Yes, Cycling Can Help Your Running – If You Do It Backwards


Men's Health |

By Thomas Okes

You know when you’re halfway through a pull-up and your trainer says, “Now go slow on the way down. Slower than that. No I said slow. Okay try again” – that’s eccentric, or negative, training, and it comes with a range of serious benefits.

Eccentric training, which involves focusing on the lowering (or “negative”) phase of an exercise, can potentially trigger greater strength gains than concentric (lifting-focused) training, says Dr Ellington Darden, author of the new book The Body Fat Breakthrough. “Your muscles can handle more weight during the lowering phase,” Darden says. “And if you draw out that phase to a minute, as you will with the negative dip and negative chin-up, you can recruit up to 40% more muscle fibres and enjoy a surge in muscle-building hormones.” The result: more power and strength in significantly less time.

And it’s not just for your arms, either. The team of endurance-obsessed biokineticists at the Sports Science Institute of SA in Cape Town have invested in a few orange electric bikes each with a little motor. If you think that little engine will make riding easier, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. You train on this bike, known as a Grucox machine, by pushing back against the pedals, resisting the movements of the motor. This resisting motion, or eccentric training, has been shown to be more beneficial than traditional resistance training and has therefore become increasingly popular in rehabilitation, performance training, as well as general wellbeing.

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All good things, until you try it. The best way I can think to describe it is as a near-death experience, where your life flashes before you in a flood of sweat. But cycling backwards against the pedals does actually work in making you a stronger, better runner – and here’s why.

During eccentric training the muscle elongates while trying to resist or slow down an opposing force. The muscle produces an eccentric contraction when lowering a weight. However, the Grucox bike is the only way to perform constant eccentric training.

What are the benefits of eccentric training on the Grucox?

  • Greater strength gains compared to conventional resistance training (concentric).
  • Eccentric training has been shown to prevent injury
  • Training on the grucox bike is more functional
  • Eccentric training improves muscle control
  • Eccentric training indices minimal cardiac load with maximal muscle effort
  • Low joint impact – ideal for older or at-risk clients

And who can benefit?

  • Runners and cyclists who want to build strength, balance and stability
  • Anybody wanting to rehabilitate or prevent muscle and tendon injuries
  • People who need to treat injuries such as Patella Femoral Pain Syndrome, Patella-Tendonopathy (runner’s knee), Achilles Tendinopathy, Lower limb dysfunctions and weakness, Knee and Ankle ligament sprains
  • Athletes undergoing cardiac rehabilitation or suffering from reduced physical capacity
  • Anyone who wants to lose weight quickly – fat oxidation during eccentric cycling is greater than during normal cycling

(That last one probably explains all the sweat.)

If you’re keen to give it a go, I’d recommend it. You’ll be pretty wobbly afterwards, and you won’t be able to even look at hills for a few days, but go for an easy, middle-distance run the next day – this will help flush your legs out and mitigate against that dreaded delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Picture courtesy of Esben Zøllner Olesen/Red Bull Content Pool

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