Down, But Not Out
Training for a road race or marathon can be challenging for the injured runner both mentally and physically. Mentally, “thought viruses” such as “I need to keep training as scheduled in order to run well,” or “I need to train even harder now to make up for lost time,” will likely result in continued or worsening injury, ultimately preventing you from taking part in race day/night festivities. While it is true that in order to be good at running you have to run, everybody’s bodily tissues (tendons, ligaments, muscles) have a different tolerance to stress and a different point at which they begin to fail. Runners with an injury history have likely come to respect this and adjust their training accordingly.
Cross-training is an excellent way to maintain fitness while injured and can actually assist in the healing of whatever injury you may have. In its most basic terms, cross-training is an alternative method of training that is different from your desired mode of exercise- something that helps your running but isn’t running. There are several modes of cross-training and several ways to incorporate cross-training into your overall race preparation. Below are some general guidelines:
Types of Cross-Training:
1. Aqua Jogging or Pool Running- Aqua jogging involves wearing a flotation device in the form of a belt around your waist while mimicking the running motion in water. Your entire body, aside from your head will be submerged. The main benefit of aqua jogging is that it is the most running specific mode of cross-training. The running motion and coordination demands are almost identical, keeping your nervous system up to speed for when you get back on land. Aqua jogging also provides some resistance in the way of water so your arms will get a good workout too. One thing to note, however, is that it’s more difficult to raise your heart rate while aqua jogging compared to running.
2. Elliptical Training- The elliptical machine can be somewhat awkward for runners as it limits your stride length quite a bit, but it is effective for raising your heart rate, respiratory rate, and fatiguing both your arms and legs. It is also a weight bearing mode of exercise, but without the impact experienced while running.
3. Stationary Bike- The stationary bike is the least specific to running but can certainly keep your cardiovascular system working in addition to fatiguing your muscles.
Weight training can also be effective if done correctly. At least initially you should avoid directly stressing the injured tissue. As a general rule, if it hurts you to do either during or within 24 hours after it may too early for that particular exercise.
Cross-Training and the Injury Phase:
1. Acute Injury Phase- While your injury is still new and easily provoked; cross-training should be your primary means of exercise. This break from running will allow you to recover from your injury while maintaining fitness. You should be able to stress your cardiovascular system as much as you would while running but being sure to reduce stressors on your musculoskeletal system.
2. Sub-Acute Phase- As time passes, if you are doing a good job of taking care of your injury that is, you will begin to feel less pain and will be able to tolerate a little more stress. At this point it is not wise to abandon cross-training all together, rather you should supplement your running with cross-training. Odds are your body will not be able to tolerate the volume of running you would normally do, as your body is still vulnerable. Running for 30 minutes then aqua jogging for 45 minutes to an hour afterwards is a good way to increase your volume while still respecting the injury phase you are in.
3. Return to Running- At this point you have taken time off, cross-trained, and done some running and you are (hopefully) feeling well enough to resume normal training. Be aware of how your body feels and adjust your training accordingly. Slowly ramp up your “land miles” to avoid re-injury. Days off might still be a good idea and cross-training remains an option, even though running is again your primary mode of exercise.
Psychologically, it may be a good idea to re-evaluate your goals depending on how impactful your injury is. If you set realistic, attainable goals you should be able to achieve them on race day enhancing your experience and improving your morale. The most important thing is to make it to the starting line and have faith in your training. Please feel free to contact your ProEx Sports Medicine Specialist (www.PROexPT.com) if you need assistance with managing an injury.