How to keep training when injury stops you running

As a runner, there is nothing more frustrating than when you can’t run.

Don't despair.

There are ways that you can keep training and maintain your fitness when an injury stops you from running. You can even build strength and mental stamina that will make you a better runner than before!

Over the course of my running career, there have been many times when an injury has kept me from running.

I have been running competitively for 40 years, and working as a physiotherapist in sports clinics for over 25 years. During this time, I have had seven ankle fractures; two ankle operations; two knee arthroscopies, and a ruptured calf muscle – just to name a few. So I understand how devastating it is when an injury stops you from running.

My experience of having sustained these injuries, combined with the knowledge learned working as a physiotherapist, has helped me to develop practical and reliable treatment and rehabilitation plans that help runners maintain their fitness when they can't train, and also a plan that helps you to return to running as soon as possible.

I have included exercises and techniques in this free 4 week cross training guide for injured runners. that will help you maintain your fitness and develop strength and mobility that will help you return to running faster.

Proactive rehab is often better than complete rest

While some medical practitioners will tell runners to rest for 6-weeks and take anti-inflammatory medication, my aim as a running physio is to do everything possible to help runners keep training whilst they establish the root cause of their injury and start a proactive rehabilitation program.

In some cases, an injury will be bad enough to require a period of rest from running.

Even if that is the case, there will be a number of training options that are possible that help to mimic running, strengthen the relevant muscles, and help to speed up your recovery.

Not all of these activities are suitable or available to everyone, but I recommend you try as many of them as you can so that you can find something that helps you maintain your hard-earned fitness and your sanity!

Ideas on how to keep training when injury stops you from running.

1. Pool Running

Also known as aqua jogging, this is one of the most accessible and effective cross-training methods for runners sidelined by injury. This low-impact yet high-resistance exercise is an excellent way to engage the same group of muscles used when running. It is harder to keep the same posture and maintain the same cadence (steps per minute) when pool running, but because it closely mimics the movement pattern of running, it provides a great cardio workout and helps maintain most of your running-specific muscles.

I recommend you use a flotation belt for pool running as this will help to keep you  high enough in the water. Ideally you should be in the deep end of a pool where you can't touch the bottom.

Pool running can also be an excellent addition to an overall training plan, whether you're injured or not, as it reduces the impact on your joints and allows additional training with minimal risk.

2. AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill

This futuristic treadmill has revolutionised running rehabilitation in recent years. It works by partially suspending you off the running belt, which allows you to run at a lower effective body weight.  The AlterG is actually running, so technically  speaking it isn't cross-training, but by reducing your body weight it takes a lot of stress off any injured muscles, tendons or bones allowing you to return to training much sooner than usual.  A session on the AlterG isn't cheap though, with the average price of using one being around $1 per minute.

3. Stair Walking

Depending on your injury, a great way to build strength and rehabilitate your body back from injury, without the impact forces of running, is stair walking. The stair walking motion strengthens your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, and it gives your heart and lungs an excellent workout.

Stair walking will help to provide some of the endorphins and mental satisfaction you would normally get from a run, making it an excellent option for your mental health.



4. Walk/Run Intervals

If you are struggling to run for 20-30 minutes without experiencing pain or niggles, then a good alternative is to run for a minute, walk for a minute and repeat this quite a few times.  Regular walking breaks can make a huge difference as they let your muscles relax, and will often allow you to be out on your feet for a much greater overall time.

I recommend following this interval table to structure your return to runninghow to keep training when injured.

A walk/run approach will gently ease you back into running, while still giving you the mental satisfaction of getting outdoors and making progress with your recovery. this is a great way to keep your fitness when you can't do longer runs.

Ideally, you should combine this return to running with some strength, stability, and stretching. A good body maintenance routine will help you to build a stable core and muscle strength to avoid the injury recurring.

There is a range of specific exercises you can download depending on your injury in the 4 week Cross Training Program for Injured Runners.

5. Create a "Back Up" Option

You might not get the same satisfaction and "love" from a cross-training session as you do from running, but learning to love (or at least like) another sport can be beneficial.

Try integrating some cycling, swimming, or perhaps a gym class into your regular training routine so that you have something to fall back on if you have a niggle that is hampering your running.

Get more ideas in this guide.


6. Avoid High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

If you are returning from injury you should avoid high-intensity interval training.

There are plenty of activities you can do to get your heart rate up, but the high-impact jumping, landing, and sprinting that is a feature of HIIT training is hard on your body and is, therefore, more likely to stir up any running-related niggles.

7. Daily Morning Stretching Ritual

As a general rule of thumb, runners have stiff and tight bodies compared to the general population.

Running is a very repetitive action through a fairly limited range of movement, and as a result, your lower backs, hips, knees, and ankles all become stiffer over time . . . . . unless you do something about it.

This is even more applicable when you are injured.

Depending on your injury, I recommend doing this 3 minute morning stretching ritual every day. In fact, I have most of my clients doing this routine regularly, as it is so effective.

8. Monitor your pain

When returning to running following an injury, the best guideline to keep you from going backward in your recovery is pain.

Returning to running following an injury doesn’t need to be completely pain-free, but it shouldn’t make an injury feel worse or create any new niggles. The last thing you want to do is stir up your pain by over-training too early.

When you start back running, closely monitor your pain level. If it is slight and doesn’t feel worse the day after a run, then you should be safe to gradually increase your training – but take it slowly.

Stop injuries before they happen

If you have suffered a running-related injury, you need to see a health care professional who can help you establish the root cause of your problem rather than just treat the symptoms.

Choose a healthcare practitioner who is actually a runner, as they will have a much better understanding of the loads and stresses involved.

The single biggest factor that causes injuries in runners is doing too much too soon. The second biggest factor is your biomechanics (running technique). If you improve your running technique, you are therefore less likely to get injured.


Our Free 4 Week Cross-Training Program is a great way to maintain your fitness and build strength while you can't run.

In This Guide, You Will Learn...

  • Specific training options best suited to your injury
  • Guidance on the right amount of cross-training
  • Foam Rolling and Core Strength exercises
  • How and when to reintroduce running safely

    Learn how to maintain your strength and fitness so you can return to running, sooner, safer.

    Download the free plan now