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The Indoor Cycling Intervals That Can Make You a Better Runner
by Jonathan Beverly

If you’re a runner, chances are you’re more accustomed to pounding the pavement than spinning your wheels. You wouldn’t be alone: Runners tend to use bikes as a cross-training tool to keep their cardiovascular systems strong only when they can’t run.

But biking should be more than a runner-up exercise. With a few simple tweaks, cycling can simulate running quite nicely, working many of the same muscles. The secret, according to running coach Tom Miller, PhD, author of Programmed to Run, is to get out of the saddle and do high-intensity intervals, or what he calls “Bike S. H. I. T” (Standing Hill Interval Training).

Miller proved the effectiveness of this training method during his doctoral dissertation back in 1994 and has been using it as a coach and in his own training ever since. In his study, runners who added standing bike intervals to their training once a week for six weeks lowered their 10K times by an average of four minutes. The standing posture is key to getting results, says Miller. “When you’re standing on your bike, you want to feel like you’re running outside so that the range of motion through the major joints—ankle, knees, and hips—mimics the running motion.”

To perfect the form, make sure you’re far enough forward over the pedals and standing tall. If you can feel your glute muscles kicking in to drive your leg back and down—as opposed to just the quads on the front of the leg doing all the work—you’re doing it right. “The main function of the quads is to straighten the knee, whereas when the hips extend to thrust the upper body forward when running,” says Miller. “If you get in the right posture, however, they can fire together—that’s the tipping point.”

Also, keep cranking fast when you do this type of workout. Speed is as important as resistance. “Dance on your pedals,” says Miller. “When you lose it, sit down, even if you didn’t make it as long as you wanted to. It’s not doing you any good to train when you’re pedaling poorly.”

An additional benefit: Given the lack of pounding, many runners can add a standing bike session to their current workload and not over-tire. While you’re still working your muscles and lungs, your joints and connective tissue are actually resting. “By promoting healing and recovery, cycling workouts can lead to more consistent, high-intensity, injury-free training,” says Miller.

Ready to cycle your way to a faster 10K? Here’s how to incorporate standing intervals into an indoor-cycling workout.:

Wheels Workout

  1. Start with a 10-minute warm up of easy, seated pedaling.

  2. After 10 minutes, increase the resistance so that you can stand up but still pedal fast—between 75 and 90 revolutions per minute (RPM). Maintain this high intensity for 30 to 60 seconds.

  3. Lower the resistance, gradually reduce your revolutions, sit down, and pedal easy for 75 seconds. Repeat six to 10 times.

Too easy? Kick things up a notch. Miller’s test group of experienced runners did this pyramid workout: 2 x 30 seconds, 2 x 45 seconds, and then cranked it up to 2 x 60 seconds, before dropping back down. 

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.