How to immediately start running & cycling faster (without working harder)

We all want this.

We all want the ability to simply speed up our paces to run & cycle faster (and reduce the chance for injury in the process).

Even more, especially if you’re already in the middle of Ironman training, we all want to do it with as little effort as humanly possible.

The good news? You can! Seriously, it’s possible.

There’s a ton of articles, techniques, guru’s and “how to” content on the internet on the topic, but we’re going to make it silly simple for you. Interested? Keep reading.

Use less effort, more often

What the heck does that mean?

Simple, adjust your cadence.

180 and 100. These are two numbers to become intimately familiar with.

The 180 refers to steps per minute while running, and the 100 refers to RPM on the bike.

Some funny stuff happens when you start to increase your cadence to those milestones:

  1. Breathing becomes a little easier
  2. Your effort each step/pedal dramatically decreases
  3. Pain & soreness in “weird places” starts to dissipate

Those things, and more, help contribute to faster speed, with (in some cases) less physical effort.

We’ll get into the details here, but if you want to hear where all of this came from, check out the Iron Journey Podcast episode below where we cover everything in this article (plus some funny stories):

How to run faster

There are 2 key metrics that we’ll be talking when considering how to run faster.

  1. Cadence (180 steps per minute target)
  2. Distance per stride (measured by the push off, not stride length)

Improve your cadence to reduce injury

A natural impact of improving (i.e. speeding up) your step cadence, is changing how your foot lands on the ground with each new stride.

Most slow cadence runners are also heel strikers. They make up for a lack of turnover speed, by trying to lengthen their stride. In attempting to do so, the foot reaches out a little further in front of the body, and the heel makes contact with the ground. Even if you somehow manage to not have a heel hit first in this scenario, landing with your leg in front of your body puts the breaks on almost immediately (check out this video to see what I mean).

In contrast, runners who can achieve a 180 cadence, typically have shorter stride lengths, where their foot lands more under their body (preparing to push back behind them) vs out in front (both putting the brakes on, and needing to ‘pull’ with your hamstrings).

Let me prove a point to you – follow along if you’d be so kind with this physical activity/test.

The goal: do a standing broad jump and cover as much distance as possible.

Test 1, the heel strike test: Try to perform a standing broad jump, without letting your knees go in front of your toes. In other words, try to ‘pull’ yourself forward. See how far you go.

Test 2, the fast cadence test: Perform a standing broad jump where your knees can go in front of your toes (this is going to feel a whole lot more natural of a jump) and see how far you go.

The results: You’re going to jump further using method 2. Period. Your body is designed to propel forward in this manner, vs trying to ‘pull’ yourself forward.

So why did we even do this?

To prove the point that it’s more efficient to “push” off your feed than it is to “pull” with them.

This efficiency also results in a stronger and more stable body position, reducing the likelihood of a hamstring/glute injury, because you’re more properly loading the quads and calves in the way they’re designed.

Improve your distance per stride to move faster

Now that we’re moving our legs faster to make sure we’re putting our feet in a more stable position to push off the ground instead of pull against it, we can add distance per stride to kick up our pace.

This, likely, is going to take care of itself a la the broad jump exercise from earlier.

If we’re cycling our feet faster, AND we’re pushing off the ground instead of pulling, we’re likely going to end up with a longer distance between steps.

The best part of all this is you likely won’t feel like you’re working any harder. You’re simply using your body mechanics how they’re designed to be used, and thus putting in less effort per step (proper foot landing position), more often (higher cadence).

How to cycle faster

There are 2 items that we’ll be talking when considering how to cycle faster.

  1. Cadence (100+RPM)
  2. Upper body stability

Improve your cadence to increase endurance

It’s counter intuitive for you to hear “pedal more often, and that’ll be easier than pedaling less often” – I know, I get it, but hear me out.

If you were told to put your bike in the heaviest gear you had, and pedal for an hour, you’d slug through each pedal, shifting your weight dramatically to be able to apply the necessary force to turn the wheels, and after 60 minutes, you’d be about as sore as you’d ever been.

On the contrary, if you were told to pedal at 100 RPM and use whatever gear (likely much lighter than the example above) makes that possible, over the course of those 60 minutes, you’d exert a lot less energy, and be a lot less sore.

Don’t believe me? Try it. Hop on an indoor trainer for 15 minutes. For the first 5, pedal easy, get warm. For the second 5, crank up the gear to the heaviest one you have and pedal at a consistent pace for 5 minutes. For the final 5 minutes, drop that gear down to something where you can maintain 100RPM.

Note your MPH or Watts, but more importantly how you feel, and you’ll likely see that less effort more often is easier.

Stay stable to remain calm

A byproduct of a high cadence is the need to keep the upper body nice and calm.

Watch any videos of pro cyclists and from the hips up, they’re like statues. The reason? There’s a few:

  1. Because they don’t need to shift their weight to move the pedals (they’re in the proper gear) they can remain still
  2. Stable upper body is more aerodynamic than one moving all over the place
  3. Less energy is expended because less movement is happening

All of these things contribute to you being able to keep your heart rate down, your cadence up, and your endurance reaps all the rewards.

Less effort, more often = faster speed

With that, you’ve got tools in your toolbox how to leave the house and simply move faster, all without having to do intervals and hill sprints and all that jazz.

Simply put your body in a situation where it can perform by shifting the stress in your body from your legs to your heart and lungs (which can handle much more abuse than your poor calves can), and watch those splits shrink over night.

About the author

Josh Muskin is the owner and editor of JoshMuskin.com. He has spent the last decade in the fitness industry as a coach (CrossFit L2, endurance & triathlon coach) and an athlete. He played collegiate lacrosse at York College of Pennsylvania and is a recent US National Age Group Qualifier in the Olympic triathlon distance, and a 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman finisher.