The Best Bike Workouts to Maintain Your Cardio Fitness When You Cannot Run

Seabees ride stationary bikes for cardio exercise in the gym at Camp Natasha, Afghanistan.
Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 ride stationary bikes for cardio exercise in the gym at Camp Natasha, Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2009. (Chief Petty Officer Ryan Wilber/U.S. Navy photo)

There are moments in every runner's journey when they face setbacks. Tendinitis, shin splints, sprained ankles and foot pain are common, with more than half of all runners encountering a running-related injury yearly.

However, these challenges don't have to stop your progress. By incorporating these effective alternative training options, you can maintain your cardio training, even when you cannot run for a few weeks or longer. It is possible to take some time off from running, heal up and get back to running again even faster than before you were injured, but let's explore these options:

The bike workouts listed below are not your typical leisurely rides. They are designed to replicate the intensity of your running efforts. Even Zone 2 biking, considered moderate, requires a level of pacing that is work. These workouts are intense, pushing your legs, lung endurance and muscle stamina to the limit. The result? You'll likely return to running faster than before you were injured.

Bike Workout No. 1 -- Tabata intervals: This interval works in segments where you pedal fast for 20 seconds, then easy for 10 seconds. Hold those intervals for however long your timed running event is. If you run 1.5 miles in 10 minutes, these intervals will last 10 minutes. However, take an easy five-minute rest (slow bike) and repeat the 10 minutes of the Tabata interval again.

Bike Workout No. 2 -- Bike Pyramid (increase resistance EMOM): For this pyramid workout, you start at 80 revolutions per minute at Level 1 on the resistance scale and keep it between 70-90 rpms the entire workout. Every minute on the minute (EMOM), you increase the resistance by one or two levels, depending on the amount of time you have. You can apply the Tabata interval for any cardio machine, but many have also used it for work-to-rest ratios for calisthenics and kettlebells.

Bike Workout No. 3 -- 100-calorie burnout set as fast as possible: This is meant to be a higher-intensity workout; it would be like a sprint workout if you were running. It is your job to go as fast as you can for as long as you can until you reach 100 calories. This workout/test estimates caloric burn, but it feels like you are timing yourself for a mile run. Typically, burning 100 calories on a bike or elliptical machine takes about the same time to run a mile fast with similar effort. This is one of those workouts that takes 5-7 minutes to bike. After you burn 100 calories, rest with easy pedaling for five minutes and do it again for a second set. If you have anything left in you, try for a third set after another five-minute easy period.

Let's not overlook the power of rest and recovery, especially from impact exercises such as running. Sometimes, the body needs a de-load. Occasionally, you can take an easy week, or an injury will dictate your de-load weeks. Give it to yourself and allow your body the rest it needs.

Proper nutrition, hydration and sleep are good, especially during higher physical stress. They are your allies in healing, especially during this process. So while you may be taking a brief intermission from pounding the pavement, you still have many options to maintain your running prowess.

With smart cycling sessions, targeted strength training and a commitment to recovery, you can stay in top shape for your return to running and may even find your timed runs are faster. Remember, every setback is an opportunity to come back stronger, and as we runners know, there's always another mile to conquer. Keep the faith.

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