*Courtesy of Eric Oliver, PT, Founder of Beyond Exercise LLC
There are ways to work around an injury for the remaining training cycle so that you can continue to work your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems without the stress of running. These strategies include (and are performed in concert with your rehab plan):
Adjust your training schedule
If you were running five to six days per week, reduce that workout frequency to 3-4 times per week. Your body needs time to heal. Unless the injury is really bad, soft tissue injuries can undergo significant healing within four weeks time. You should get approval from your rehab specialist to make sure it is okay to continue running, albeit at a reduced frequency.
If you’ve been given clearance to continue running, give yourself an extra week of healing and wait to try your last big long-ish run workout. If you’re a half-marathoner aim for 8-10 miles (rather than 12 miles) which is an appropriate enough distance for you to recover over the following two weeks leading up to the Pig. If you are a marathoner aim for 16-18 miles (rather than 20-22) so as to not overly fatigue your body and deplete your energy systems beyond the ability to fully recover by race day. If you are still not able to run the full distance, then get creative with the workout:
- You can split the workout between running, elliptical, and cycling so you’re not pounding your legs the whole time. The combined time of your workout should equal the same amount of time it would have taken to perform your long run.
- Another way to split your workout is to divide your run into two sessions—do half in the morning and half in the afternoon. You can also do half on Saturday afternoon and half Sunday morning if you feel like you need extra time to recover. To get even more creative, throw in some cross-training machines to lessen the stress even more.
- Your rehab specialist can better guide you on which option is best for you, depending on the severity of your injury. Keep him/her in the communication loop, and don’t run through pain.
Cross-train with machines
If you are either unable to run, or you’re restricted to running no more than one or two days a week then utilizing cross-training machines can be very effective in continuing your training. This includes using the elliptical machine, indoor bike, swimming, aqua jogging or getting on an AlterG treadmill.
The fact that you can’t run outside or on a regular treadmill doesn’t mean you can’t work the exact same energy systems you’ll be utilizing during the race. Trust the science of physiology, elevate your heart rate on these machines, and at the worst you will lose a minimal amount of your aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Sometimes you can even improve your fitness through these other workout modalities.
You must find a cross-training tool that does not exacerbate your symptoms or cause new ones. This is especially true for swimming. Many runners who overdo it in the pool end up with rotator cuff inflammation.
When you implement a cross-training program to take the place of your running make sure to follow your run training schedule but instead of running, perform the cross-training workout for the same amount of time, intensity, and heart rate that you were supposed to do for your run. Don’t pay attention to the mileage displayed on the unit.
Use as many strategies as you can that will promote tissue repair
- DO include warm water epsom salt baths, hot packs (as directed by your rehab specialist), pain-free movement exercises, good sleep, and good nutrition.
- DO NOT aggressively stretch your muscles, overly ice the area (this can lead to local constriction of blood vessels, thus reducing the flow of blood that is necessary to heal the tissue), or aggressively foam roll or use The Stick. Runners who are dealing with an injury tend to stretch themselves too aggressively as a tactic to heal themselves faster. This may actually exacerbate the symptoms and delay the healing process.
When gently stretching do so in a pain-free range for 10-15 seconds. This will prevent your tissue from scarring down too much. If it reproduces your pain, don’t do it!
Following these tips is not guaranteed to get you ready in four weeks, but it may just give you a darn good fighting chance to toe that start line. We wish you the best of luck with remainder of your training.