How To Train When You Can’t Run

Three alternative training plans to keep you sane - and keep your fitness up - when you can't run.

Being injured is a frustrating time. It can put a stop to your training and racing plans and can leave you feeling deprived of that crucial head space, rush of endorphins and time with friends that running provides.

The good news is that, a period away from running doesn’t have to mean a halt in your training altogether. You can keep your fitness up and enjoy all of the other benefits of running by switching to another activity. The caveat to this is that you should get the OK from your physiotherapist first because, depending on the nature and position of your injury, not all forms of cross-training may be suitable.

Sometimes they may tell you that absolute rest is best. But if they’re happy for you to pick up one of the activities below, the chances are you will find yourself enjoying the shake-up to your usual training routine…

These three workouts each offer three sessions a week, which leaves plenty of time for any exercises and core strength work you’ve been given. Choose the plan you’ll enjoy most, will be most convenient, or that follows your physio’s advice.


For runners with impact injuries who still want a good workout

PROS: As well as staying fit, you can maintain leg strength and build up your running muscles. Just like running, you’ll have the chance to get outside in the fresh air and you can start and stop from your front door!

CONS: Cycling outdoors requires road confidence and some quiet roads, which might not be an option if you live in a big city. It’s also not good for injured knees or hamstrings.


Just like running, cycling offers the option of indoor and outdoor sessions. You’ll find the longer, lower-intensity rides outdoors more enjoyable, while indoor training will make you work harder. You can also swap one of the weekly interval rides for a spin class.


For outdoor cycling you’ll obviously need a bike and a helmet. A pair of padded shorts will also make you more comfortable in the saddle. Clip-in shoes and pedals will provide more efficient cycling, though they can take a while to get used to, so should be avoided until you feel confident on your bike.

You can adapt your regular bike to allow you to train indoors with a turbo trainer which fixes to the back wheel. Or if you’ve got a gym membership, use one of their stationary bikes. Stationary bikes will calculate your revolutions per minute (RPM) – one way to determine speed while exercising – used in the plan below.

However, if you don’t have access to a gym bike, simply concentrate on working harder during the interval blocks, with recovery efforts in between as outlined below. A heart rate monitor will also help you to measure effort levels.


Getting a ‘bike fit’ to make sure your seat and handlebars are at the right height for you can improve your comfort and efficiency.


For people with injuries that mean they should avoid working, or putting weight through, their lower limbs (e.g. severe ITBS and stress fractures)

PROS: A chance to work on core, back and upper-body strength while recovering from injury. You can work fairly hard in the pool and do really satisfying interval sets. And if you’re a new swimmer, you’re learning a new skill that will likely come in handy whenever you need a break from running.

CONS: Unless you have a local lido or lake, swimming won’t get you outside. Unlike running, which you can do anywhere, you’ll have to head to a pool and adhere to their opening hours – as well as paying each time you want to swim.


Outdoor swimming is growing in popularity in the UK, and you may be able to find an open-water swim spot near you to use. You’ll need to be a competent swimmer before heading outdoors and have a wetsuit, though some venues will let you hire these.

Try a different stroke. If you’ve always been a breaststroker, use this time to improve your front crawl. Remember though that some strokes may not be suitable for your injury, so check with your physio first.

Swimming well is very dependant on good technique. Just a few lessons can see you making improvements, swimming more efficiently and enjoying the activity more.


A swimming costume, goggles and a swim cap as well as 20p or £1 (check at reception) for your locker. A pull buoy is a good investment too, if you need to avoid using your legs completely. Made from foam, you place this between your legs to keep them buoyant without having to kick, so you can use just your upper body to move through the water. You can buy one fairly cheaply or some pools will have them for you to use.


Pool lengths vary, and you could find your local baths is anything from 20 to 60 metres long. The plan below is based on a 25m pool, so ask at reception how long yours is and adapt as necessary.


For runners who can’t do high-impact or high-intensity exercise, and don’t have access to a bike or pool

PROS: Walking will get you outside and works your running muscles gently, meaning you can stay on your regular running routes or explore new ones. From here, it will be easy to progress back to running once you’re given the all clear. Best of all, you won’t need any new kit!

CONS: Some running injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, are also aggravated by excessive walking. It won’t give you the same endorphin buzz compared with more intense exercise and you may get frustrated by how long it takes to walk, rather than run, a mile.


We all have friends who are reluctant to give running a go, so why not invite them out to join you for a fast walk round the park? Or look up a local walking group and join them for an outing. The Long Distance Walkers Association ( is a good place to find groups, routes and events.

Plot new routes or get on a train somewhere and walk somewhere new. Think about choosing routes you might usually avoid running because they’re too hilly, involve stiles or are off-road.

Check with your local parkrun how long their last runner usually takes and you might be able to volunteer as a walking back marker.


You shouldn’t need any new kit, as your running kit will do the job. In the winter months, however, you may need a few extra layers and maybe a good jacket as walking won’t generate the same body heat as running, so you may feel the cold more. All the more reason to make a cafe stop!

You may have seen walkers using walking poles. The idea behind these is to work your upper body muscles a bit harder, which might be something you want to look into. Or you could walk with light hand weights.


Whereas lots of runners are actively trying to avoid heel striking, efficient walking requires a heel-to-toe technique. The world record for race walking 20K (just under a half-marathon distance) is an eye-watering 1hr 16mins.

Written by Women's Running Magazine | 1433 articles | View profile

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