How to train when you can't run

Training While You Can’t Run

Unless you’re superhuman, it's pretty much guaranteed that you’ll eventually get an injury that takes you out of running. Hopefully, it’s not for too long, but you’ll have to find some ways to stay in running shape -- while not running. There are two primary activities you can do; cross-training and strength training. If your injury allows it, a combination of both is ideal and will put you in a great place for when you start running again. 

This goes without saying, but you’ll need to tailor the plan to your injuries. If you have a hip injury, you’re probably not going to be doing kettlebell swings. If you have a bad ankle sprain, mountain biking may not be the best idea. 

Before starting any of these workout programs, please work with a Physical Therapist to ensure the workouts will work for you and your injury. If you can’t afford to visit a PT there are two books I highly recommend, Running Rewired and Anatomy for Runners, both by Jay Dicharry. They don’t serve as a substitute for a PT but they will give you some basic knowledge for addressing the root cause of your injury.

Finally, one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success is making a no-running training plan. You (hopefully) had a training plan and running schedule. Make one for when you are injured. (If you didn’t have a training plan, we can help you generate one tailored to your fitness and goals) This will keep you accountable and eliminate any thinking about what your workout should be the day of. Here’s a basic template for a 6-week no-running training plan. Make a copy, and tailor it to your goals and injury.

Cross-Training for Aerobic Fitness while Injured

Cross-Training is really any other physical activity besides your primary activity (I’m going to assume that is running). You may already have a cross-training activity, if not road biking, mountain biking, hiking, ski touring, nordic skiing, rowing, and swimming are all great choices. Pick something that you enjoy and you will put some solid time into. 

Obviously, your cross-training won’t map over perfectly to running, but it will allow you to keep your aerobic fitness up. An easy way to figure out your cross-training schedule is to take your planned running schedule, figure out how long each workout would’ve taken, and spend that same amount cross-training in zone 1 and 2. 

Biking, mountain or road, is an excellent cross-training choice. You can get out on a bike regardless of where you live, it’s low impact, and you can spend large volumes of time on a bike without much risk of injury. A 4-6 hour day on the mountain bike in place of a long run, is a ton of fun and will keep your aerobic fitness up, give you the serotonin rush runners love. Whatever you choose, pick something that you enjoy and that you’re going to get out and do. 

If you can cross-train with an on-foot activity, that is going to convert the best to running. This won’t be possible for many injuries, but think about if there is an on-foot activity you can do? For example, if you have an injury that prevents you from running downhill but allows for uphill, spend some time hiking steep uphill on a treadmill. You might want to even prop it up to a steeper incline with some 2x4’s. Get creative with it, and find something that works with your injuries and goals.

Strength Training for Speed and to Prevent Future Injury

There are very few runners who do enough strength building. We all love going out for a two-hour trail run, but 20 minutes of strength training two times a week will have huge benefits for you. Building strength will make you more resilient and help prevent future injury. If you are an older runner, building and maintaining muscle mass is extremely important. Of course, depending on your specific injury you’ll need to adapt your strength plan to work for you.

There are a few different ways you can decide to focus your strength training, it depends on your goals and how long you’re not going to be running for.

Billy Bronco Tough 21

This is a very running-specific workout that requires minimal equipment. I try to do this twice a week while I’m running, but you can pair this with your cross-training too. This is a quick 21-minute workout that is highly tailored to running-specific strength. This is one of the workouts that will really help prevent injury. Make this a habit and keep it as part of your plan when you start running again.

Beginner general strength plan - 5x5 in the weight gym

If you’re going to be out of running for a little longer, you may want to look into some more general strength training, with compound lifts. If you’re new to lifting this may sound like a lot but all you really need to do is watch a few videos on proper form and you’ll have no trouble. StrongLifts 5x5 is a great structured plan for beginners. If you don’t know what lifts to do, how many sets, how many reps, or proper form -- StrongLifts is the place to start.

Do your PT

If you’re going to a PT, you’re going to have some homework. Doing your PT exercises can take a bit of time and aren’t the most fun, but it’s worth it. These are your most important workouts. If you’re going to do one thing, make sure it’s these. Again, if you can’t afford a PT Running Rewired and Anatomy for Runners are great books for learning how to address the root cause of your injury.

Strengthen your glutes

As a runner and probably someone who sits all day strengthen your glutes. Weak glutes lead to so many problems and so many injuries. We all need to work on glute engagement more. Clamshells, bridges, side leg lifts are all great places to start.

We all get injured. Take this time to get better.

Being injured sucks, but your injury will get better. Take the time off that your body needs. An extra week of recovery is far better than starting to run a week too early. Use this time to work on other parts of your fitness and come out a strong and more resilient runner in the end. Finally, if you’re injured because of a lack of a good running training plan, try using the training plan generator to build a training plan that is tailored to your fitness, goals, and follows the best guidelines for preventing injury.

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