If you’re one of the rare runners who have never been injured, consider yourself lucky.
Injuries afflict most runners at some point. When addressed early, many injuries can be remedied with rest and training plan adjustments. But more serious injuries may require weeks or months away from running.
How can you best stay fit during all that time off?
No athlete wants to be sidelined by an injury. Running may be what you love best, but try to use time away from the sport to help yourself come back stronger.
Certain types of cross-training such as pool running, cycling and the elliptical are the most running-specific, meaning your fitness translates most readily to running. Other types of cross-training, such as strength training, swimming and yoga, are more complementary to running. Always follow your doctor’s guidelines as to what type of cross-training is suitable to your injury and recovery process.
If you’re injured and unable to perform any weight-bearing exercise, aqua jogging should be your go-to method for maintaining fitness. Of all types of cross-training, pool running is the most running specific. This means it is most similar to actual running in respect to your movement and biomechanics.
You can replicate just about any type of running workout in the pool, from tempos to intervals to long runs. So what’s the down side of pool running? It’s not terribly exciting, especially if you’re trying to push through a 2-hour long run. But if you can hang in there with a little monotony, you’ll see the benefits when you’re able to hit the road again.
Cycling is another type of cross-training that is particularly runner specific. Because it is a non-weight bearing exercise, injured runners can often cycle pain-free. Like pool running, it provides a perfect opportunity to replicate workouts such as tempos and intervals.
Cycling helps strengthen the quads, outer hips and glutes, which all tend to be weaker in runners. When replacing a running session with a cycling workout, 10–15 minutes on the bike is roughly the equivalent of running one mile. Try to keep your cadence at about 90+ RPMs (rotations per minute), as this helps mimic a running stride.
A third cross-training option that is also runner-specific and low-impact is the elliptical. Working out on an elliptical closely mimics your running movement with little-to-no impact on your joints. Make sure to use enough resistance to get your heart rate elevated for an aerobic workout.
Like pool running, ellipticals can also be a little monotonous. An alternative, if available, is the ElliptiGO bike. A number of elite runners, including Meb Keflezighi, have used these as a supplement to their training. They have all the benefits of an elliptical machine while allowing you break the monotony and get outside.
Strength training is a broad term that encompasses everything from core exercises to bodyweight workouts to lifting heavy at the gym. Whether you are injured or not, strength training should be a part of every runner’s routine. But if you can’t run, now is an excellent time to get stronger and more resilient
Glutes and hips are a common weak area for runners, which can lead to a multitude of injuries. Strengthening these areas is essential to healthy running. If you are new to strength training, bodyweight routines are a perfect way to get started. Add repetitions as you improve, and gradually progress to using heavier weights.
Swimming is an outstanding full-body workout with no impact. While it may be challenging to get a true aerobic workout from swimming unless you’re already a proficient swimmer, it can add variety to the types of training described above.
If you have a new or nagging injury, you can substitute in a 30–45 minute swim once a week to help maintain aerobic fitness. To target your legs more specifically, try adding in some laps using a kickboard.
Yoga can be a great complement to endurance training and will help work some mobility back into tight, inflexible muscles. If you’re new to yoga, you may not realize how many different types of classes are available, depending on what you’re looking to get out of it. If going to a class sounds daunting, there are also plenty of online options that you can try at home.
Restorative classes offer a slower pace and movements that are more recovery focused. Other types of classes, like hot vinyasa, move at a faster pace and test your strength and stamina. With its emphasis on focused breath and movement no matter the pace, yoga can also benefit the mental side of your training.
Although getting injured may temporarily take you away from the sport you love, know that with a commitment to fitness and strength you can come back stronger than ever.