Road cycling, spinning, or using a stationary bike all work similar muscles as running does, so these are great options for runners needing to take some time off. Studies have found that cycling intervals can help increase running speed, since high-power bike intervals work your legs harder than running (but without the impact!).
Elliptical machines were originally designed to mimic the motion of running but eliminate the impact. Ellipticals work the quadriceps muscles more than walking and stationary biking. Compared to running, ellipticals engage the gluteus maximus and vastus lateralis (external hip muscles) more but engage the hamstrings slightly less. If weak butt or hip muscles are negatively impacting your running form, then spending 1-2 sessions a week on an elliptical would be beneficial.
Swimming is a killer cardio workout, but it can also help with breath control, balance, and flexibility. It also allows you to decide which muscle groups you’d like to focus on more on during a workout. You can predominately utilize the legs or let them float and swim using mostly upper body strength instead.
I recently tried pool running and had a blast! It’s zero impact but still taxes the cardiovascular system enough to get an effective workout. If you aren’t used to pool running, you should invest in a flotation device (called an aqua jogger) to help maintain good form. Pool running is basically running in slow motion, so it serves as an interesting way to slow down and really analyze what your stride patterns are like.
I’m always amazed by the amount of runners I meet who engage in zero strength training. As long as I’ve been a runner, I’ve incorporated at least one core-focused strength session and aim for 2-3 total body routines a week. When marathon training, I sometimes do lose the energy and desire to maintain my usual schedule, but I will still always try to do two essential moves for runners: planks and push-ups.
Both of these moves require zero weight, can be done within a few minutes, and will help strengthen the core and lower back muscles, which are crucial for maintaining proper running form. They’re also a great way to maintain upper body strength, which running alone can neglect.
Yes, walking! This is my favorite activity to engage in on active recovery days. Your legs can go through a reduced range of running motion with virtually no impact. Marathon training programs by Jeff Galloway even incorporate walk intervals into running as a way to help boost endurance.
For runners who tend to skip post-run stretching (guilty!), yoga is a great tool to help maintain flexibility, which may help prevent injuries from running with tight muscles. Here are 10 video demonstrations of some great yoga exercises for runners.
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