Caitlin Chock—Cross-training is the immediate prescription when a runner winds up injured, but there’s more to it than a bunch of hours logged doing steady cardio. A mistake many rehabbing runners make is overlooking the fact that just because they’re not running doesn’t mean they can’t do modifications of their usual workouts.
The aim is to maintain as much of that “sharpness” and power for when you are able to return to regular training. But first, it’s important to know exactly what’s going on injury-wise.
“A general ‘keep it easy for a few days’ is a surefire way to allow those antecedents to injury to remain hidden and ready to strike again,” said Lance Walker, the director of performance for Michael Johnson Performance labs. “A basic movement screen can be the first step in identifying these areas.”
Sourcing the root cause of the problem is the only way to correct that injury long term.
“Corrective exercises aimed at restoring symmetry and base functional movement patterns can be used to specifically target joint systems where antecedents to injury can be sourced,” Walker said.
Once the injury is pinpointed, you’ve got a timeframe to work with. The shorter your time out due to injury is, the more aggressive you can be with cross-training and structuring your hard workouts. The longer that window, the more long-term focused you have be; keeping up that intensity would be too physically and mentally taxing for 4-6 months.
So what are some good cross-training exercises?
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“Pool running is my favorite form of aerobic cross-training for injured runners because there’s virtually no risk of injury and it’s very specific to running itself,” said Jason Fitzgerald, a 2:39-marathoner, coach, and author. Instead of sticking to steady-state “running,” Fitzgerald takes those same hard workouts and swaps the distance repeats for time. “The best way to structure your cross-training is to mimic exactly what you would do in your regular training.”
Structuring Your Schedule
Michael Johnson Performance recommends using a 10-day micro-cycle for training. This allows adequate room for short-speed focused days, speed-endurance system work, tempo endurance workouts, strength training, and corrective rehab, along with the necessary recovery days.
Day 1: Hard Intensity/Low-Volume Day (speed work, power, and strength training)
Day 2: Tempo Day (extensive tempo, core work, pool recovery flush)
Day 3: Regen Day (Pilates, floor prehab/correctives)
Day 4: Moderate Intensity/Moderate Volume Day (speed-endurance work/lactic system work, power, strength training)
Day 5: Tempo Day (extensive tempo, core work, pool recovery flush)
Day 6: Regen Day (Pilates, floor prehab/correctives)
Day 7: Rest Day
Day 8: Moderate Intensity/High Volume Day (VO2 training, strength training)
Day 9: Tempo Day (extensive tempo, core work, pool recovery flush
Day 10: Rest Day
Strength And Prehab
Walker said that one of the most common mistakes he sees is runners not having built up a strong enough power-speed component prior to their injury. They then get overzealous with the weight work as their focus shifts from true running sessions.
“In many cases these athletes didn’t have a base level of power and speed to work from, and therefore unrealistically embark on speed and power training too early in the healing process,” Walker said.
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While healing, you certainly don’t want to wind up with another subsequent injury. Walker said gains in power from strength training are more than possible, but that runners need to be patient and lay the groundwork first.
“Basic movement precedes higher level function, so focus on cleaning up things like bodyweight lunges, squats, and stepping before adding external loads or amplifying speed of movement,” Walker said. “By cleaning up these basics, your chances for enhanced speed and power gains improve in subsequent training blocks.”
Finally, maintaining flexibility and dedication to those “corrective exercises” is just as important as the other workouts. These will pay off dividends in avoiding injuries, potentially the same ones, in the future.
There are a variety of cross-training options, some better suited to specific workouts. The previously mentioned aqua-jogging is excellent, as it’s about as close to running as many can get (the anti-gravity treadmill is an exception). For easy days and longer workouts, going for effort in the pool, on the elliptical, or on the bike is pretty straightforward.
Though for some of those more power-speed centered workouts, moving to a machine that allows you to adjust the tension setting is a good idea. Walker is a fan of distance runners implementing sprints as short as 20 meters into their regular training, as this improves their base speed and translates upward as they move to their 800, mile, and longer repeats. Apply this same logic to your cross-training: think 30 seconds at nearly all-out intensity with adequate recovery, as that would parallel the shorter sprint work. By cranking the resistance up you’d also be able to mimic hill blasts.
Sample Cross-Training Workout From Jason Fitzgerald
Mixed Tempo Day:
- 15 minute warm-up
- 15 minute tempo effort
- 1 minute recovery
- 5×3 minutes at 10k effort with 1 minute recovery between
- 10 minute cool-down
By the time you get over your injury and are able to return back to regular training, you want to be able to hit the ground with as much power as possible. These workouts will help because, as we know, speed comes from power and strength.
About The Author:
Caitlin Chock set the then national high school 5K record of 15:52.88 in 2004. Now a freelance writer and artist she writes about all things running and designs her own line of running shirts. You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.