Cross Training With a Running Injury

a bicycle wheelInjury got you down? Maybe it’s tendonitis, a sprain, a stress fracture or one of the Million Different Ways Your Knee Can Turn Into a Knob of Hot Fire-y Pain … whatever is ailing you, every injury sucks. The PT has prescribed time off. You’re completely justified in using that time to just not run, if you’re into that, but, like … who’s into that?

A serious study of anecdotal evidence (sponsored by the SaltyValu corp) shows that almost no runner wants to take time off, which we have unscientifically extrapolated to mean that you’ll probably be cross training if you’re injured, and that you might be cross training even if you’re not injured. Believe it or not there are many ways to exercise without running and some of them are actually fun!

Exhibit A:

A woman in a sport bra smiles while handling tiny dumbells
Tiny pink dumbells in your underwear is like the MOST FUN, amirite gal pals?? Let’s go have a powderpuff pillowfight next!

Okay but really, I don’t mean it’s fun to cross train in that stock photo, depressingly persistent and overwhelmingly male-driven ideas about women and athleticism kind of way, I mean it can actually be fun.

Please note that depending on your specific injury you may or may not be able to safely do all of these activities, so I recommend checking with your doctor or physical therapist and paying attention to how your body feels!

There are several things to consider when choosing which activities to try in your time without running. You might want to do some sort of aerobic activity to maintain your endurance and cardiovascular fitness for when you are able to lace up again. Most of these activities may seem boring when compared to running outside and having scenery to look at and hills to tackle. But if you can stand to run back and forth in a pool or go round and round on the stationary bike, you’ll be thanking yourself later. Here are some ideas:

Cardio

Aqua Jogging – Disclaimer: I have not personally tried this. The pros do it (and so does the retiree fitness class at your local YMCA) so it must be good! You have to have access to a special belt to keep you afloat in the water and it looks quite boring, but it’s the next best thing to actual running, and you can even do workouts in the water! Check out the linked post for more info.

Swimming – if you like the idea of aqua jogging but would rather do something that better resembles an actual sport, this might be for you. I learned to swim in a PE class in college and it came in handy when I got lazy with my hip exercises and mysteriously developed runners’ knee the next semester. It’s fun (for some people), and if you live for competition, you can even race in swim meets to fill that hole in your heart that your goal marathon left when you couldn’t run it.

Bicycling – We all know that running is better than cycling, but with its competition opportunities and stationary options at the gym (spinning!), it’s definitely our sister sport. Not only are there competition opportunities, but biking outdoors can offer the same excitement as running outdoors, just with scenery that goes by even faster. Just make sure to follow the rules of the road, try to bike in safe areas with a designated bike lane, and WEAR YOUR HELMET. I once crashed my bike without a helmet… luckily, I didn’t hit my head too hard, but my last thought as I was flying over my handlebars was that I really wished I was wearing a helmet!

Dancing – this might not be as similar to running as the other three, but my heart definitely beats pretty hard each time I try Zumba. It’s fun, sometimes silly, and might give you a nice mental break from the drudge of repetitive endurance sports, if that’s what you need. Also a really great way to work out with friends who don’t like running! Here is some interesting info about how dance can improve your form.

Strength and Flexibility

Something else to consider while injured is working on the strength and flexibility that might help prevent future injuries and if you’re injured it can’t hurt to do the exercises your physical therapist prescribed. It really depends on your personal preference, what your imbalances are and obviously what your health care professionals recommend for you. But here are some general strength and flexibility ideas to explore:

Yoga! As if you didn’t know. It’s relaxing (therefore stress-reducing, therefore anti-inflammatory, therefore promoting healing), will help increase your flexibility and, depending on the type of yoga, can even help with core strength. It’s a departure from the competition of running, and many yoga classes are intentionally inclusive and welcoming to beginners, and folks with permanent or temporary disabilities (temporary like your stress fracture). Jasyoga has made yoga really appealing for runners with runner-tailored classes, or you can try a YouTube channel like Yoga with Adriene for

Pilates. This is my OG cross training activity of choice. In high school I thought I was invincible, PR’ing in every race and recovering quickly after every workout because I was young and hadn’t been hardened by the realities of adult life yet. Then my right achilles tendon decided it needed a little six month break. I found Pop Pilates, a youtube channel with Cassie Ho, the sweetest, most peppy instructor ever. I spent my time off from running strengthening my core and glutes and enjoying Cassie’s fun stories and pop music the whole time. The videos are great because you can watch them in the comfort of your own home! If you prefer in person instruction, mat pilates is a great way to get started, and you can find classes at gyms and studios in most communities.

Weight Training. Wanna get yuuuuuuuge? Or just a bit stronger? You might wanna try the weights! My gym offers a class called “BodyPump”, where you are guided through lifting exercises in a group fitness setting. And if you prefer something more personalized, you don’t have to break your bank to get the benefits of a personal trainer! Many gyms also offer one on one or group sessions with trainers, who can help you choose which exercises to use to achieve your goals and show you how to perform them safely and effectively. Afterward you can take what you learn and practice on your own.


The Missing Piece That You Probably Forgot

Hey! Don’t forget to consider what you need mentally. What does running DO for you?

Do you need alone time? Try swimming or bicycling, and you can tune in to your headphones and tune out of real life for a while.

If you miss all your running buddies, take a new class—you might even make some friends! Try dance, yoga or even acrobatics or goofy 80s style aerobics! Just make sure that you notify your instructor about your injury ahead of time.

If running is all about getting strong and building up your confidence and inner badass, take this time to work on building your skill and strength with aqua jogging, weight training or pilates.

For many of us, running fulfills more than one need so don’t be afraid to try a few different things, or a combination. Choose cross training options that make you feel good in body and in spirit!

Oh, and one more thing

Go easy on yourself when you’re trying new stuff! You don’t want to end up not being able to walk comfortably or perform your daily activities, or worse, re-injure yourself!


Before I wrap up, here’s a little reminder that it’s okay to give yourself some time off. Not only do you deserve it, but your body might need it. And hey, even Olympians take time off when they’re injured! If you’re on a forced running break, the extra time in your schedule can be a blessing, and you can use it however you like. Schedule something fun to do with friends or your family, pick up a new book, or work on other parts of yourself that wind up on the back burner when you’re up to your ears in marathon training. Remember, running is just a part of your life. It isn’t your whole life. You may not be able to run for a while, but your life will go on. And it might be a while, but most likely you will end up getting right back to where you were or even stronger.

I'm a 22 year old in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I work in insurance and enjoy cooking, reading, and calligraphy as well as running. My running goal right now is to adjust from running middle distance in college to longer distances as a graduate! I write about racing, inclusivity and mental health as they relate to running, and cookies.

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