Does Cycling Fitness Transfer To Running? 14 Advantages + Disadvantages


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Cycling and running, while having a lot in common, also are extremely different in many ways.

When the winter season arrives, lots of people transition from cycling to running. But many find it really hard. Why?

There are fourteen factors to understand when thinking about cycling fitness transferring over to running fitness. Some of these are advantages and some are disadvantages.

They are:

FactorAdvantageDisadvantageIssue
Oxygen uptakexRunning requires a higher level of oxygen uptake
Low-ImpactxRunning is a much higher-impact sport, and the transition from one to the other can cause injuries
Muscle-Mass/Muscle TonexThe two sports tone different body areas
Prioritize onexSports scientists recommend focusing on one
Burning caloriesxRunning burns more calories
Similar posturexBoth use a similar posture
Fitting into daily routinexGenerally, many people find cycling easier to fit around routine
Weight LossxBoth are effective alongside a focused diet
Healthy heartxBoth effective forms of cardio
Cross TrainingxBoth can be implemented into a cross-training regime
RecoveryxRunning can be used as a recovery day
Endurance xGenerally, the endurance level created by cycling will at least partly transfer over into running
VO2xVO2 abilities are transferrable
Triathlon TrainingxIf you want to train for any event where both cycling and running are present, it makes sense to train for both

In this article, I’ll take a look at each of these fourteen factors that you may experience in transitioning from cycling to running.

It’s not an insurmountable transition! You can do it. But it does pay to know what the issues might be so that you can overcome them.

Does cycling fitness transfer to running?

Cycling Fitness Transferring To Running Fitness – 9 Advantages and Disadvantages

Here are the key advantages and disadvantages of transferring from running to cycling:

1. Oxygen Uptake

Research shows us that to run, we need a higher quantity of oxygen uptake compared to cycling at the same intensity levels. This is because running is dependent on body mass while cycling is not.

In addition to this, a lactate threshold can exist between the two sports. The Lactate threshold (LT) is defined as the point where lactate begins to accumulate in the body because of the workload that you are doing.

When a person is cycling, they have a higher LT but it is not the same with running.

If you are just starting with running, you are bound to reach your LT level at a much lower intensity level unless you are conditioned to running specifically.

2. Cycling is a Much Lower-impact Sport than Running

Running is a high-impact activity. Even if you are a seasoned cyclist, transferring to running is going to be hard for you.

Injuries such as pattelo-femoral pain syndrome and Runner’s knee are pretty common and affect around 25-30% of runners. (source)

This is due to overuse. When you run to burn the same number of calories as cycling, you are going to have to run a lot.

This makes it easier for injuries to occur because the friction from the running track reverberates all the way up to your knees causing discomfort and knee pain.

In contrast, cycling is a low-impact sport meaning it puts less strain on your knee joints. This also means running cannot be done by people who have joint problems and for people rehabilitating injuries.

So, if you think you will be as good of a runner as you are a cyclist, you are bound to end up disappointed.

3. Muscle Mass/Muscle Tone

Anyone who does cross-training can tell you that running, albeit great at developing muscle tone, is not so good at building muscle mass.

You can make muscle mass with cycling but if you are expecting that to transfer to running, then that is not going to happen.

Running only tones the body, it does not bulk you up.

This is because muscle mass grows when you work against resistance. What helps with resistance are the pedals on a bike, which is why you feel a burning sensation in your quadriceps after a hard-bicycling session.

4. Prioritize One

Here’s a bit of sports science for you, folks.

According to the Principle of Specificity, as mentioned in the American College of Sports medicine, “sports training must be relevant and appropriate to the particular sport an individual is training for, to produce a training effect. For an athlete to become better in a specific sport or specific skill, the athlete must perform that sport or skill”.(source)

What this means is that to be a good cyclist, you need to cycle, and to be good at running, you need to run.

Simply put, mastery over one sport will not directly transfer to another sport.

Mastery over one sport will not directly transfer to another sport.

5. Running Vs Cycling – Burning Calories

The intensity and length of your workout determine how many calories you are going to burn when it comes to running or cycling.

Other factors to keep in mind are gender, age, weight, or any underlying disease.

As a general rule, running burns more calories than cycling.

When it comes to cycling, you have to sit on a seat that supports your upper body weight while you pedal. This means you move less overall.

You end up burning more calories when you run because you are moving your entire body.

For example, when running, a 140-pound person will burn 132 calories every 10 minutes compared to 64 calories when cycling at 10 miles/hr. (source)

6. Similar Posture

Let’s get a bit more positive now, and talk about something that is definitely a big bonus when transferring from cycling to running.

