Exercising With a Running Injury
Running injuries can be a big setback but with proper precautions you can stay active during a running injury.
I can't give specific recommendations for the countless types of injuries that may occur but I'll give you some general recommendations on how to modify your running training schedule.
1. Modify Your Activities
Check with your doctor to determine what activities are safe to do with your condition and if you can continue to run. In many cases complete rest is not the best option. But you do want to be smart and not aggravate your injury further. The goal is to promote healing and to continue to work on areas of the body that are still healthy.
You may have to cut back on your running volume or any intense running such as threshold pace runs or speed work. Or you may have to stop running altogether. In that case you may have to increase other aerobic cross training such as biking or swimming to keep your aerobic conditioning from dropping.
Some sort of strength training can almost always be done when you have a running injury. Even if you only exercise one leg while the other is injured you can still develop some strength in the injured limb. The cross-over effect that can occur is pretty amazing. Obviously you need to take care that you don't do any risky lifts or put yourself into unsafe positions. But if at all possible include some sort of strength training and core stabilization work into your recovery routine.
Likewise, flexibility work can usually also be maintained to keep joints and muscles supple. Injuries can often increase tightness in specific areas. Find out what the most appropriate stretches are for your condition and do them frequently. I'd rather see an injured runner do 10 minutes of stretching seven days a week than a 60 minute stretching routine once per week.
The trickiest part will be the aerobic cross training. Do what you can but watch that you don't overdo this while you're injured since many forms of aerobic training involves repetitive motion and strain on the body. If you haven't been doing other forms of aerobic cross training build up the volume gradually. The last thing you need is to develop another overuse injury by doing too much biking or swimming if you're not used to it.
2. Get Quality Sleep
Make sure you're getting enough sleep. This is crucial for recovery as many repair processes in the body take place while we're sleeping. Aim to get a solid 7 - 8 hours of sleep every night and don't allow yourself to get run down. Remember the goal during injury recovery is to have enough energy available to repair the damage.
Inadequate sleep decreases levels of anabolic hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone among others. These types of hormones along with the body's repair mechanisms work together to heal your running injury.
Having enough sleep will also do a lot to elevate your mood. There's nothing like sleep deprivation to keep your spirits down. Being injured is bad enough. Being injured and sleep deprived takes it to another level.
If possible, try to get a nap during the day as well. I don't mean a long, deep sleep just a short 10 - 20 minute cat nap. If you can find the time and train yourself to do this you'll be amazed at how refreshed you can feel afterwards.
3. Manage Your Stress
Being injured can be mentally stressful and working out can help ease that pressure. But remember that working out is itself a stress on the body. The trick is to do enough to encourage growth but not too much.
So any strength training, flexibility work and any aerobic cross training you can do into your schedule will help keep your spirits up. Feeling down when injured is a normal reaction especially if you're a long time runner. By doing safe exercise you give yourself a sense of control so that you don't feel helpless to circumstance.
If your overall stress from all sources (including work, personal issues and training) becomes too great you will hamper the recovery process. Try not to take on too many new responsibilities in work or personal life when you're recovering. You need a certain amount of stress to grow and thrive. But the injury itself is another stressor to keep in mind when looking at how much stress you have going on. As I mentioned recovery is an energy balance equation. You need to manage your energy so not only can you meet all your regular requirements but you have enough to keep the repair and recovery process going.
4. Eat Well
Supply your body with the nutrients it needs to heal by eating well. This will give your tissue the raw materials for repair and also help you maintain a good weight. Filling up with junkfood while injured will prolong your recovery time and make you feel worse.
Include a variety of vegetables and fruits along with lean sources of protein and healthy fats. Cut back on the simple sugars during recovery. Stay well hydrated. Some supplements that may help are protein powders and Omega 3 essential fatty acids (such as fish oil) or other healthy fat supplements (such as Udo's Oil). But don't expect immediate pain relief or other such dramatic results.
An Example of What Can Be Done While Injured
I sponsor one of Canada's top ultra-runners, Gary Robbins. In late 2010, Gary broke his right foot while trail running requiring his foot to be placed in a cast for 3 months. Obviously he couldn't run during this period and had to modify his training schedule.
His running specific fitness decreased however that didn't mean he couldn't maintain his fitness in other areas. Watch the following video which demonstrates a typical strength training workout during his recovery process.
Many of the exercises he was doing were quite advanced. I structured the program to build strength and mobility in his uninjured leg. There would actually be some cross-over benefits to his injured side by doing this. The program also required a lot of core stabilization so he maintained good function in his core.
If you do get injured take all the necessary steps you need in order to maintain your fitness while still encouraging healing to take place. As I stated complete rest is rarely the best solution. Modify your training and you'll be back to your running in short order.