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Training Makes Runners More Efficient, but Not Cyclists (2018) (outsideonline.com)
48 points by dfgdghdf 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments





> A caveat: The cycling in the new study was performed on stationary bikes at a predetermined cadence. It’s possible that the benefits of experience and bike-specific training would be more noticeable on the open road at a freely chosen cadence.

A pretty big caveat. I’m not surprised that cycling on a stationary bike at a fixed cadence has very little room for skill/technique improvements. This invalidates the results vis. real cycling in my book. Gear selection, out-of-saddle technique, etc. Though having said that I’d expect the skill-based component to be much smaller in riding than running as the movement pattern is much more constrained.

Still an interesting result, since it does show that there is a skill-based efficiency gain in running.


It's interesting because there is a widespread belief (questioned by many, but also still held by many) that pedal stroke at a fixed cadence can be made more efficient by directing the force in more of a circle instead of just pushing down on each side as a beginner does. As you direct the force in a more circular manner, you are supposed to get more efficient. Being clipped in is supposed to allow you to complete the circle by pulling up on the back of the stroke. Conclusive evidence for this has been hard to come by, and I think people now tell commuters and casual cyclists not to worry about it, but many people still believe that the difference is significant for competitive cyclists.

This is unfortunately a disproven theory.

The evidence to the contrary came in the form of power-meter data from pro cyclists. It shows that professional cyclists instead use their power only in the down stroke of the peddle and have a far less “even” power through the cycle. Their technique is much more similar to a piston engine than a rotary.


Like you said there are questions of efficiency, but hardly any questions of effectiveness. By clipping in and being able to muscle around the full rotation might burn more calories, but it does allow you to push out more watts. Try climbing a 10%+ incline clipped in vs flats. You might be more tired at the top of the hill clipped in, but with flats you'll likely spin out and be forced to hike your bike. Regarding this study, I don't think form in cycling can be trained on the typical trainer. You'd need a rocker plate and something raises/lowers your fork to perform any of the movement that outdoor riding requires.

>Try climbing a 10%+ incline clipped in vs flats. You might be more tired at the top of the hill clipped in, but with flats you'll likely spin out and be forced to hike your bike.

Doesn't "spinning out" mean your power output is bottlenecked because you can't move your legs fast enough? It only happens when your gear is too low. I don't see how that's possible while climbing, regardless of what pedals you use. I ride with flats, and there's a 10% incline hill not far from where I live. I've climbed it several times (at about walking pace) and never had any problem.


Ah I've often wondered about this when riding! I wear grippy shoes on spiky pedals, but not clipped in (or using a poorly-named clipless system).

Alternating left-right pushes feels very different than trying to maintain a continuous circular motion with quasi-equal force throughout. But unscientifically I can't notice any difference.


Clip ins (“Clipless”) aren’t any more efficient than flats, but will allow a little more power in a sprint.

Clipping in is mostly a cargo-cult among non-pro riders


'Clipless' pedals are so called because the system that preceded them was composed of toe clips and straps. Remove the clips and replace with ski bindings, and voila - clipless pedals!

What sort of evidence is needed? Modern power meters can show the complete power phase and torque effectiveness on pedaling strokes. Regardless of efficiency, modern clipless pedals allow for delivering higher maximum power without your feet slipping off.

Only in a bunch sprint.

Otherwise there is no benefit and a lot of downsides in terms of how likely you are to get injured by poor cleat placement or saddle position.


No there are other situations beyond a bunch sprint where you need to briefly put out more power than flat pedals safely allow.

Sam Hill. End of discussion

I agree, but then if this is just looking at the physiological effects of training, and not the accoutrements of training, I think you would need to hold the bike constant. Perhaps you can get more efficient at cycling with better frame geometry etc but this is just looking at what the human body alone can do.

I think the problem is that cyclists get more efficient over time on their bike and on the kind of course they are familiar with. In this study, they didn't even have clip-in pedals: "Because not all of the runners were familiar with cycling shoes, all participants cycled in their own running shoes on flat pedals without toe clips or straps."

