I love the time I spend on two wheels. In Las Vegas, I feel very proud to be a part of our rich cycling community, whether that be on or off road. We ride bikes for hundreds of miles, for hours and hours, and during that time put the world to rights, ‘chit chat’ about this and that but most importantly, we discuss bikes and training. I have found a common subject is the struggle a lot of cyclists face using running as a form of cross training. Cross training is a term used to describe training in an activity different to your normal mode of exercise. This is an excellent way to develop a well-rounded strength and fitness, avoiding becoming too specialized in one specific form or direction and reducing injury risk. Runners will often vary transition to cycling as a means of cross training with little to no difficulty. They feel the benefits of a lower impact activity, a different body position, and lets face it, the joy that comes with cycling. So why do so many cyclists report such difficulty or worse, becoming injured as a result of cross training?
Running is an excellent activity for cross training as it has many benefits: higher VO2 required therefore increased fitness, increased muscle activation of the core muscles, glutes and upper body, increased forces through bones and joints which help to maintain bone density and joint health. All of these factors make it a much more demanding activity on the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, in other words it feels more difficult. In addition to this, the position of a seasoned cyclist can lead to underutilized glutes and tight hips, which can make for a higher risk of injury during running.
Let’s look at the physiological differences in a bit more detail. Consider a few of the biggest factors for cyclists trying to run to be:
- Tight Hip Joint Capsule
- Tight Hip Flexors
- Under Utilized Glutes
First lets look at the hips, more specifically the hip joint itself. This joint used to be thought to be so big and clunky that nothing smart happened. Boy, were we wrong. The thick connective tissue covering that keep the fluid inside the joint can “deflect” movement. Cyclists wear a pattern out in the movement and that may or may not respond well to running. A few simple stretches can eliminate this problem.
Now lets talk about those pesky hip flexors. These are a group of muscles found crossing over the front of the hip with the purpose to lift the leg upward similar to a knee drive. Depending on what kind of bike you are riding your hip angle (the angle between your torso and your thigh) can close to anywhere from 80degrees (commuter or mountain bike), 55degrees (road bike) to 35degrees (TT or Tri bike). This hip angle will open as you pedal downward but will never be close to neutral or 180degrees (how it would look if you were standing upright) whilst you ride your bike. As you can imagine, this repetitive motion in a closed position for miles and miles or hours and hours can lead to some shortening in the hip flexors. For a pure cyclist this is not necessarily a bad thing but it will lead you into difficulty elsewhere.
Running asks for around 30degrees of hip extension. If you ride regularly and have developed some shortening in your hip flexors, you may find it difficult to get past neutral let alone 30degrees of extension.
Why does this matter? Well, your body is still going to try push the leg behind you and if the leg cannot go behind the body, you will compensate by leaning forward slightly and outstretching the foot farther in front of your body. This causes a significant increase in loading through the joints and limb and increases your risk of injury greatly.
So lengthen the hip flexors? Well not necessarily… That brings us swiftly to the next factor: The Glutes.
The Glutes, aka the Booty, are very powerful muscles in the body, comprised largely of slow twitch muscle fibers that work aerobically, which means they can work effectively for a long time. This is important because we demand a lot from the glutes, depending on them for:
- pelvic stability
- driving strength
This demand is significantly higher in running than in cycling; you can rely on a saddle as a point for stability with cycling but when you run you need that stability around the pelvis to prevent compensations that also highly correlate with injury: Trendelenburg, Valgus knee position, overpronation.
Cycling is a heavy quads activity, whereas running demands more glute activity and hamstrings. Again, why does this matter? If we overuse our Quads to run we may run really well for a short time but this is highly inefficient and the form will fall apart quickly, leading to increased injury risk.
The reason these two points need to be addressed together is that we must address stability before increasing mobility. To put it more simply, if we stretch out the hip flexors without increasing strength and stability around the pelvis, you are left with a somewhat wobbly base, poor form and an increased injury risk.
At Maximum Velocity we provide a one to one assessment to evaluate functional mobility, stability and gait to form a thorough picture of where you are at and give you the tools to open your running potential. By doing this we avoid the danger of a one-size-fits-all prescription or cookie cutter solution for all cyclists. Experience and common sense tell us this is simply not effective or safe. Here is the point in the post where you might expect us to say here are a few exercises to help you transition to running from cycling. However, it is individual. It can be as simple as a few minor tweaks or it can require some bigger changes. The beauty of this style of practice is you don’t need a referral. No time off work to make it a doctor. WE WANT TO MAKE IT SIMPLE FOR YOU. Our business plan is to minimize your contact to the clinic. So let us give you an individualized program to help you reach your goals. Please call 702-998-2900 to make an appointment or refer to maxvelocityPT.com for more information.