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How to keep training when injury stops you running

As a runner there is nothing more frustrating than when you can’t run. Over the course of my running career, there have been many times when injury has kept me from doing what I love most.

I have been running competitively for 39 years and working in sports clinics for nearly 25 years.

During this time, I have had seven ankle fractures; two ankle operations; two knee arthroscopies and a ruptured calf muscle – just to name a few. So I personally understand the devastation runners feel when told they cant run.

My experience of having sustained these injuries has helped me to develop practical and reliable treatment and rehabilitation plans that help runners return to running as soon as possible.

While some medical practitioners will tell runners to rest for 6-weeks and take anti-inflammatory medication, at The Body Mechanic we do everything possible to help runners keep training whilst they establish the root cause of their injury and start a proactive rehabilitation program.

In some cases, an injury will be bad enough to require a period of rest from running.

Even if that is the case, there will be a number of training options that are possible which help to mimic running, strengthen the relevant muscles, and help to speed up your recovery.

Not all of these activities are suitable or available to everyone, but we recommend you give them a try and find something that helps you maintain your hard earned fitness and your sanity!

1. Pool Running

Also known as aqua jogging, this is one of the most accessible and effective cross-training methods for runners sidelined by injury. This low-impact yet high-resistance exercise is an excellent way to engage the same group of muscles used when running.

It is harder to keep the same posture and maintain the same cadence (steps per minute) when pool running, but because it closely mimics the movement pattern of running, it provides a great cardio workout and helps maintain most of your running-specific muscles.

2. AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill

This futuristic treadmill has revolutionised running rehabilitation in recent years. It works by partially suspending you off the running belt, which allows you to run at a lower effective body weight.  The AlterG is actually running, so technically  speaking it isn’t cross-training, but by reducing your body weight it takes a lot of stress off any injured muscles, tendons or bones allowing you to return to training much sooner than usual.  A session on the AlterG isn’t cheap though, with the average price of using one being around $1 per minute.

The AlterG anti-gravity treadmill allows injured athletes to start running again through reducing gravity's impact.
The AlterG anti-gravity treadmill allows injured athletes to start running again through reducing gravity’s impact.

3. Stair Walking

Depending on your injury, a great way to build strength and rehabilitate your body back from injury, without the impact  forces of running, is stair walking. The stair walking motion strengthens your quads, glutes and hamstrings, and it gives your heart and lungs an excellent workout.

Stair walking will help to provide some of the endorphins and mental satisfaction you would normally get from a run, making it an excellent option for your mental health.

4. Walk/Run Intervals

If you are struggling to run for 20-30 minutes without experiencing pain or niggles, then a good alternative is to run for a minute, walk for a minute and repeat this quite a few times.

The regular walking breaks can make a huge difference as they let your muscles relax, and will often allow you to be out on your feet for a much greater overall time.

We recommend following this interval table to structure your return to running.

Some people will be able to move through the levels in our table faster than others. It will depend on the nature and severity of your injury.  This approach will gently ease you back into running, while still giving you the mental satisfaction of getting outdoors and making progress with your recovery.

Ideally, you should combine this return to running with some strength, stability and stretching.

A good body maintenance routine will help you build a stable core and muscle strength to avoid the injury reoccurring. Learn more about how to approach your body maintenance

5. Create a “back-up” option

You might not get the same satisfaction and “love” from a cross-training session as you do from running, but learning to love (or at least like) another sport can be beneficial.

Try integrating some cycling, swimming, or perhaps a gym class into your regular training routine so that you have something to fall back on if you have a niggle that is hampering your running.

6. Avoid High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

If you are returning from injury you should avoid high intensity interval training. There are plenty of activities you can do to get your heart rate up, but the high-impact jumping, landing and sprinting that is a feature of HIIT training is hard on your body and is therefore more likely to stir up any running related niggles.

7. Monitor your pain

When returning to running following injury, the best guideline to keep you from going backwards in your recovery is pain. Returning to running following an injury doesn’t need to be completely pain-free, but it shouldn’t make an injury feel worse or create any new niggles.

The last thing you want to do is stir up your pain by over-training too early. When you start back running, closely monitor your pain level. If it is slight and doesn’t feel worse the day after a run, then you should be safe to gradually increase your training – but take it slowly.

8. Stop injuries before they happen

If you have suffered a running-related injury, you need to see a health care professional who can help you establish the root cause of your problem rather than just treat the symptoms.

The single biggest factor that causes injuries in runners is doing too much too soon. The second biggest factor is your biomechanics (running technique).

If you improve your running technique, you are therefore less likely to get injured.

A running-specific biomechanical assessment can be a real eye-opener.

Something as simple as a stiff ankle or a tight hamstring for example, can change the way you move.  A proper biomechanical screening test will help to identify any potential problem areas in your body, allowing you to focus your rehabilitation plan on sorting them out.

The Body Mechanic has helped thousands of runners return from injury and achieve their running goals.  If you are ready to return to running after injury, we recommend you follow our simple structured guide.

We also highly recommend this 3 minute morning stretch ritual.  Do this simple 3 minute routine everyday for 30 days and we guarantee you will notice a difference in your flexibility.

For those in Sydney, The Body Mechanic runs Strength and Stability Classes every Monday and Thursday in North Sydney.Return To Running Guide

Injury can be devastating. We hope these suggestions help you maintain some fitness and sanity on your way to recovery.

Once you are ready to return to running, we recommend you follow this simple guide to avoid reinjury.

Check out the plan now.  If you are at a 2 out of 10 in terms of pain, this plan is probably worth considering.

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