On a constant-speed training bike without clip-in pedals, a road cyclist will be pretty far out of their element. A lot of the efficiency gain in cycling comes from adding rigidity to the power train between the foot and the road, and from the continuous power application that clip-in pedals and shoes enable.


Although I use clipless pedals on both my road and mountain bikes, most of the research I've seen recently suggests that clipless do not provide any efficiency gain. This video provides links to numerous peer reviewed articles on the topic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUEaN9FKGLE. Of course I'm sure there is research that would suggest otherwise, and I would be interested in seeing counter arguments.

There's seems to be questioning on powering the upstroke, but that has never been "the reason" for foot retention systems. Except for one specific type of cycling-- track cycling, where upstroke IS USED in high acceleration starts like in Match Sprint or short time trials. There are track versions of clipless systems which require a lot more force and twist to get out of.

The main reason for clipless, as I understand it, is for safety and maintaining one's foot on the pedal. When you're pedaling, if you are apply any down-force whatsoever on the upstroke, you're wasting power. So, a trained cyclist will always have their foot practically floating on the upstroke and their foot will drift position as they pedal unless something is keeping it in place.


Thanks, that's a great video and I'm going to look through the references. Lots of great points made in the video.

As he acknowledges in the end, a lot of cyclists prefer clip-in pedals just due to stability. In my experience, it's not so much about the upstroke (which to be fair I am surprised was not measured to provide a power benefit), but the knowledge that I will never lose my footing. Without that knowledge, I simply wouldn't apply as much power.


As a flat pedal rider (and also clips) and someone who has trained fairly extensively in pedaling form here is my 2c. The form of the stroke is to increase the length of the downstroke. So making power transfer happen as early as possible and to maintain it as much as possible at the base. This translates into pushing forward and then down at the beginning and down and back at the end.

This efficiency simply means getting a longer ‘glide’

Its very, very telling when climbing and also trying to attack as when applying extra good form will eek out benefits.


It's a fair point; I'm not sure where you'd draw the line between physiological effects and skill effects and equipment; things like ligament spring-loading sound like they would be subconscious techniques that are also accompanied by physiological adjustments.

And I am sure that you would make a physical adaptation to a sufficiently different frame/fit geometry, though if your fit was "good enough" then upgrading might not incur much change on the physiological level.


There is also no mention of fit changes. Changes in crank length, saddle height, hip angles etc all can have quite considerable effects on efficiency

Double check the crank length. Many of the things you list have to do with bike fit, which I do agree can be wonderous when it comes to feeling comfortable on a bike. But testing various crank lengths I believe didn't have a huge effect on performance. It came down to "whatever you like". I ran a 165mm crank for the longest time, until I realized it was actually a 175mm. But in my head, I always thought the crank to be somehow weird and different. It wasn't! If you're short, maybe a shorter crank length, if you're talk, maybe a longer crank length. Maybe.

I'm pretty sure biking at a fixed cadence outside would have a poor result as well in flat terrain.

At the end of the day I've seen massive improvements in my cycling ability when regularly doing a HIIT bike routine (such as sufferfest for example) on a trainer such as the wahoo kickr.


Honestly, the best performance I ever had in my life was on a 50km race a few months after finishing a 2700 mile MTB race. Safe to say the 2700 had a lot of long, slow miles. That massive base (and recovery afterwards) allowed me to win the 50km race, by 10 minutes, against Cat 1+2 and one pro (who got second). Also everyone else had more than one gears on their bikes.

The Great Divide?

the same can be said for running on a belt all the time. it's OK as substitute for when temperatures fall too far, but certainly worse result than when torturing yourself with real terrain. (alas always better than ending the season before it starts with a broken ankle)

> Training Makes Runners More Efficient, but Not Cyclists

I could see this being true for road bikers... but any XCO, CXO, or Enduro rider depends heavily on training for:

* Finding efficient body position for climbing

* Weight shifting/wheel unloading while crossing features

* Discovery efficiency gains in pedal cadence for terrain, slope, camber

I did a cross country race last July. I started mountain biking in March (guess why).

