Use a break from running to run stronger with these five smart strategies.
Whether you’re injured at the moment or just trying to stay indoors as much as you can, there’s plenty you can do to improve your running without pounding the pavements every day.
Running itself is of course the best way to improve your final discipline but it’s also a high-impact sport that can be damaging. You can produce a great triathlon performance from just a couple of runs a week, and if you’re sidelined through injury, or just want to complement your limited run workouts with less stressful strengthening strategies, there are plenty of ways you can condition your body to be better at running next season. All you need is a bit of equipment and plenty of patience.
Hit the pool
When you can’t run through injury or just want to limit run-inflicted damage, the best forms of training you can do to continue to see improvements are those that closely replicate the movement of running. In the gym, cross trainers are a reasonable substitute, but the best and cheapest solution is pool running. You’ll need a foam pool-running belt (around £15-20) and a deep swimming pool. The belt helps you float in the water as you perform a running action up and down the pool. Don’t expect to move fast, and be prepared for a few funny looks – but stick at it and you’ll be in good company, with many elite runners and triathletes using this method to train during injury rehab. Think of it as a DIY anti-gravity treadmill.
Injuries permitting, targeted resistance exercise is brilliant for improving run performance, boosting power and helping you withstand fatigue in races. For the best results, book a one-off session with a personal trainer or coach to give you a short session you can do at home and to make sure you’re using a safe and effective lifting technique.
Pile on some Pilates
Working on core strength through Pilates or running-specific functional exercises isn’t just for injury rehab. Keep it up long term and you’ll be less likely to become injured again. By improving the efficiency of your movements you should also see speed gains, regardless of your injury history. Technique is crucial for this to be effective, so take a class or see a coach for help.
Take a hike
Building up endurance can be a painful business in running but you can start gently by incorporating long, hilly, off-road walking into your weekly routine. Just getting used to time on your feet will help condition your body and mind for long runs. It’s an especially good strategy for newbies heading straight for Ironman as a first race, as the biggest risk to your marathon-length run will be impact injuries picked up through over-eager training. If the walking goes well, you can gradually build in run sections as you get fitter.
Roll with it
Self-massage is another injury prevention trick the best athletes use that many of us don’t bother with. Yet it’s cheap, simple to do and something you can fit in while you’re watching TV or relaxing in the evening. Invest in a few bits of massage kit such as a foam roller (from £10) for your back and legs, and a tennis ball (good for massaging tight glutes). Again, you’ll get more out of this if you can stretch to an initial session with a physio to help show you the ropes.
Make it work for you
Pool running intervals: Pool running is a disconcerting experience as your limbs move in slow motion and you won’t feel anything like the effort levels you’d experience on the road. But you should still structure your sessions, ideally using a water-resistant heart-rate monitor so you have a gauge of effort. Don’t try to do long sessions: go for a simple 10-15mins easy warm-up, 3x2mins fast, 2mins easy; 10mins easy warm-down.