There is never a good time to have a forced running break, but the timing of this one was frustrating. I had just signed up for the Richmond marathon and was ready to ramp up my mileage in preparation for training.
Instead, I’ve been cross training for a month letting my tibial tendon recover from too much stress. In the process, I have been determined to maintain as much running fitness as possible.
From the many articles and research I’ve read on this topic, I was surprised to learn that runners can actually improve their fitness while injured. Some runners even come back to run pr’s!
Here are a few reasons why:
- You can get in more interval training due to the lower impact activities.
- Cross training strengthens the whole body which can lead to more overall power.
- You can focus on running specific strength training.
My first week, I focused on spinning and long walks, but it takes twice as long to walk the mileage that I had been running so I soon joined a gym to use the elliptical and pool.
Sprints and interval training can only be done once, maybe twice a week on a run without risking injury. With the elliptical or aqua jogging, it can be more frequent. I’m aiming for at least 3 speed sessions each week. Here are a few sample workouts:
Aqua Jogging Sprints (in deep water with a belt or dumbbells)
Warm up for 5-10 minutes. “Sprint” for 2 minutes hard x 5 with 1 minute of easy running between. Jog 5 minutes easy then repeat sprints. Cool down.
Aqua Jogging 1200s
Warm up for 5-10 minutes of easy jogging in the water. Run hard for 5 minutes, easy for 2 minutes x 4-5 rounds. Cool down with 5 minutes of easy jogging.
*Note: Aqua jogging won’t necessarily be moving your legs as fast as you would on land because of the added resistance but you can get in a really good workout with minimal impact.
Warm up for 10-15 minutes on varied terrain (I like to choose random). Sprint for 1 minute, run easy for 1 minute, x 10-12. Cool down for 5-10 minutes.
Warm up for 10-15 minutes. Run as hard as you can for 2 minutes, jog easy for 1 minute x 5. Jog for 5 minutes then repeat the intervals. Cool down for 5-10 minutes.
Steady state “easy run”
Swimming or cycling are excellent options to replace the easy run. You can get in a good aerobic workout and stay in fat burning mode while still working harder than you would on an easy run on land. Rather than a 4-6 mile steady state run, swim for 45 minutes or bike for an hour with moderate resistance. Swimming forces you to improve your breathing and works the whole body. Biking gives you a break from the running motion but can work the quads with a small incline.
Putting it all together
You still want to keep in mind the easy/hard principle. To get the most from your exercise routine, your body needs easier days so it can absorb the work and repair itself.
To keep the hard days hard and the easy days easy, add strength on the sprint days and keep the steady state days at a lower intensity.
For a mock long run, bike, swim, hike, use the elliptical or do a combo of any of them for 2 hours total.
Monday: Sprints on the elliptical + ST
Tuesday: 45 minute steady swim
Wednesday: Aqua jogging sprints + ST
Thursday: 1 hour steady spin
Friday: Sprints on the elliptical + ST
Saturday: “Long run”- 1 hour elliptical, 1 hour spin
I’m combining a lot of these workout theories in my own cross training and will begin adding some running back in next week. I feel fitter than ever in my overall fitness, although I realize my running specific fitness will have to catch up for a few weeks as I rebuild time on my feet again.
For more on how aqua jogging can maintain your running fitness, check out this article and additional pool workouts.
Runner’s World also has a 9 week plan for maintaining or improving fitness while injured.
Note: The activities that you are cleared to do will depend on your specific injury.
Have you ever taken time off from running and come back stronger?
After my first marathon, I had a stress reaction and took 10 weeks off! I ran my first 5k two weeks later and set prs in the half, 10k and 5k in the following months.
Do you worry about losing running fitness when injured?
I still do every time! But it always works out okay. So far, I’ve always come back stronger. Let’s see if we can say that again after this break!