners. Thanks for the tips.


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