I was in great cardiovascular shape from being a rower and my legs were it great shape too. However, I've already surpassed what I could during that hour of all-out effort by a large margin by learning to do the above skills efficiently. Even a year later I keep breaking my own records. Pretty crazy, I know I'll reach a plateau eventually but for an amateur that plain is quite high.


A few years ago I took an XC clinic from a pro woman mountain biker. A big focus was on descending. On one particular hill she got down first - MINUTES ahead of me (the first student). This was on a descent where there was basically no pedaling. She did this to us all day. During that season I won a local mens cat 2 race series. I was no slouch, but she destroyed us. All technique.

Did you hear about the guy who won a downhill race after losing his chain out of the gate?

Mountain biking is a lot closer to mountain skiing than it is to race biking - very little locomotion, a whole lot of body balancing.

https://www.bicycling.com/racing/a20022483/video-aaron-gwin-...


One anecdote. Most DH races involve a lot of hard pedalling.

For road biking as well- though a lot of it is many people are afraid of a 23mm contact patch being the only thing between them and going off a cliff in the Alps!

Even for road riders, there is a huge difference between a stationary bike and a road bike. The changes aren't as pronounced xco, but your ability to hold a line, adjust cadence for wind and slope, and position your body to deal with turns, road conditions (never hit a pot hole with a stationary bike).

Ycombinator 2022 idea: Peleton that simulates potholes and throws you off randomly

Yes. The article has a very narrow focus on strictly the muscular efficiency of a pedal stroke. That makes it sound like it's suggesting that novice cyclists can easily be as good as expert cyclists, and that the benefits of training are limited. The article isn't talking about muscle mass nor rider skills at all, but it doesn't try too hard to clarify that.

Agreed. I would wager that in any sport where technique is important/difficult (swimming, nordic skiing, and to a lesser extent running), efficiency will improve over time, even for elite athletes.

How did you train for all that?

I feel like I waste a lot of energy on climbs, but I can't quite figure out why. Could use some help.


For road biking I can't provide much advice, but I'm sure Dylan Johnson does. He has a great YouTube channel and he does nothing but quote whitepapers and studies.

For XCO, one must learn to load/unload wheels as they go over obstacles. The more you practice this, the more efficient you get at it; so rather than just plowing through obstacles with the gas pedal floored, figure out how to traverse rocks and roots using weight shifting only. Learning to manual on flat ground with the seat post all the way down can probably teach you a ton about weight shifting.

Another big gain for me is learning how to judge how difficult a climb is and keeping a very steady pace up the climb. It takes practice, but the steadier your pace[power output] is, the more efficient it will be.

If you're not shifting constantly, you're not doing things correctly :) You should be shifting before you hit your climb and should time when you need to put power down with your shifts so you don't have to shift under load.

An oval chainring can help prevent pedal stalls at the top of stroke (I use the OneUp Components Cinch 32T) on both climbs and rock gardens.

Make sure your bike fits your body as we're all built pretty differently. Literally learn everything about stack height, seat tube angle, bar rise, head tube angle, reach, bottom bracket height, wheel base, chainstay length, etc. There's important pedaling dynamics like anti-squat that are affected by everything in that list :)

And of course, training, weight loss, etc as you probably already know.


Thanks, this is helpful!

Why do you think you waste a lot of energy on climbs? For most riders, climbing speed is based on your power to weight ratio. So the easiest way to waste less energy is simply to reduce body fat.

I often observe that I am he slowest climber on the mountain, but I do not think I am the least fit. There's a good chance it's the technique.

FWIW, best climbing seasons I've ever had were:

- Once early in the season I tried letting a very fit fixie rider pace me up a canyon road until we literally couldn't pedal anymore due to leg muscle exhaustion. The fixie part is important because I had to stay in a much higher gear than I would have otherwise, and stand up and fight just to stay with him on the steep sections. We both collapsed and were near puking, and it took about ~15 mins of rest before we could ride down. Next day, before my legs had a chance to get sore, I did another regular climb. The rest of the season, I was unusually and noticeably faster than my friends. The workout where I pushed to exhaustion gave me a boost I didn't expect.

