Running Through an Injury

Running Through an Injury

Running Through an Injury
By Julia Purrington

I know, the title sounds a little ambitious if not down-right stupid. But if you do it correctly, you have a pretty good chance of successfully running “through” an injury. You might just come out on the other end with the upper hand, improving your form a little – even with a back, leg or foot injury. You need the right tools and the right mindset. In this article I’ll focus on two alternate forms of running – Deep water running (or aquajogging) and Anti-Gravity running. There are other alternatives without impact – like the elliptical, cross country skiing, and even cycling, but the two options I’m focusing on, I believe, will allow you to work on your REAL running form, rather than just allowing you to keep working out.

One of the first alternatives to look at is AQUAJOGGING. Yes, it can be tedious and boring, but if you get it right, it can also be productive. I first learned the “art” of aquajogging a few years ago when a friend of mine fractured her back. She couldn’t run for a LONG time. But almost immediately was told that water aerobics and deep water running would be great. There are a few key things to be aware of to get it right. First, it should be done in the deep water with a water belt snug around your waist. You need to try to keep the same running form that you strive for when running on the ground. This means NO leaning forward at the waist. NO high knee thrashing. And NO kicking with your feet. Think abou your feet and how they normally “strike” the ground. Your toes aren’t pointed down. They strike, hopefully mid foot, then push off the ground with a natural follow through behind you. There is a slight total body lean forward – NOT from the waist, but from the ankles. So your feet would “strike” under your chest, which is sticking out in a “proud” form.

Once you get the form of your legs down, think about your upper body. It should be quiet except for your arms, which are not thrashing wildly, but rather in a controlled way. Your hands should be kept close to your chest and you should be driving back with your elbows more than forward with your hands.

OK, now get that down in a comfortable way and get used to how it feels. Ask someone to check it out for you both above and under water. Does it look like you’re actually running? GREAT!

Now take a look at your cadence. This is difficult in the water, but as in running on the ground, work to get up to 90 RPM. If you get there, you should be really working pretty well. Now focus on this form and cadence for a good 20 minutes and you’ve done a good “run”. By the way, this is also an EXCELLENT form of active recovery even if you’re not injured.

Note the runner in this photo is too upright. You want a forward lean.

These two have good body position. They are leaning forward, but not from the waist. They are driving forward a bit too much with the arms, but this looks pretty good.

Not only that this runner is too upright, she is simply high-stepping, not running.

So now I’ll move on to Anti-Gravity running. WHAT?? OK, check this out, Alter-G makes an Anti-Gravity treadmill. There are lots of uses for this to be sure, but I’ll focus on rehab running. Although the Alter-G treadmill is very expensive and not at most commercial gyms, you can find them at some physical therapy or specialty fitness studios. If you go to you can put in your zip code and find an Alter-G near you. I have been personally using the Alter-G for the last year to rehab my leg injuries. Without getting into my personal details, the Alter-G has allowed me to walk and run more easily a lot quicker than I would have without it. It allows you to walk with your normal form and gait at a percentage of your body weight. You can go anywhere from 25% to 100% of your body weight. So instead of walking or running during the rehab phase awkwardly with a cane, crutch, walker or limp, you can also practice doing it the RIGHT way without the impact. For instance when I was allowed to put 60% of my weight on my leg, I had to walk with crutches. But I was also able to practice REALLY walking at 60% body weight in the Alter-G. So once you ARE up to full weight, it’s a much easier and quicker transition.

When you’re able to incorporate RUNNING, you can increase speed and weight. So once you are able to WALK full weight no problems, you might start on the Alter-G RUNNING at 60% of your body weight. This way you can incorporate RUNNING with a normal cadence at a normal speed instead of just plodding along at a slow, heavy pace for a few minutes with walking intervals. Most people find that when they are forced to run SLOWER, their form becomes heavy and off balance. So if you work on the Alter-G you can really run, even work on leg speed and stride without the impact. Even once you are able to run full body weight, the Alter-G allows you to run faster and get the feel for the pace without the stress and impact of full weight running. Even for someone without an injury who wants to work on speed, this is a GREAT tool. Elite runners have been using the Alter-G for this purpose for a few years.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that using these two alternatives as serious tools have allowed me to go from learning how to walk again to RUNNING without a limp, without pain and without “plodding” in a much shorter time than anyone expected. I am an extreme case, but even for a minor injury, I think these two alternatives, when used properly can make your injury go from a stopping point to a mere hiccup in your training.

Of course before doing ANY of this you should check with your doctor, physical therapist, and your Mom – she always knows best. If you need help with any of this, ask your coach, or feel free to email me personally. I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about injuries.

Julia Purrington is a USAT Level 1 Coach with D3 Multisport. Find out more about her and D3 at


D3 Triathlon University 7 Part Beginner Series.

Your Complete Knowledge Center

Get all the tips, tricks and information YOU need to become the triathlete you want to be. Plus, get a FREE training plan for watching the videos!