“So what’s the plan?” This question was leveled at me after telling a patient that she may have a fracture in her knee after a fall. The problem was that she was training for an upcoming marathon and taking a complete sabbatical from training was not an option.
So what are an injured runner’s options when you can’t run? The list is actually quite short, with deep water running, cycling, stair stepping, swimming, rowing, elliptical machine and inline skating being the leading options.
Once you have chosen the alternate activity how do you proceed? Like any new activity, ease into it. Start with 20 minutes for the first session to see how it goes, then ramp it up each consecutive workout by 10 to 20 percent until you reach the desired duration. Ultimately, you want work up to the same time that you would be doing when running.
Regarding intensity, studies suggest that you need to train at about 70% of your VO2 max or at intensities similar to your running program in order to maintain aerobic fitness. Even so, there will be a gradual drop in running fitness after about four weeks. So remember when you are training while injured you must put a considerable effort into your new activity.
So which alternate activity is best? The answer is- the activity that most closely simulates the action of running, provided it doesn’t aggravate the injury.
Deep water running (with a flotation vest), cycling and elliptical trainers are my top three picks for training while injured. Generally, for a lower extremity injury, I would suggest that water running is the safest since there is no weight bearing or impact stress.
Since boredom can be a huge issue with water running, a good plan might be to start with water running for the first week or two, then add in workouts of cycling or elliptical trainers that alternate with the water running. If you are really lucky, perhaps you can convince a friend or two to join you in your water running sessions. Try to play up the benefits of cross-training to these folks as a hook to get them to participate!
Hopefully, if you have an injury training plan, your down time will be at a minimum and your fitness will essentially remain intact when you return to running.
As for my marathon patient, she’s off to the pool for a run!
Photo credit: Rufino Uribe