Runners know that a forced break from running — either due to illness or injury — can be more excruciating than training. Having to push goals aside or defer a race entry after months (or years) of training and dedication can be a tough pill to swallow.
The good news — and there is good news — is that a break from running doesn’t mean you have to abandon fitness altogether.
“Depending on your doctor’s advice, you can typically perform upper-body or lower-body strengthening exercises and nonimpact — or less-impact — cardio activities,” says Michael R. Dunne, PT, DPT, the clinical director of Professional Physical Therapy. “You may even be able to take low-impact fitness classes.”
There are some great ways to stay in shape and make sure you don’t lose running fitness while injured. The key, however, is to make sure you get clearance from your doctor — and to schedule plenty of rest so you don’t worsen the injury.
Krystal Monisera, founder and owner of Fusion Fitness, shares a few options you can discuss with your doctor, including lifting weights.
“A concern of no longer being able to run during recovery could be gaining weight,” says Monisera, who is a certified personal trainer. “To combat that, try total-body exercises using weights.” This technique raises your heart rate and leads to more fat loss than training without weights, she says. She suggests focusing on low weights and a high number of reps.
Aqua jogging is another great way to raise your heart rate. It allows you to get aerobic fitness while putting no stress on your body. “Athletes have been using water training for years in recovery and also implementing it into their training programs,” says Monisera
OTHER KEY ELEMENTS OF TRAINING
If you have been too busy while running to clean up your diet and focus on nutrition, now is the time. You’ll not only keep yourself in shape now, but you’ll also help pave the way to healthier habits once you return to running.
Because it’s easy to feel powerless when you’re injured, focusing on nutrition can help you feel a bit more in control of your recovery. “Nutrition is the key to keeping up with both your physical and mental health,” explains Monisera. “With poor nutrition you can start to feel tired, weak and even start gaining unwanted weight. You can start to lose all your previous or current fitness and health progress.”
In addition, this is the time to train your body to get used to rest and recovery, so that as you reintroduce running into your schedule, you don’t overdo it. Dunne notes that typically a schedule of walking and jogging will come before a full return to running.
“When returning from any injury, it is important to gradually return to your prior level of fitness/function,” he says. “You must prepare for your runs with proper warmup and cooldown and need to incorporate recovery days/rest days into your routine.”
This is easier said than done, but a positive outlook can help during your recovery. Though it is discouraging, focusing on taking proper care of your body per your doctor’s orders will help get you back to running as quickly as possible.
“Keeping your mind and body occupied with other activities that you are able to do even while injured is the best way to stay positive,” says Pedro Ast, a former professional athlete and CEO of Bvddy. “These activities can be anything from reading, exercises that are not limited by the injury you have or even trying out a new hobby. Going the extra mile to do things that help you recover faster from the injury is also a great way to stay positive.”