Biking for Cross-Training
Biking is hands down the best cross-training complement to running. It roughly simulates the motion of running and can actually help you improve your leg speed.
While running benefits calves and hamstrings, it largely ignores the front leg muscles that biking helps: the quadriceps and (if you use toe clips) the shins. By strengthening the muscles opposite those exercised by running, biking helps you improve running performance and avoid injury. The benefits show up in your race times: regular intense biking workouts can shave as much as 10 percent off your 10K time. And like running, the aesthetics of biking aren't too bad either. If one of the best things about running is all the fresh air and scenery, biking offers the same benefits.
In terms of fitness benefit, three or four miles of biking equals about a mile of running. The real trick is to find a place where you can really push your pace enough to get your heart rate up as high as you would with a run. If possible you want to find a route that requires you to slow down as little as possible -- no turns, no pedestrians, no stop lights, no traffic. Not an easy task, and you have to take what you can get. Try to find some good hills to bike on. Uphills can be particularly challenging, demanding more effort of you on your bike than they would if you were running them.
Speaking of hills, there's always mountain biking. On tough trails, this can be as challenging a workout as you'll find. Combined with steep hills, these trails require plenty of pushing and pulling to control the bike, and you actually wind up getting a good upper body workout too.
If you've never found much appeal in the call of the wild, however, feel free to use a stationary indoor bike. Depending on the speed and resistance settings you choose, you can get roughly the same amount of aerobic benefit as you would running for the same amount of time. The downside, of course, is that you never leave the same spot, and you're always staring at the same four walls. But a book or television or the right music can go a long way to lighten the gloom. Computerized bikes that incorporate hills and speed changes can also add some variety and interest.
The right form
Just as form is very important in running, the same is true for biking. Make sure that your seat is adjusted to the right height. When your leg is extended fully with your foot flat on the pedal, the knee should be just slightly bent. The handle bars should also be adjusted to the correct angle. If in doubt, drop by a bicycle shop to have an expert make sure you have the right fit.
Whatever type of bike you're riding, try to pedal at the same speed (revolutions per minute, rpm) as your usual running pace. If you find it difficult to maintain this speed, drop down a gear or two (or reduce the resistance on a stationary bike). Biking against too much resistance can be hard on your knees. Competitive runners should aim for the same rate as competitive bikers, about 90 rpm. Less experienced runners and bikers might find this difficult; if so, lower your sights and aim for 80 rpm. This will make for a fairly intense workout. On hills, try to maintain at least 60 rpm in a low gear and avoid standing up; it's more efficient and more athletically beneficial to stay down.
If you're new to biking workouts, you may be surprised how quickly your legs -- so trusty for running -- tire out on the bike in your first few sessions. Keep in mind that biking uses muscles that aren't much strengthened from running. It will take a little while for them to get used to the new activity.
Finally, to play mom for a moment, you that you should always bike with a helmet. If you're on the roads, follow all traffic laws, and ride with traffic. Be careful out there, those cars are a lot bigger than you are on your bike...
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