Professional cyclist, Romain Bardet running a winter race.

Running for cyclists

Running is often seen as the chief evil to cyclists. A cardinal rule of professional cycling is to “don’t stand when you can sit, and don’t sit when you can lie down.” Dutch rider Wout Poels, a member of four Tour de France winning teams in past years, says, “Never walk—you’ll destroy your legs, the Tour is hard enough.” Wall Street Journal even published “How to Exhaust a Tour de France Racer: Ask Him to Take a Walk.”

Running can help your Cycling

It’s true, lots of cyclists run. Cyclocross racers run, triathletes run, duathletes run, mountain bike and gravel racers often walk and run. Cyclocross racers spend most of their time on bikes but practice running at least 30 – 60 minutes a week. Running is good for you. It improves bone health, provides a change of scenery, builds fitness, and is a more accessible option when traveling or in inclement weather.

Running outdoors delivers a different experience than cycling. Taking our bikes everywhere is difficult, and running can be done in just about any weather condition. Try running in the off-season. The benefits are worthwhile. The scenery moves slower, and you can better tune into your environment. Not many things are more straightforward than putting on your shoes, shorts, and a shirt and go out running.

Cycling is Good for Bone Health

Non-weight bearing sports like cycling predisposes us to bone diseases – osteopenia, osteoporosis, and bone fractures. BMC cycling doctor Max Testa often highlights the example of a continental Italian cycling team where all the riders underwent bone density testing. Twelve of the riders had osteopenia, and four had outright osteoporosis. It’s striking that young, healthy young males can have bone disease. Increasing age, male or female, comes with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Through impact and contact to the ground, running improves bone density and prevents bone disease.

Building Fitness (VO2max) More Efficiently

Done correctly, running builds your VO2max faster than cycling. Most cyclists are time-constrained, and adding a running workout can increase your VO2max. Interestingly, running a marathon (26 miles) is comparable to riding a century (100 miles). Running 10 kilometers (km) is equivalent to cycling 40-km. Running fitness carries over to cycling by optimizing fat burn, heart and lung efficiency.  The leg muscles used in running are the same used in climbing mountains on a bicycle. The question is often asked if running will make you a faster cyclist? A study comparing elite cyclists to elite triathletes showed that the cyclists were always faster at cycling, even though the VO2max was the same in each athlete.

Running Requires Proper Technique

Just like cycling, running is all about technique. If your running technique is lacking, you will experience pain and not gain. The saying is true, “if it hurts, you are probably doing it wrong.” Many cyclists experience the inability to walk for days after running. Muscle soreness can take away your top-end in cycling. Cyclists often suffer after running as the biomechanics are different. A cyclist pedals a bike in a fixed plane, back flexed, attached to pedals, and heavily engages the quadriceps muscles. A runner must raise their legs against gravity, not fixed to anything, the body is upright, and the leg muscles are activated differently. The leg muscles are eccentrically loaded in running, while in cycling, they are isometrically loaded. In medicine, the word “eccentric” means away from the center and describes a muscle that is activated and lengthened. Isometric means staying in the center; the muscles are only activated and not lengthened.


All these techniques and more are detailed in the new book: The Science of the Marathon and the Art of Variable Pace Running by Veronique Billat and Johnathan Edwards.

The Science of the Marathon and the Art of Variable Pace Running can be found on Amazon,, and anywhere books are sold.


Link for the book on my website


Link for the book on Amazon