Low-impact workouts for injured runners

Low-impact workouts for injured runners

If an injury has put running on hold, it doesn’t mean giving up training altogether. Low-impact workouts and cross training can help you stay active while giving your injury the time it needs to heal.

We know that there’s nothing quite like running. But a period away from running shouldn’t 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 like swimming, cycling or walking.

Check with your physiotherapist first because, depending on the nature and position of your injury, not all forms of cross-training may be suitable. But there’s sure to be a low-impact workout that will work for you.

cycling for runners

Cycling is a great low-impact workout option for runners who love getting their heart-rate up or being outside.

Pros and cons of cycling


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 or do it indoors and you can start and stop from your front door!


Cycling outdoors requires road confidence and some quiet roads, which might not be an option if you live in a big city.

How to get the benefits

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 a high-intensity but low-impact workout option.

What you’ll need

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. Indoor exercise bikes will calculate your revolutions per minute (RPM) – one way to determine speed while exercising.

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.

top tip

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

Swimming for runners

Swimming is the ultimate low-impact workout and is ideal for people with injuries that mean they should avoid putting weight through, their lower limbs such as stress fractures.

Swimming pros and cons


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.


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.

Mix up your swim training

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 dependent on good technique. Just a few lessons can see you making improvements, swimming more efficiently and enjoying the activity more. Who knows, when your injury is healed you might find yourself training for a triathlon.

essential swimming kit

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 just use your upper body to move through the water. You can buy one fairly cheaply or some pools will have them for you to use.

top tip

Pool lengths vary, and you could find your local baths is anything from 20 to 60 meters long. Ask at reception if you’re not sure.

Walking workouts for runners

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

Pros and cons of walking for runners


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!


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.

Make the most of your walking workouts

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 (ldwa.org.uk) 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 – you might be able to volunteer as the tail walker.

walking kit

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 a good jacket. As walking won’t generate the same body heat as running, 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.

top walking tip

Whereas lots of runners are actively trying to avoid heel striking, efficient walking requires a heel-to-toe technique.

Read more expert tips on walking for runners.

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