Your heart and lungs don't really care what kind of workout you do. Running, swimming, bicycling or other continuous exercise can get your heart rate up and improve your cardiovascular fitness. The advantage for a runner of using other cardiovascular exercises is that it stimulates activity without stress on the legs and body from the impact of running.
Cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the lungs and heart to deliver oxygen to the muscles to create energy. Exercise increases the body's ability to generate this energy by increasing the oxygen supply, based on the intake of air from the lungs and the circulation through the bloodstream by the heart. The more oxygen the blood can deliver, the more energy the muscles can create.
Bicycling, swimming, aerobic drills and even sports such as tennis and soccer can keep your cardiovascular training up while reducing stress on running muscles and providing a welcome break from pounding a path. A brisk bicycle ride after a hard day of running can provide the same cardiovascular workout as another run.
Cross-training may actually improve running performance. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that runners who added swimming to their workouts improved running performance while a comparison group which continued to only run did not improve. Exercises such as spin training on a stationary bicycle will increase your aerobic base for running.
You increase your cardiovascular fitness by exercising longer. Varying your workouts makes it easier to do this. If you're running 20 to 30 miles a week, it may be difficult to increase another 10 miles. However, you could easily add a 10-mile bike ride or an hour's swimming to get the same cardio effect. If your average run is an hour, you can increase cardio training by riding a bike for two hours.
- Fitness magazine: Insider's Guide to Swimming
- Peak Performance: Cross Training Workouts
- Running Competitor: Why Runners Should Cross-Train – and How
- American Running Association: Cycling to Record Running Times
- Schwinn: Using Cycling to Cross-Train
- David Holt: Runners Endurance and Strength Is Improved with Bicycle Cross Training
- Cool Running: Mix It Up
- Los Rios Community College: Cardiorespiratory Fitness & Energy Systems
- Fitness Destinations: How to Increase your Cardiovascular Endurance with Cross Training
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.