Sometimes bad luck and injury strikes and we need to consider alternative modes of exercise for maintaining fitness and/or rehabilitation. For die-hard runners who’ve never stepped inside a gym, ridden a bike or dipped a toe in the water of their local pool, these can be challenging and upsetting times. The key to punching on through is attitude: rather than seeing your injury as a soul destroying setback, take the opportunity to future-proof your body and give yourself some options to provide more balance in your exercise regime. My personal experience, and that of many runners, is that injuries often result because there’s not enough variation when it comes to getting daily exercise.
Finding an optimal balance between running and cross-training is a real challenge because the balance will be different for each runner. Setting aside issues of fitness and technical ability, it’s a good idea for all runners to incorporate alternative forms of exercise into their weekly or fortnightly exercise plan. Even resilient runners who step out seven days a week might find they enjoy the experience more with some freshness in the legs and mental hunger restored to attack their next running session with renewed vigour.
During one of my most successful running campaigns I had access to a gym and swimming pool a few steps away from my working environment. This was a real bonus as it allowed me to factor in several swims and gym sessions per week to supplement and even replace running sessions as needed. The average balance during this period was four to five runs, three short 500m swims and three or four moderate intensity gym sessions. The gym and swimming sessions weren’t necessarily taxing and provided a great mental break from running. They also helped speed up recovery and keep the legs fresh and well-tuned for running.
I think many runners underestimate the regenerative powers of strength-based exercise. Combined with a modest amount of swimming, the mix provides a great supplement to strength and fitness.
If you are already injured it’s important to get the injury assessed by a professional – they’ll ascertain which forms of exercise are possible and appropriate to help your recovery. You might be surprised just how much you can do, especially around niggly soft-tissue type injuries. If you have a bone injury you’re likely to be more restricted and will need to be much more cautious. So what types of exercise can you do?
If you have access to a well-equipped gym you will have weight-training equipment on hand. An injury can be a great prompt to get started with a general strength-training program. Being a runner you’re likely to be a cardio junkie so also make use of the rowing machine, elliptical strider, stepper and bikes to get your fix. Just as you can do interval training on runs, you can adopt similar training on these pieces of equipment. This will keep things more interesting and help maintain your top-end fitness.
Many runners now like to use water running and anti-gravity treadmills when injured or to supplement their dry-land training. I’m not in favour of this as you’re not really giving your body an adequate break from running-like activity and you’re denying yourself the chance to freshen up physically and mentally with some different forms of movement and training.
If you want to feel the sting from a hard cardio effort, enrol in a spin class. If you can swim well, consider some harder swimming sessions. I personally enjoy light swimming sessions used as recovery. You can change stroke often and use it as a relaxation and breathing session. Once you’re back on track don’t throw out the cross-training: keep it going for the long term as a critical part of your running program.