One of the key revelations I was introduced to by Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running, is the idea of stationary bike cross-training for runners.
The idea that you can still improve your running…without running…
…Or at least without having to do a load of extra running.
So instead of a treadmill, you might want to consider an exercise bike as an alternative to running outside.
Adding a stationary exercise bike to your training will benefit your running in several different ways.
Although it is not an exact like for like replacement for running, it still has its place.
No one is suggesting time on the exercise bike should total replace going out for a run.
However, there are many advantages of adding some static bike cross training to your routine.
As stated in 80/20 Running:
“…there is abundant scientific and real-world evidence that cycling fitness transfers well to running. “
Whether you are looking to do more training, without doing more running…
…or improving your injury record, so you can keep running, owning and using an exercise bike will help.
So what specifically are the benefits of using an exercise bike for cross training?
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Increase Training Without Increasing Mileage
As identified in 80/20 Running, one of the main reasons for adding cross-training to your regime is to avoid excessive miles of body damaging running.
As touched on earlier, studies have shown cross training provides much of the gains you would get from just running.
Meanwhile, it will help limit the impact inflicted on various joints in your body.
This is obviously important to us all, but for those of us who are past the first flush of our flexible youth (guilty as charged 🙂 ), it is a real game changer.
You can either replace runs in your regime if your ankles, knees, or hips are already suffering.
Or, if you have your eyes on increasing your training (e.g. to complete a marathon) you could add time on a bike as a way to safely achieve the increase.
From a personal point of view, I now include two or three static bike sessions per week to replace some of my running…
…and since doing it, I have been able to do a lot more training hours than I ever would without doing it.
Closely related to the previous benefit, is the positive effect cross training has on picking up injuries.
As well as the ongoing aches and pains discussed, most runners experience injury niggles from time to time.
Some of us more than others.
(There was a time where I couldn’t go a couple of weeks without something giving up on me)
Achilles flare ups.
Whatever your injury of choice is, the use of an exercise bike could just well be a way of spending more time running…
…and less time feeling the frustration of an enforced layoff.
When we run, our body takes a certain amount of time to recover.
And of course, the further we run the more recovery is required.
If you don’t, this is when you can pick up injuries and all the other issues related to overtraining.
However, you don’t want to do nothing, as this can just exacerbate the likelihood of injuries once you up your training intensity again.
This is where your exercise bike, cross training comes in.
Riding the bike will give you the exercise to flush out the toxins that build up after a long run.
In addition, the cross training also helps reduce the stiffness that comes as a byproduct of high mileage and high intensity runs.
And you can do all of this without overworking the parts of the body associated with running.
So, you can see, cross training on a bike helps not only with short term pulls and tears caused by tired muscles…
…but also the longer term ‘wear and tear’ injuries brought about by running long distances on hard, unforgiving surfaces.
Injury Time Training
Of course, even with the addition of cross training, there is always the chance of injury (although greatly reduced).
Under normal circumstances, this would mean you wouldn’t be able to go out running.
In turn, this results in you quickly losing many of the gains you had made in terms of fitness and speed prior to the injury.
Anyone who has experienced this will know how frustrating this can be.
It is also a major reason why runners often suffer injuries soon after getting fit enough to run again.
They push themselves too hard too quickly, trying to get back to where they were prior to their injury.
With cross training on an exercise bike you are using slightly different muscles to running.
And the training is far less stressful on the body.
Together this means you will often still be able to climb on your bike for a training session…
...even if your injury prevents running.
Runners who do this, lose far less of their running fitness and therefore can (literally) hit the road running once fit again 🙂
Exercise Bike Top Tips
A word of warning before you jump on your exercise bike though.
If you have not cycled much, you are likely to CAUSE injury rather than prevent injury if you do too much too quickly.
As with anything, your body and muscles need time to adapt to any new kind of exercise.
Therefore it is important that you:
a. Make sure your exercise bike is set up correctly.
For example, making sure your legs have a slight bend at the knee when the pedal is at the lowest point.
This post gives a good overview of how to set up your bike correctly.
b. Don’t overdo the duration of your sessions
Start with 10 minutes or so and then build up the time over several sessions.
c. Don’t overdo the intensity of the training
In the initial training sessions, don’t try to go flat out.
Start out at a steady pace and increase what you attempt over a period of time.
d. Aim for an RPM of 90 RPM
As you may know, a cadence (ie how often our feet touch the floor in a minute) when we are running of 180 is deemed to be optimal.
So to replicate our running as closely as possible when we are on our exercise bike, you should look for 90 RPM.
If you think about it, one revolution of the pedals would equate to both feet coming in contact with the floor once.
So 90 RPM on a bike equates to cadence of (90 x 2) or 180.
Highest Rated Stationary Bikes For Cross-Training
OK, if you have been convinced that cross-training on a stationary bike is going to be beneficial, here’s some help on choosing the exercise bike for you.
Here are the best rated exercise bikes available for various budgets.
Best Budget Stationary Cross-Training Exercise Bike (Sub £200)
With a rating of 4.5 out of 5 from well over 8000 reviews…
…you know you will be getting a decent entry-level stationary bike for your cross-training with the Ultrasport F-Bike Home Trainer 200B.
The bike is collapsible, so even if you have the minimum of storage space, you can still benefit from the benefits of cross training in the comfort of your own home.
Despite the low cost of the bike, it comes with an LCD display. The measurements displayed are time, calories, speed, distance and pulse.
There are 8 resistance levels that can be changed easily via the control positioned just below the handlebars.
Best Intermediate Stationary Cross-Training Exercise Bike (£200-£300)
As you might expect, with a greater budget comes a more robust build.
The XS SportSB500, is designed to hold people up to 125 kg (20 stone).
All the important elements of the bike are fully adjustable to ensure you get the right fit for you.
To make sure your rides are as comfortable as they can be, the bike also comes with a fully padded seat.
You also get the chance to adjust the resistance to EXACTLY the level you want. The 15 kg flywheel and magnetic resistance also create a smooth and near silent ride.
Best Advanced Stationary Cross Training Exercise Bike (£300+)
The Ancheer exercise bike caters to the largest of cross-training runners having a maximum user weight of 172 kg (27 stone).
It also benefits from personalised coaching using the free Qiber app, making sure your cross-training sessions are as effective as they can be.
The app also means you can experience a more lifelike riding experience with video mode. Train on your own or with the others with ‘multiplayer’ mode.
Users have mentioned this is about as close as you can get to the Gym bike experience without paying the thousands that commercial exercise bikes cost.
Hopefully, I have persuaded you that getting a stationary bike and starting cross-training is a must for runners of all ages and standards.