What If You Can’t Run?
Most of the information on this website is running-centric: what runners do, what we eat, where we go, the gear we use, etc. But what if something happens in our lives that prevent us from running? If you’ve ever had an injury, or are over the age of 18, chances are good the fear of not being able to run has crossed your mind at least once. Like a lot of sports, running isn’t just an exercise. For many people, it’s a lifestyle and a large part of their identity. Running not only helps keep you in shape, it improves your cognitive abilities (you’ve probably experienced that “mental clarity” after a long run), lengthens your life, burns unhealthy fat, provides you with a way to relieve stress, connects you with a community (think marathons, events, your running partner or friends), gives you those feel-good natural endorphins and the list goes on and on.
Of course, it depends on your situation. You may have a common overuse injury and just need to take a break. Many of the common overuse injuries are easy to treat, in that the main “treatment” you need is to just stop running for a while. Easier said than done, though. It can be tempting to cut your break short, but you really will only be cheating yourself. If you don’t properly rest an overuse injury, it could easily lead to a more serious injury and even more time off the track.
Unfortunately, there are of course more serious situations. You may have a more serious injury that will keep you off the track for a few months at least. You may be involved in an accident where you have to relearn movements in physical therapy that can take up to a year. Or, you may have permanently been injured to the point of no return. What to do with all your newfound time and pent-up energy?! It can be frustrating, to say the least. Studies have even shown that some runners can experience depression.
Just remember, it’s very important to discuss cross-training alternatives with your doctor, physical therapist or health professional to make sure you won’t be aggravating or worsening your specific injury or illness. Here are some low-impact options to running during these weeks or months while you give your body and joints a much-needed rest.
This is a no-brainer alternative to running when you need to lessen the impact on your body. It can be difficult for some people to slow down and walk after being accustomed to running, but if you set a brisk pace and a long path you will find that it checks some of the same boxes as running. Best of all, the impact is very low.
A step up from walking, hiking is a great cross-training exercise if your injury will allow for it. With the option of many different gradients and terrains, not to mention beautiful scenery, this is an all-around winner. You will still get your cardio if you throw in a few hills, you will improve your proprioception, and you’ll get the added benefit of restored focus noted in the Attention Restoration Theory. Be sure to invest in some solid hiking boots with good tread and ankle support to prevent further injury.
Pool Running or Aqua Jogging.
Some experts say that pool running is one of the best ways to maintain your fitness as a runner while resting your injury. You tread water or “jog” at the deep end of the pool, and the water provides a gentle resistance. It’s very low impact, as your feet don’t actually touch the bottom of the pool. If you’re a beginner, it can be helpful to use a weighted “aqua jogging” belt to get your form down. One of the best benefits of aqua jogging is that as a cross-training exercise, it’s one of the closest workouts to actual running – so even though it’s almost zero impact, you’re still working out the same muscles. A few might find this exercise is not for them, for example, people who have issues with their hips or hip flexor muscles.
Stand Up Paddleboarding.
Stand up paddle boarding provides a gentle, zero impact exercise along with excellent core strengthening benefits. This mild exercise will help improve your balance and strength, which is why many athletes, runners, and people with pain or injury have turned to this sport during rehabilitation. While the odds are low, the greatest incidence of injury on a paddleboard is being hit with your own board – so be careful getting in and out of the water, and stay out of the water when the waves are bigger.
There are many other great options for low impact cross training, so don’t lose hope if the above doesn’t work for you. Other gentler exercises that may be easier on your body than running are using the elliptical machine, riding a bicycle (oftentimes it’s better to do this in the gym unless you are an experienced cyclist), swimming, rowing, and more. These exercises may not be running, but the most important thing is that you are working towards being as pain-free as possible while keeping your fitness level and state of mind at a happy place for you.