Trying to pick up your pace on training runs or shave a few minutes off your PR? The trick may actually not be found during your runs at all, but instead dependant on your cross training. Doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) with minimal rest on a bike may be an effective way to improve your performance, says a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Researchers in the UK had long-distance runners—people who averaged 25 miles a week—cross train with a HIIT workout on bikes. The runners all cycle-sprinted to exhaustion for 10 seconds, then some rested for 30 seconds, others for 80 seconds, and others for 120 seconds before repeating six times. After two weeks, the runners ran the same distances as when they were tested before the experiment started, and those who had rested for the least amount of time (30 seconds) saw the greatest improvement in their running speed, completing their miles three to four percent faster than during their original run. (They probably also scored these 8 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).)
And while four percent may seem small, that can shave five minutes off a two-hour run. Plus, that increase in speed was after just two weeks of cross training, whereas most of us will be cross training for months if we're training for a big race. (Not looking to crush your PR? Learn The Right Cross-Training Activity to Crush Your Fitness Goals.)
The researchers theorized that the harder your body has to work, the more it adapts. Minimal rest for you means minimal rest for your muscles, so the following sprint will be much more difficult (as anyone who has taken a HIIT class can attest to), landing you in better shape over time.
This study isn't the first to point out the benefits of this cross training combo. Running can cause more muscle damage and joint inflammation than cycling, so a spin class can provide that calorie-scorching cardio without the painful side effects. Both workouts target the same muscle groups, particularly your glutes and legs. And both keep your heart rate going up, up, and away. So if you're a die-hard runner, consider slotting in some SoulCycle, or just follow up your time on the treadmill with a few minutes on the bike. It may just push you into that seven-minute mile range.