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Assessing equivalency: how long do I need to cross-train for?

A look at the equivalent length of swim or cycle to your easy day run

cyclist

Runners love running, but there are times in everyone’s career when injury plagues them or they may feel like they need a change in stimulus. This is when a runner will usually look to either the pool or the bike for some cross-training. However, once they get there, navigating this new form of endurance training can be difficult and usually raises a lot of questions – the most common of which is, “What’s the equivalent in the pool or on a bike to my easy run?”

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Former pro triathlete and running coach Kevin Mackinnon says there are basic equivalency guidelines, but that each runner’s experience level is a key factor. “It’s really all about your pacing and your experience level. The general guideline is a four-to-one ratio in the pool and a three-to-one ratio on the bike. So a 1,500m swim is about a 6K run and a 30K bike ride is about a 10K run. That’s a good rule of thumb for those going at an easy pace.”

But Mackinnon says it really comes down to two things: how good are you at it and how hard are you going? Because of the possible discrepancies in pace, Mackinnon usually gives his athletes workouts based on time, not distance. Here are some examples of those workouts for runners looking to switch up their routine. 

Swimming workouts for runners

Mackinnon always gives intervals when he’s prescribing workouts in the pool for runners. “I like to give a combination of swimming and water jogging in the pool for runners. I’ll have them do a swim workout, then a run set and then sometimes finish off with more swimming.”

The workout: 800m total volume

Warm up: 200m 

Workout: 4 x 50m with 15 seconds rest, 8 x 25m with 10 seconds rest, 100m kick

Cool down: 100m 

If runners are looking to add more, they can do some one-minute pool running efforts before cooling down. Do five to 10 one-minute ‘runs’ with 30 seconds rest. 

Cycling workouts for runners

Mackinnon says the first step is to get comfortable on a bike. “If you’re a runner who’s got some fitness, starting at a an hour-long ride is good. You’re going to be using a bunch of different muscles and you’re not used to the saddle. You can be super fit and not necessarily have the muscles to take on a big ride, so be sure to stop before you’re in tons of pain. Once you’ve built up a tolerance, make your route a little hillier and practise climbing. Then you can start incorporating intervals into your training.”

Runners can use some of their favourite workouts from the roads or track and easily transpose them to the bike. “The only difference is that your recovery can be shorter because your body weight is supported.”

The workout: 30K volume

Warmup: 15 to 20 minutes

Workout: 4 x 2 minutes hard with 30 seconds rest (do three sets with five minutes in between each)

Cool down: 15 to 20 minutes

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