Cycling and running use the same posture in exercising. Cycling can be used to mimic the motions of running. This is because they both target the same form which is positioning your body in a vertical position.

Cycling also plays a huge role in training you to run. The pedaling motion activates the shin muscles of your body which reduces the risk of injury if you plan on running long distances.

7. Cycling Can Be Easily Fit Into Your Daily Routine But Running Cannot

You can easily cycle to work but when it comes to running to work, well perhaps that’s not a good idea.

Instead of making time for running in the mornings, you can easily save time commuting to and fro from work.

This is perhaps open for debate, but I would say that generally more people I have spoken to see cycling as something they can fit into their daily routine in multiple places, whereas running is not so much like this. With cycling you can:

  • Cycle in an office or your home
  • Cycle to work
  • Cycle at lunchtime
  • Cycle to the shops

There is generally more scope to fit it in as a practical activity.

Man in the park jogging
Many people find cycling easier to fit into their routines, than running

8. Running Vs Cycling – Weight Loss

Cycling or running is not enough to lose weight. It is about finding the right balance between the calories going in and going out.

Meaning to lose weight, you need to be conscious of not just exercising but also eating healthy. I have already talked about how running burns more calories than cycling but does that mean you can lose weight by running?

Well, it is a bit more complicated than that.

If you enjoy cycling more, the chances are that you will go for longer bike rides compared to running. The calorie burn after a good pedaling session would easily equal that of running.

Also, there are various factors to consider like the frequency of running or cycling, safe practice of either of the two, and intensity.

Even though running helps you burn more calories, cycling is much better for your joints in the long run. A small study done in 2013 showed that both cycling and running decrease the appetites of young men. (source)

Therefore, either can work if you control your food portions. If you cycle for a longer period, you may burn just as many calories compared to a shorter period of running. 

9. Running Vs Cycling – Healthy Heart

Cycling and running go hand in hand when it comes to the health of your heart. They are both equally good for you.

Both cycling and running can make your heart stronger over time.

Whichever you enjoy more, you are likely to stick to it and find more benefits.

But it is important to remember not to overdo it. A study done in 2014 found that exercising 1 hour/per day or more than 5 hours/per week can cause damage to your heart.

10. Cross-Training

If you are a runner, then for some of you cross-training is a crucial part of your running routine.

Whether you are running for a marathon that you have been training for or weight loss or a healthy boost, building up your endurance and strength is the best routine to get the most out of your hard-earned labor.

A lot of physical therapists out there recommend incorporating running alongside your cycling routine. This proves to be an effective method because you are working on all areas of your body.

Cross-training not only helps you have fun exercising by removing repetitive movements but also is effective for utilizing different muscles of your body. This causes muscle activation thereby enhancing primary sports performance.

This is not for everyone! But if cross training is your thing, then running and cycling is a good combo.

Running for cyclists is a great way to cross-train. This is because, after a hard day of cycling, you can easily make time for recovery by running…(coming next)

11. Recovery

Making time for running can act as a recovery day to flush out the lactate from the legs and decrease soreness, especially in the lower limb region.

This way, your body is getting well-deserved relaxation and much-needed cardiovascular training at the same time.

On the other hand, injured runners, who cannot tolerate the pain of running, can attempt cycling to maintain a good level of fitness.

12. Endurance

Cycling can build endurance, reduce the risk of injury and increase your stamina while also maintaining your baseline aerobic capacity.

Most cyclists are aware of VO2 max which is how much oxygen is utilized while exercising. The faster your body gets used to you using oxygen, the faster you can run and cycle.

13. VO2

Genetics have a vital role to play in your VO2 max but there is a lot you can do to refine it naturally.

Polarized training which consists mainly of 20% of high-intensity exercise and 80% of low-intensity exercises can significantly improve your VO2 max. It also takes into consideration velocity and power, as well as your time of rest. (source)

When you find your VO2 improving, you can utilize oxygen at a faster rate so you will find that you can not only run for longer distances but you will be fast as well.

Cycling and running mainly use the same muscles. These include your calf muscles, quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

This means that cycling can transfer to running easily, building your endurance and decreasing your risk of injury. Improving your endurance means you are improving your speed which means you can train your muscles at a lower intensity while recovering quickly in between sessions.

14. Triathlon Training

Of course, if triathlon is your thing, then finding a way to integrate running and cycling into your routine is essential.

You may find that you prioritize running several days a week, and have one or two days of cycling. Or vice versa.

Most experts seem to think that running and cycling on the same day is not always wise.

Here are two triathletes explaining why they think cycling will make you a better runner:

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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