Running Injuries: Recovery via Cross Training

In my last post, I talked about dealing with the setback and how we can choose to either let the injury rule our athletic beings or how we can adapt and continue to exercise and recover through cross training.

Although I never really embraced this before my last injury, I really wish I had – the effectiveness of cross training on your mind & body for recovery and coming back without having lost much fitness (or in my case – coming back stronger and faster!) is unbelievable.  Last post I focused a lot on the mental side of accepting with and dealing with the injury, so this is more about the physical aspects of recovery.

In late September when I partially tore my plantar fascia tendon in my left foot, I thought I was done for.  I couldn’t walk (so I clearly couldn’t run) and I wasn’t allowed to spin for at least a week or two.  I had just started CrossFit in early August, and figured that would be out as well – since the large majority of the exercises require you to be on your feet.

Well, I was wrong.  First I went to my teammates – specifically one who was recovering from a calf injury and another who was recovering from a broken foot, and both had been/were still unable to run.  They introduced me to the art of aquajogging.  Yes, aquajogging.

You look goofy, and it can be boring (I caught up on SO many NPR podcasts during my hours in the pool), but my-oh-my, aquajogging is not just for little old ladies doing their water aerobics!  It is actually an extremely effective form of cross training, and it helps you maintain your running fitness while not having to put pressure on your feet/legs.  In fact, one of my teammates and I regularly met in the pool, and would do workouts.  And my legs always felt tired later in the day (almost as if I had been running earlier!), and I was almost always out of breath at the end of a workout!  For some great workout options check out a post from Eat, Run, Read.

The Spin Bike: where I spent most of my mornings

Once I was able to (after my second week) I also started incorporating lots of spinning – either on my own or in a class.  On my own, I’d use it as a “warmup” before a hard aquajogging session, but classes always handed it to me – I have still never left a class not soaked in sweat.  The other great thing about spinning on your own, is that it allows you to do one-legged spinning, to help ensure that one side of your body (the uninjured side) doesn’t get stronger than the injured side.  I would spend about 3-4 days a week doing 1-legged cycling, doing 3-4 minutes on my injured side, and 2-3 minutes on my healthy side, to ensure that I kept my strength even throughout.The last thing I did when I got injured was go into my CrossFit box, expecting to have to quit for two months.  I hobbled in there on crutches, and the minute I started explaining how I needed to quit, my coach stopped me, sat me down, and proceeded to write down 20+ exercises he could have me doing that would not involve me putting any pressure on my foot.  I was flabbergasted, blown away that he would do that, and decided right then and there to not give it up.  I continued to strengthen my arms, back and abs, concentrating on what I could do – not on what I couldn’t, and showed up to CrossFit 3-4 days a week for strength training.

My CrossFit Box

Fast forward to two months – about two weeks before Thanksgiving.  I was finally given the “okay” to run.  I was elated.  My doctor cleared me, and even said my foot was healthier than it probably had been pre-injury – there was no scar tissue.  My CrossFit coaches checked out my stance and muscle engagement before I was okayed to start doing the Olympic lifts again, and my coach exclaimed “your calves and quads are the same size – how did you not lose any muscle in your left leg?!”

My answer?  I hadn’t stopped moving.  I had been aquajogging, spinning, eventually added in some elliptical (but not a lot), and by doing CrossFit (any kind of strength training would do) about 6 days/week.

And it showed when I started running too.  I ran 1.5 miles, pain free.  Two days later I ran another mile.  Two days later I ran 3 outside with fellow SFM Ambassador Meg.  And less than two weeks after starting to run again, I PRed at the 5k at my annual Turkey Trot!  I was flabbergasted (and elated).

Elated after getting my PR and nagging 6th female OA & 3rd in AG

I can’t promise you’ll have the same results as I did, but what I can say is this: you will be much closer to where you were at BEFORE injury by keeping up the fitness through Cross Training.  I can’t emphasize enough what Cross Training does for your body/strength to ensure you’re ready to return and jump right back in to running when the time is right.  Don’t believe me?  Try a little bit of it while you’re still healthy, you will start seeing the benefits in just a few short weeks.

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