Updated: October 21st, 2015
Seven Steps To A Good Running Injury Rehab Program

I often meet injured runners whose world has fallen apart since the doctor or physio has prescribed a lengthy period – four weeks for example – off running. What often seems to get lost in translation is that no running doesn’t have to mean no training.

Frequently, injured body parts need time off the loading associated with running to repair. So this non-running time is really important. But if you do nothing until you get the go ahead to run again, you’re only going to get weaker and lose significant fitness during this frustrating non-running period.

It’s all about the mindset of the injured runner. You can either see not running as a complete disaster and become demotivated, or you can see this time off running as an opportunity to work on your weaknesses. The time until you get the ‘green light’ to run again is perfect for you to get in the gym and develop your core and general strength, and use other forms of exercises diligently to maintain a certain level of fitness.

If one body part is injured – there are usually plenty of other body parts you can exercise to make sure that you come back to running as fit and strong as possible, when the time comes!

Seven Steps To Running Rehab

Physio Assessment and Key Exercises

It’s really important with any injury, to get it properly assessed by a qualified sports injury professional. A physiotherapist (or similar) will be able to identify the source of your pain and provide treatment, specific exercises to address the root causes, and if needs be can refer you onwards if you need further specialist medical treatment.

Your rehab exercises, set by the physio may include strengthening exercises, flexibility work, stability exercises and core strength drills. These will become the backbone of your rehab program as they are specifically prescribed to address your individual problems.

The following advice will help you make the most of this time off running, and get the most from your rehab exercises. The goal is to be as fit and strong as possible when you come back to running training.

Maintain Cardio Fitness

There are many ways you can substitute run training for another mode of training, in order to maintain a certain level of cardiovascular fitness. I often recommend athletes explore the following options: Cycling (indoor and out), Swimming, Ergometer (rowing machine), Cross Trainer, and Aqua Jogging.

All of these options provide enough versatility to train at various different heart rate zones, so as to maintain the efficiency of your various energy systems. They all lack the load bearing component of running – which is great for your injury. However, as I explain later in the article – it’s still important to (unless directed otherwise) maintain a certain level of general load bearing endurance or ‘time on your feet’.

Monitor Your Eating & Body Weight

Of course, when you’re running regularly, you need a certain level of energy intake to provide your body with the fuel to train. However, when we get injured, these calories aren’t burned off as easily. The last thing we need as runners is to gain 10lbs during our injured non-running period. Any weight gain will adversely affect your power:weight ratio. This will make running fundamentally harder on your whole body when the time comes to start run training again.

The good news is that working hard at your rehab means that you can maintain a healthy appetite without piling on the pounds!

Simply keep an eye on your body weight, and be mindful that even when working as hard as you can at your rehab, you probably won’t be burning as many calories as when running during a big training week!

Build General Leg Strength

Take advice from your physio as to any resistance exercises you should avoid, give your specific injury. With the answer to this in mind, you can start weight training to maintain and build general strength in the major muscle groups of your legs. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, adductors and calfs for example won’t be getting the regular running workout they are used to, so a major benefit of resistance training will be to maintain the condition of these key running muscle groups.

In addition, where as during heavy running training it is hard to fit hard resistance training workouts into your program, this time off running provides a great window to really get into resistance training and profit from the strength gains it provides.

Focus on light to moderate resistance, and moderate to high volume of repetitions to avoid ‘bulking up’ as you develop strength – a real concern for many distance runners.

Develop Local Muscle Endurance

This is tough, as it’s almost impossible to recreate the action of running – without running! Thus you’ll always be using slightly different muscles. However, you can potentially use a static bike or aqua jogger to perform high intensity interval training sessions.

Maintain General Endurance

In contrast to the point above, this is quite simple and versatile! The thing most runners are missing when they return to running is ‘time on the feet’. Again, take advice from your physio on how appropriate this is for your specific injury – but as soon as possible, start taking yourself out for long walks. While not the same as running, and not anywhere near as heavy loading for your injury, the time on your feet provided by a good long walk will serve you well when it comes to running again.

Set Small Achievable Goals

We are all motivated differently. However, I fond that a common factor amongst runners is the need to achieve ‘small victories’ on a regular basis to maintain motivation. This is never more true than during a period of prolonged injury! Set yourself weekly goals, achievable yet challenging.

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