Regular training is vital to developing and maintaining your performance as a runner. When an injury strikes, it can be challenging or impossible to keep to your practice routine. Work with your coach, a qualified physical therapist or your doctor to devise an alternative practice routine that's safe for your injury. Reassess the workout regularly as your injury heals, gradually working back up to your usual routine.
While running offers effective cardiovascular exercise, the high-impact nature of the running stride is a major shortcoming for individuals with injured or weakened joints. Some of the most common running injuries affect the feet, ankles, knees or hips, often due to overuse or strain. As you recover from such injuries, maintain your fitness level by practicing low-impact forms of exercise. Rowing and swimming are two intense, full-body exercises that put very little strain on the joints. Even cycling is a relatively low-impact activity, compared with running. Even gentler alternatives include yoga, Pilates and some forms of dance.
Adapted Running Practice
If your injury is stopping you from your normal running routine, that doesn't necessarily mean you can't continue to run in some form. After consultation with your doctor or physical therapist, try running on an elliptical trainer, as your injury permits. The modified format will let you keep up your aerobic exercise and work all the muscle groups you use during running. However, you'll cut out the impact of footfalls, as the elliptical machine uses stirrups to guide your feet in smooth, oscillating movements. Your physical therapist or trainer may also guide you through barefoot running techniques, an alternative means of reducing the impact of heel strikes.
Though strength training is not typically a runner's primary area of focus, during recovery from an injury, it can prove particularly useful for rebuilding strength and endurance. For the strength training to be most effective, select exercises that mimic the movements used in running and balance your attention on all the major muscle groups you use when you run. Sprinters and short-distance runners can focus on strength training workouts that feature explosive movements, such as plyometric exercises. Keep the resistance level fairly low and increase your repetitions or workout frequency to avoid building up a bulky musculature.
If your injury severely limits your ability to perform aerobic or strength training activities, you can still make the most of your capacity at each stage of recovery. If your injury restricts you to gentle flexibility exercises, such as stretching or yoga, take advantage of the opportunity to focus on an area of fitness that's commonly skipped over in favor of endurance, strength or speed. Developing your flexibility will help you to recover your full range of motion as your injury heals. You may even improve your mobility beyond your previous abilities, which may further improve your performance as a runner.
- Rice University: Overuse Foot Injuries in Runners
- MayoClinic.com: Elliptical Machines: Better Than Treadmills?
- Harvard University Skeletal Biology Lab: Running Barefoot, Forefoot Striking & Training Tips
- Washington University in St. Louis: Strength Training for Distance Runners
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Starting a Running Program