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How to Stay Fit While Taking a Break from Running

Posted Feb 12 2014 6:00am

Unless running is your one-and-only passion, it’s likely that you’ll want to take an occasional break from the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other.

Heck, even if you’re completely dedicated to running and you’re focused solely on improving your race times, taking downtime to rejuvenate and work on your weaknesses is still an important cycle in your long-term development.

Since we know downtime and taking a mental break from running is important, the next question is: how to stay fit during this break? You certainly don’t want to lose all that running fitness.

In this article, we’ll outline four great ways to stay fit during your break from running that are tailored to your long-term and short-term running goals.

First, determine why you want to take a break from running

The most important step when deciding to take a break is outlining a specific set of goals you’re hoping to achieve from your downtime. Do you need a mental break from just running all the time? Need a new set of challenges to keep you motivated? Want to give your legs a rest or need to breakout from an injury cycle?

By determining first what you hope to achieve you can better tailor your workouts to accomplish your goal and prepare you for when you return to your running training.

Let’s look at two of the most common reasons for needing to take a break from running:

There’s no shame if running isn’t your one-and-only passion. Many runners like to train for a race or two, but enjoy focusing on other sports throughout the year. Even when running is your be-all-end-all sport, there are still times when you’re not all that motivated to train – like the middle of the winter for example.

Taking a mental break helps you recharge and get excited about running again. Thus, your goal during your break shouldn’t be on maintaining running-specific fitness, but rather enjoying new challenges from other sports and activities.

By putting any running-related training in the back of your mind you can optimize the time you spend away from the trails and roads and be 100% ready to rock when you return.

As much as you’d like it to be, your body is not a machine. Sometimes it breaks down and occasionally it will need a respite from hard training. If you’re battling nagging injury after nagging injury, taking a physical break from running itself to heal and work on your weaknesses is a prudent decision.

Likewise, we know from research that races like the marathon damage muscle fibers and require significant recovery time. Taking an extended physical break from running itself can help you comeback stronger and healthier for your next race.

The goal of taking a physical break from running is to maintain your highest level of running-specific fitness without the stress, pounding, and repeated bouts of the same movements. By implementing workouts that target and strengthen the same muscle groups or aerobic systems, you can take downtime from running with little negative impact on your running fitness.

How to maintain fitness

Now that you’ve decided on your desired outcome and why you’re taking a break, we can look at some specific workouts to help keep you fit.

Playing other sports, like soccer, basketball and the myriad of other sports we love to watch is the best way to take a mental break. You won’t be thinking about running at all and it will enable you to recharge for your next training cycle.

Even better, playing other sports can also decrease you injury risk.

When you spend an hour a day or more running in mostly a straight line, you’re bound to develop some deficiencies when it comes to lateral or diagonal movements, as well as sharp accelerations and large stresses on your bones.

Research has shown that for both men and women, each year of playing ball sports resulted in a 13% lower incidence of stress fractures.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to join a local recreational league, dust of your varsity jacket, and rekindle your inner athlete.

Most running coaches, myself included, don’t believe that CrossFit and other fitness-style programs are useful or recommended while your training for a specific race. Simply speaking, they lack the specificity needed to directly benefit your running and can often detract from your running workouts.

But, CrossFit, HIIT and other fitness programs like Insanity and P90x are great options when you’re taking a break from running.

One of the drawbacks to CrossFit and other HIIT programs is that they don’t account for long-term development. As Steve Magness outlines in this article , the randomness of exercise that CrossFit recommends isn’t progressive, so the body will stop responding to the lack of adaptation and stress after a certain amount of time.

However, the benefit of implementing CrossFit during your break from running is that you’re likely to cycle back into a running training segment before you reach this plateau. Thus, you’re able to challenge areas outside your running-specific fitness for a period of time that allows for growth and adaptation but avoids the downside resulting from flat lining.

Aqua jogging is a form of deep water running that closely mimics the actual running movement. Your feet don’t actually touch the bottom of the pool, so it is zero impact. Studies have shown that aqua jogging can enable a well-trained runner to maintain running fitness for up to 4-6 weeks. Therefore, it’s the perfect way to maintain aerobic conditioning when taking a break from running.

You can perform a variety of workouts, including fartlek-style sessions and even using training partners or a bungee to intensify your workouts. The fun part of aqua jogging is that you can get creative with your workouts – using a bungee cord, keeping your hands in the air, or mixing up your effort levels.

You can make yourself a faster , more injury-resistant runner by performing running-specific strength training – or even general strength training work. While I’d argue that you should be doing strength work in addition to your running training all ready, the reality is that most runners focus on the running portion of training and often skimp on the strength work.Plus, you have more time when taking a break from running to really focus on this neglected aspect of training.

It’s also a great time to start, if you haven’t already, because being sore won’t negatively impact your running

Now is the time to make strength training and injury prevention an integral part of your training.

Remember that taking a break from running is an important aspect of long-term development. Once you’ve decided on the reasons for your break you can formulate a plan to stay fit and be rejuvenated and ready to run fast when you return.

What activities do you like to do when taking a break from running training? Let us know in the comments section!

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