- Last couple of years I've worked up up to some longer rides, gone out for few super long rides on my own (50-100 miles). Having to work up the endurance to get through multiple big climbs in a ride, I've noticed, really helps me hold my own when I'm back riding shorter climbs with friends.

Generally just riding a lot will help too, technique comes with practice. Good luck!


It's unlikely that a single maximum effort workout increased your fitness much. I suspect that the psychological aspect was more important. You proved to yourself that you could push harder than you believed before. Most endurance athletes lack the mental fortitude to reach their psychological limits.

You could be right, and I understand why you’d jump to that conclusion, but I don’t think that’s what happened, and here’s why. The effect didn’t last all season nor give me any boost the next one. When I slowed down my frequency of rides later in the fall, I felt my performance decline. It made climbing noticeably easier right from the start of a ride, before I felt winded or tired or like I was having to push through anything. Before this happened, I had already done a lot to prove to myself what I can and can’t do, I’ve had other times I’ve pushed myself to the limit. I don’t think this really was a single event, I think it was a boost in the middle of a bunch of rides. It was the back-to-back rides in the context of my lets-get-going early season riding, though I don’t remember exactly how often I was going. At the time I expected this ride was going to make me sore for a while and tired for a few days, like what usually happens after an extra long ride. I was really surprised when it didn’t do that.

BTW, it might be important that the sprint to exhaustion up the canyon was relatively short; it was 5 miles averaging medium steep, with spots up to 12% grade. I usually ride it in granny gear, “speed 1” on a 27-speed bike, smallest chain ring, largest on the sprocket. To follow the fixie I had to stay in speed 14 (middle chain ring, middle of the sprocket.)


This experiment very vaguely reminds me of some methods people use pump up the level of the red blood cells... I might be mixing it up with something, but it's a curious thought.

There's not a huge amount of technique to climbing, it's mostly power to weight ratio. Do you have a power meter and have you done an FTP test?

One technique you can practice is calibrating your effort level in terms of watts or heart rate to the length of the climb. You need to get a feel for the maximum output you can sustain without getting gassed before you reach the summit.


I don’t have a power meter, but for the purpose of pacing I might get away with just the hr? I’ve always been bad with pacing myself, so that looks to be the lowest hanging fruit.

If you have the means and are serious about improving then I highly recommend buying a power meter. I have Favero Assioma pedals which are about the cheapest option for dual sided power and work well. After I've been riding for a while I tend to slack off and fool myself into thinking that I'm working harder than I really am. The power meter keeps me honest.

But without a power meter you can certainly pace yourself by heart rate. Figure out your heart rate zones and then do some test rides holding your heart rate steady in a particular zone and sustain the effort as long as you can. Then you can estimate a maximum target heart rate for each climb segment based on how much time it should take.

You can also experiment with different pedaling cadences. Every cyclist has a different optimal cadence, but in general you want to shift down when climbing and keep the cadence high (unless you're intentionally doing a low cadence strength workout).


Correct me if I'm wrong...

So if I have a power meter I have instant feedback on the power level, and if I know my target power level I can work up to it without overshooting.

HR, unlike power, is a lagging indicator so I am likely to overshoot, especially if I am poor at pacing to begin with.


Yep, HR can tell you a lot (power meters are pricey, but indeed are the best option). If your HR rises too quick you're likely off pace however though.

Another thing you can do is thinking of saving some gas in the tank for the last bit of the climb where you'll sprint as you summit. Start with this in mind at the bottom


I'm a cyclist.. while I can agree that this study could be flawed there's also something else.

Bicycles are highly efficient themselves.. perhaps so efficient that they hide too many cues that riders would use to become more efficient.

And while the study might be flawed by using trainers and such if you try to study stuff in the real world with cyclists there's probably too much noise in the signals with all the strange stuff that goes on with cycling, like weather, traffic, group riding, etc..

