How do you keep things ticking over when you’ve picked up a strain or a knock?  Andrew McDonagh looks at a few different ways of cross training to keep you sane and fit…

According to a RunnersWorld survey 66% of runners had an injury of one kind or another in 2009.  Stop and think about that for a second.  Standing on the line at your next race there will be a runner either side of you – by the law of averages two out of the three of you will have an injury before the next running of that race…

Well I never would have guessed...!

Now there are lots of ways of avoiding injuries – I’ll tackle that one another time – but let’s assume that the worst has happened, you’re injured and cannot run.  Great!  You get to sit with your (poor, damaged) feet up on the sofa while you eat ice cream and watch soap operas.  Well you could – but when you go back running again you’ll pay!

It’s much better to try and maintain some fitness while still resting the injury and that is nowhere near as hard as you might think – here are three ways of maintaining your fitness that will minimise the damage done by that lay off while still giving you maximum recuperation.

1 – Aqua Jogging

Ok, this one ranks high on the list of “embarrassing things runners sometimes have to do”.  The basic idea is to strap on a flotation device that will keep you upright in the water, jump in the deep end (literally!) and run.

Now there is no easy way of saying this.  You will look pretty stupid panting slowly up and down lengths while swimmers glide effortlessly past.  However there is no other recovery method that will mimic the running action as well, it works exactly the same muscle groups but without the impact of true running.  One of the advantages of aqua jogging is that the additional resistance of water will give you a more intensive workout in a shorter timeframe.  Because of this though Aqua Jogging is not suitable for all kinds of rehabilitation – muscular injuries obviously need rest and aqua jogging is more suited to injuries where weight cannot be borne.

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2 – Cycling or swimming

The old reliable standbys.  Again the assumption here is that you are dealing with a joint injury rather than a muscle strain and so need to workout in a manner that will minimise the impact.

Cycling is excellent cross-training for running.  You can still get outside and get your fix of fresh air, you can still mix up the intensities, add in hills or – if you are a social runner – then take a spin class.  It is good cardio workout but generally you will need to cycle for longer to get the same aerobic benefits (check out this site for a good calculator).

Now if you are injured then you need to be smarter about your cross-training than just going out and hammering the pedals.  Keep the resistance low and the cadence below 90 per minute and you should be able to maintain a healthy level of cardio fitness.

Swimming lacks the outdoorsy element of cycling and you’ll need access to a gym or public pool which can mean fitting around someone else’s schedule but it again gives you a total all over workout with minimal impact or joint strain which makes it ideal rehab from impact or overuse injuries.  It is though a very different workout that uses muscles in a different manner to running and so is probably the least effective cross training so far.  But it is a whole lot better than sitting at home…

Of course the biggest danger of cycling and swimming as cross training during rehab is that it could act as a gateway to the evil world of triathlon.  But be strong, resist the temptation and return to the purity of the one sport!

3 – Gym and core work

So far we have looked at cross-training that you can do if you have working muscles and just need to keep the weight off.  But what if the joints are fine but the muscles are weak – what if you have a calf strain or hamstring pull?

Well you may well still be able to do cardio work at a lower intensity or suited to the strain – ellipticals, for example.  But a single muscle out of action doesn’t have to mean that you can let all your hard won gains wither away.  You can use the enforced lay off as an opportunity to build core strength – not only will this bring you benefits when you are back running again but improved strength will help you avoid injury in the future.  And if you are a member of a gym (or running club with qualified coaches) talk to them about what strengthening exercises you can do that will not involve your injured muscle.

So there you have it – a few ways of maintaining strength and fitness no matter what the stress or strain you’ve done to yourself this time!

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