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Dealing With Injuries: Exercise Guidelines

For an endurance junkie, an injury is a touch pill to swallow. Read Coach Jenny's advice for a struggling reader!

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As a longtime runner, I’ve had my fair share of injuries. I can stay away from running while I heal, but it drives me crazy to sit on the couch! What are exercises I can do while recovering? —Dawn

For endurance junkies, an injury is a tough pill to swallow. The good news is the old-school prescription of “rest, rest and more rest” has been debunked by recent research. Evidence now suggests that a modi ed exercise plan helps you heal faster than staying off your feet completely.

The key is to catch an injury at the onset, evaluate the ache and modify your workouts accordingly. Follow the guidelines below to assess the gravity of your particular pain—we’ve separated the stages of injury into four different zones—and to see which exercises are safe for you.

GREEN ZONE

Symptoms: Mild discomfort only after a run.

Exercise Rx: As long as there is no pain mid-workout, you can continue to run. Stick to  at terrain, avoid speed work or tempo runs and cut your mileage in half. Swap every other running workout with low-impact cross-training, such as yoga, weight lifting, elliptical, biking and swimming. Stretch lightly and perform self-massage daily with a foam roller or similar device.

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YELLOW ZONE

Symptoms: Very mild pain while running that does not cause you to alter your stride or limp. The discomfort may be present (but does not worsen) post-run.

Exercise Rx: Cross-train with low-impact activities for five to seven days. If the pain subsides, gradually incorporate running back into your workouts. For example, if you were biking for 30 minutes, bike for 20 minutes and run for 10. Slowly add more running minutes over the following week or two.

ORANGE ZONE

Symptoms: Pain is present during and after a run and restricts activity. You can no longer run without altering your stride.

Exercise Rx: Cross-train at easy-to moderate efforts with activities that do not cause pain. Consult a doctor or physical therapist to develop a recovery plan with exercises that build strength and flexibility.

RED ZONE

Symptoms: Acute, unrelenting pain.

Exercise Rx: Before you hit the gym, you must visit your doctor. Depending on your diagnosis, you can begin to exercise with non-weight bearing activities (e.g. swimming, aqua jogging, rowing) as tolerated. Work with your doctor to develop a recovery plan tailored to your injury. Listen to your body and you’ll prevent overuse injuries from worsening. Remember: If it hurts, don’t do it. If your pain is ever in the orange or red zones, it’s time to make a doctor’s appointment.

WHERE DOES IT HURT?

The location of your injury will dictate which  exibility, strength and cardio exercises you can perform safely.

Knee

Flexibility: Massage and stretch your hip flexors and glutes.

Strength: Perform bodyweight planks, as well as lunges and squats if they do not cause pain.

Cardio: Rowing machine, aqua jogging and swimming. Elliptical trainer or cycling if you have no pain.

Hamstring

Flexibility: None until you can walk pain-free. Then, gently stretch and massage quads, hips and glutes.

Strength: Once pain-free, perform bridges, hip extensions and hamstring curls.

Cardio: Rowing machine, aqua jogging, swimming and ab work.

IT Band

Flexibility: Massage the IT band using a foam roller.

Strength: Focus on exercises for your glutes and hips (squats, single-leg squats, hip raises and lateral band walks).

Cardio: Elliptical trainer, swimming, rowing machine and cycling.

Foot

Flexibility: Gently stretch calf. Roll tennis ball under the foot and massage calves.

Strength: Foot and ankle strengthening exercises, including heel raises, single-leg balances and lunges.

Cardio: Rowing machine, aqua jogging and swimming. Elliptical trainer if you have no pain.

RELATED ARTICLE: BECOMING A RUNNER

Jenny Hadfield is the co-author of Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals. You can find more of her training programs, tips and running classes at coachjenny.com.