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Whether you’re shuffling along on the local 5K circuit or you’re one of the few special athletes who have the Olympics in your sights, having to sit on the sidelines happens to every runner at some point.
Oftentimes, it starts as some moderate discomfort. Then, it persists. Soon enough, the prolonged pain turns into real injury.
All the hard work and effort falls by the wayside, and instead, you’re wiping crumbs off your face while soaking in more “Game of Thrones” episodes than you ever could’ve imagined.
But there’s no need to resign yourself to nestling into that comfy couch groove.
Instead, quality cross-training workouts in the pool, on the bike, and even stretching it out on a yoga mat can assure you’re not totally dying when you make that epic comeback. And if you’re not in a walking boot and feeling perfectly healthy, building in a day to cross-train every week can be the perfect complement to staying free of injury.
These four workouts from two expert coaches will help you stay fit when you’re not pounding the pavement.
1. Aqua Jogging and Lower-Body Strength Circuit
“When you’re replacing running with cross-training (either because you’re injured or to add extra volume without additional pounding), the goal should be to choose an exercise that is as similar to running as possible,” says Carl Leivers, a USA Track & Field Level 2 Endurance Coach. “Aqua jogging will closely mimic the demands of running and the fitness you gain here will carry over better to running because it does not have the same muscular demands as running. I like to work lower-body strength exercises into the workout as long as you can do them without aggravating your injury.”
10:00 aqua jogging warmup
10x lunge (out of the pool)
15x bodyweight squat (out of the pool)
2-3 sets of
— 10 minutes hard aqua jogging at 5K-10K effort
— 5:00 aqua jogging recovery
— 10x lunge (out of the pool)
— 15x bodyweight squat (out of the pool)
10:00 aqua jogging cooldown
2. Lap Swimming
“Swimming is my favorite supplemental cross-training. It keeps the blood flowing through all the muscles of the body without adding any additional impact,” says Leivers. “Because it differs so much from running, even though the blood is flowing through the same muscles, they are being used in different ways that makes it an ideal recovery cross-training workout the day after a hard workout or long run. You don’t need to do anything fancy with this workout, as 20-30 minutes of gentle lap swimming will do the trick.”
3. The 30-Minute Challenge
“I love this workout because it focuses on the areas that runners need to strengthen, especially the core,” says Debbie Woodruff, a running coach, personal trainer and fascia stretch therapist. “Many of the exercises are done unilaterally and help correct some of the imbalances that running creates.”
(Note: The following 8 exercises comprise one set. Rest for one minute after each set and aim to complete three sets.)
Squats: One minute
Single-Leg Deadlift: 45 seconds
Pushups: One minute
Side Lunge: 45 seconds on each side
Single-leg Squats: 45 seconds on each side
Plank: One minute
Side Plank: 30 seconds on each side
Bird Dog: 30 seconds on each side
4. Stretch It Out
Woodruff recommends incorporating the following three stretches into your training routine to help speed up the process of bouncing back from injury.
How to do it: “Stand, holding on to a chair or wall. Step back with your right leg, keeping your knee straight and your right heel pressed into the ground. Bend your left knee. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.”
Why it helps: “Tight calves can lead to injuries such as shin splints, ankle pain, and plantar fasciitis.”
Hip Flexor Stretch
How to do it: “Start from a kneeling position. Step forward with your right leg, so that your knee is bent to about 90 degrees. Placing your hands on your right thigh, press forward over the right leg, pushing your hips forward slightly. You should feel the stretch at the top of your left thigh. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.”
Why it helps: “Many runners have tight hip flexors, caused by the small repetitive motion of running, and aggravated by weak glute muscles. Glute strengthening exercises are important too, as tight hip flexors lead to poor posture, and potentially hip and low back pain.”
IT Band Stretch
How to do it: “Take a strap in your left hand and put your right arm out to the side (T-position). Keeping your knee straight, and your right hip pressed firmly into the ground, slowly lower the leg to the left. Keep your right hip pressed into the ground, otherwise, this stretch will not be as effective. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat the sequence on the left side.”
Why it helps: “The Iliotibial (IT) band starts at the hip and runs down the outside of your leg. If it is tight, it can begin to rub on the outside of your kneecap, potentially leading to pain in your knee.”