Getting injured is not fun. Any time we as runners must take off time because we are hurt is frustrating. Luckily, being injured doesn't have to stop us from achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. Before reading any further, it should be noted that when injured each runner should contact a doctor or physical therapist before pursuing any cross-training regimen. Only once you are cleared to cross-train should you begin seeking a training plan.
There are many forms of cross training activities for injured runners: biking, swimming and using the elliptical are three of the most common. Perhaps the most effective cross-training for distance runners is often over-looked, though. This activity is known as aqua jogging. The reason aqua jogging is so effective for runners specifically is because in addition to being an excellent form of cardio training, it closely mimics the action of running, thus activating many of the muscles you use when running on dry land.
Another advantage of aqua jogging is that while other cross-training activities can be limited based on your injury, aqua jogging can be used almost universally because it is a zero-impact activity. This means you are never subjecting the injured area to any force. The only injuries that can sometimes be exacerbated by aqua jogging are hip injuries, so if you have a hip injury make sure to test the hip out before beginning rigorous aqua jogging. If it hurts the hip at all, stop aqua jogging immediately.
Now you may be wondering, "What exactly is aqua jogging?" In fairness, the term is a bit ambiguous. Aqua jogging is NOT, as many people believe, running in the shallow end of a pool. Instead, you begin by heading to the deep end of any pool where your feet cannot touch the ground. From there, you will basically start going through very similar motions to running on land. You will move your legs and swing your arms as if you were running with the goal of keeping your head above water.
When you first begin aqua jogging, you may want to use a pool running belt as a flotation device. This tool can help you learn proper pool running form. Once you begin to understand how to aqua jog properly, though, you do not need any flotation device (in fact, using one can be a hindrance to exercise because it makes the activity easier). The key to proper aqua jogging form is making sure to keep your body straight upright rather than leaning forward. One tip to help you achieve this form is to lift your knees a bit higher than you normally would when running on land.
There is one huge advantage aqua jogging has over normal running and that is that you can aqua jog as long as you want without risking injury. That often means you can actually get a better workout in the pool than you can on land. Admittedly, though, aqua jogging can get boring fast, so breaking up workouts into hard sections and easy sections is a great way to make the time go faster and to increase effort. I recommend creating fartlek-style workouts. One example of a pool running workout is as follows:
15 minute warm up
1 min hard -1 min easy - 2 mins hard - 2 mins easy - 3 mins hard - 3 mins easy - 4 mins hard - 4 mins easy - 5 mins hard - 5 mins easy - 4 mins hard - 4 mins easy - 3 mins hard - 3 mins easy - 2 mins hard - 2 mins easy - 1 min hard - 1 min easy
10 min cool down
Total- 75 minutes
If that workout seems too ambitious you can always shorten the ladder! Remember that even though injuries can be frustrating, they do not have to mean you fall short of your goals as a runner. Staying motivated during periods of injury can be very challenging, but if you can maintain a cross-training plan while injured once you are healthy you will be running just as fast (or faster) than before the injury!