Tips for returning to speedwork after injury


Returning to running after injury can spark intense feelings of both joy and fear. Any runner who has been sidelined for a seemingly endless stretch of weeks or months has felt the elation of finally being able to slip back into their running shoes, head out the door, stretch their legs and feel their spirit soar. But a rebound from injury can also be riddled with doubts: is it too soon to start running again? Am I going to retrigger the injury? Can I ever get back to being the runner I was before I got hurt?

Running injury

Uncertainty and uneasiness tend to ramp up in step with training intensity, making a return to speedwork that much more of a mental challenge. With speedwork being an important part of training for any distance, from track events to ultramarathons, the time eventually comes for the fully recovered runner to get back up to speed by reintroducing some intervals into their training. If you’re an injured runner on the road to recovery, or if you’ve recently returned to action but find yourself stuck in a slower gear, consider these tips for safely reintroducing speedwork into your training.

Let your caution be your guide

It’s important to remember feelings of apprehension you may have about upping the intensity of your runs are natural, and are likely serving you well. Erring on the side of caution is key when returning to running, especially when the focus is on speed. Appreciate the uneasiness about returning to speedwork as the inner voice of wisdom that it is, instead of mischaracterizing it as irrational worry. Your instincts to be very careful about speedwork are supported by science: a recent study, for example, found adding too much speed in training too quickly is more likely to lead to stress fractures than is running tough uphills and downhills. As the researchers of that study noted, the lesson for runners isn’t to stop doing speedwork, but to approach it with the appropriate patience and care.

Physiotherapy for runners

Consult a health-care professional

Before resuming any intense training or speedwork after an injury, it’s crucial to consult with a health-care professional, such as a physiotherapist or sports medicine specialist. They can evaluate your condition and provide specific guidance tailored to your injury and recovery progress.

Begin with a proper warm-up

Begin each speedwork session with a thorough warm-up to prepare your body for the increased intensity. Incorporate dynamic stretches, light jogging and mobility exercises to gradually raise your heart rate and loosen up your muscles. This helps reduce the risk of further injury and may enhance your performance.

Warming up for run

Start with short intervals

When reintroducing speedwork, start with shorter intervals rather than long, intense efforts. For example, instead of jumping straight into 800-meter repeats, begin with shorter intervals like 200 or 400 meters. This allows your body to gradually adapt to the increased pace and intensity.

Allow for adequate recovery time

Intense speedwork places significant stress on your body, so it’s essential to incorporate adequate recovery time between sessions. Give yourself at least 48 hours of rest or easy running between speedwork sessions to allow for muscle repair and adaptation. This helps prevent overuse injuries and promotes a safer progression.

Person relaxing on couch
Photo: Unsplash/Adrian Swancar

listen to your body

Pay close attention to any warning signs or pain during and after speedwork sessions. If you experience sharp or worsening pain, discomfort, or unusual fatigue, it’s important to back off and allow your body more time to recover. Pushing through pain can lead to further injuries and setbacks. Be patient and gradually increase the intensity and volume as your body allows.

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