The Lance Armstrong results showing him becoming more efficient in disagreement with the newer study could have been highly flawed as well if he was "protected" more by his team even in training as his career advanced, which we know he was. To say nothing of his ever changing cocktail of PEDs.

I do think any competitive rider will become more efficient after a year of coached riding with the benefit of a power meter & electronic tracking. Every pro today has that of course.


True. The main way a cyclist becomes more efficient is holding a more aerodynamic position for longer. Which you can’t measure on an exercise bike indoors

The relevant part of the article:

> When I pressed Kram and Swinnen for their preferred explanations, they pointed out that efficient runners use their stretchy tendons and ligaments to store elastic energy to be “recycled” from stride to stride. The push and pull between tendon and muscle is so finely tuned that your muscles stay roughly the same length throughout the stride instead of shortening and lengthening with each contraction. Optimizing this aspect of running is invisible to the naked eye and beyond conscious control, but it may be one of the crucial skills that improve with experience.


You can spot inefficient runners once you know what to look for.

Efficient runners are striding 20 or 30% faster. Usually over 180 strides/minute.

If you look at the efficient runners head looks like it's floating smoothly. If you are bouncing you are losing energy.


This reminded me of watching some Kenyan runners at a local race. I had never seen people that good run in person.

I swear they just floated by... Their heads and shoulders just don't look like the move up and down at all. I'll never forget it. A thing of beauty.


And this:

> Is there anything we can say for sure? How about: Yes, you can get more efficient at running. You probably can’t get more efficient at cycling—at least not by an amount that’s worth spending a lot of time fretting about.


The study conditions are so artificial (very slow), that any potential efficiencies would likely be negligible. My son, who ran track in college used to tell me that it was harder to run at a 7 minute mile pace than 6 minute mile pace, because they were doing all their training to run at sub-5 pace. My experience on the bike is similar. AS for the author's comment about how easy the neuromuscular coordination to bike is, he probably hasn't tried to consistently maintain a cadence of 110-120 rpm. It takes practice to be able to do that smoothly, and improves your technique when you're going at a slower pace.

I would guess they evaluated it at 8 min/mile pace because a more typical speed for evaluating running economy (e.g, 16 km/h or ~6:00 pace) might be a bit tough for cyclists who don't run. Especially since you'd need to do 5 minutes or more at said pace to make a meaningful determination of RE.

From experience, riding rollers regularly will makes you more efficient on an actual bike, because you have to keep the bike relatively still under you on rollers in order to stay upright.

You don't have to keep the bike that still under you on the road, and that wastes energy.


You can quickly tell if someone is a strong cyclist by looking at how straight they go, both hands, one hand and no hands on the handlebars. All over the road? Usually weak. Can stay on a road line? Probably ok. Can stay on the inside edge of a road line? Look out.

"Cyclist" should not be used here at all. Especially in the title, since bicycles were not used.

"Training Makes Runners More Efficient, but not Spin Class Attendees"


I don't see any importance in the conclusion. Certainly training improves technique which improves efficiency in real world situations.

I took up cycling as a personal passtime going for a number of hours at a time. I signed up for a fundraiser for a distance I didn't know I could complete. I asked a cyclist friend to spend a day with me to prep. One thing I sucked at was hills. He noticed what I was doing and said you can't downshift your way out of it, it's better to stick with a gear and power through it even if it mostly burns you out. Getting winded and moving slowly expending too much energy just to keep your balance isn't better. That was immensely better and there are likely so many other things that could be better tuned for efficiency.


As a practical matter training can make cyclists more efficient by improving aerodynamics even if their psychological efficiency doesn't change. It takes quite a bit of muscular endurance and body awareness to hold an optimal aero position through a long ride.

Yes - very true. I race timetrials and keeping a stable aero position requires effort and practice but it's worth it as the gains from aero improvements can be huge.

Participants were measured on a fixed bike in a lab wearing running shoes.

Sorry guys but this is junk science


I think you meant to link this:

https://www.outsideonline.com/2301366/training-makes-runners...

or as already mentioned the title is wrong.


Please use original titles.

"The 100 Most Influential Studies in Sports Medicine"




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