Cycling to recovery: Part 1

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After four months of training, persistent ITB syndrome and two bouts of severe nerve pain in my feet, I was finally forced out of this year’s London Marathon with a risky ankle injury (a dysfunctional tibialis posterior muscle – yep, I’d never heard of it either). It didn’t just leave me with a hefty physio bill, but a massive training void too. As any marathoner will tell you, the post 26.2 blues are a real issue, but just as much so even if you didn’t make it to the big day. To go from fitting your life around running five times a week to having no training obligations is a huge blow – especially if, like me, you get signed off running altogether.

Needing a running replacement until I was back on my feet again, cycling seemed like a good alternative – it combines challenging cardio with the freedom of being outside, the two things I love most about running. However, with a slight fear of hitting London’s crazy roads on wheels straight out, I headed for the classic gym alternative: spinning.

Perhaps one of the more intimidating fitness classes out there, spinning is a great form of cross-training for runners. “It activates the muscles that are used for running without putting any undue pressure on the joints, helps strengthen the muscles surrounding the knees and it can help to increase your anaerobic threshold, allowing you to train faster for longer,” says Lee Pickering, a personal trainer and spinning instructor at DW Fitness Clubs. “The variance in difficulty and moving upwards through the gears can replicate the feeling of running uphill, sprinting, and maintaining an easy pace.”

Since it provides a workout for all the major leg muscles, spinning can help keep you conditioned while injured. “Your quadriceps are engaged as you push down with your foot, and your hamstrings help to lift your leg back up again,” Lee says.

Best of all, there’s good news for the ITB syndrome, which in my case is caused by lazy glutes: “When you rise out of your seat, this works the glutes on both the push and pull action.” Finally, a reason for me to stop slacking on standing climbs.

This leg-heavy focus and low impact nature of the class was a must, given that I wanted to keep on form despite the somewhat awkward nature of my injury. However, spinning can’t completely replace running, Lee warns. “As cycling targets a smaller amount of muscles than running, a prolonged period of cycling may impact a runner's technique.”

“As a high impact sport, running helps to strengthen the bones in the legs as they are forced to sustain the body weight. Spinning can potentially remove this benefit as it is a non-impact exercise, but works to help the body in other ways.” With that in mind, I set about switching my regular runs for spinning, mixed in with plenty of strength training to provide weight bearing exercise for bone health. I was determined not to be out of the running game for long.

Next time: Georgia gets an intro to proper spinning technique at Edge Cycle.