Returning to running after injury is often a frustrating process. Success involves a delicate balance between embracing your excitement while simultaneously taking your time and progressing slowly.
As runners, we understand that we’re not guaranteed a PR at every race, and that there will always be times when we just don’t feel like running. But what we don’t expect are those unplanned, forced breaks from running.
Whether it’s due to an injury, illness, pregnancy or other life changes, time off from running often leaves runners feeling miserable. Making a return to running after injury or other circumstance usually requires a plan.
How long does it take to return to running after injury?
The length of time it takes to get back to running after injury varies depending on the severity of your injury and the amount of time taken off. For minor injuries, 1-2 weeks is sometimes all it takes to make a full return. However, more serious injuries can take a full month or even more before things start to feel “normal” again.
After suffering through weeks or even months of time off, runners are usually anxious to start returning running after injury and regain lost fitness.
But making a running comeback can be tricky, especially after any lengthy period of separation. Try too much too soon and you may find yourself right back on the couch with recurring pain. But wait too long or progress too slowly and you may find yourself struggling to find motivation.
Return to Running Program
Luckily, though, if you’re ready to get back to running after an injury, you’ve already made it through the most difficult part. You’ve made it through injury, illness, or life changes that probably left you feeling a little less like yourself.
Although no two runners (or two running injuries) are the same, there is a general progression that most can successfully follow when returning to running after injury. The key is waiting to progress from one phase to another until you are completely pain free, and are able to sustain the running portion without difficulty.
- Phase 1: Walk 5 minutes, run 1 minute // Repeat x 5
- Phase 2: Walk 4 minutes, run 2 minutes // Repeat x 5
- Phase 3: Walk 3 minutes, run 3 minutes // Repeat x 5
- Phase 4: Walk 2 minute, run 4 minutes // Repeat x 5
- Phase 5: Walk 1 minute, run 5 minutes // Repeat x 5
- Phase 6: 30 minute run, 1-4 walking breaks as necessary
Now that you’re ready to start running again, it’s time to reign in your patience, create a plan, and listen to your body for a smart comeback. It’s time to regain the running fitness you lost.
This return to running protocol is a great guideline for those first few weeks back. Once you’ve progressed through the phases and are ready for some more formal training, download this 12 week base training program for a returning guide.
>> Free Download: 12 Week Return to Running After Injury PDF
Here are 5 tips to help you return to running in the best way possible. Whether you’ve taken years or weeks off from running, regaining fitness and returning to the sport is always possible.
5 Tips to Return to Running After Injury
While the return to running protocol will vary slightly depending on the individual circumstances, all runners will need to take things slow to avoid re-injury. Here are 5 ways to successfully navigate your running comeback after an injury and break of any kind.
Start slow and incorporate walking
There’s nothing more discouraging than returning from running after injury with the mindset that you will be able to pick back up right where you left off. It won’t take long to discover that you’ve lost fitness during your break, and running feels significantly harder than what you remember.
While it may sound a bit depressing, acknowledging the fact that you have lost fitness during your layoff is a crucial step to a healthy return. When you’re ready to start running again, plan to take it slow and short as you begin.
Try spending the first few weeks running based on feel, without checking your pace. Listen to your body and slow down if it feels hard – and incorporate regular walk breaks. Start out small, with just a mile or two at a time, and gradually increase mileage as your fitness begins to return.
Take time to strength train
Not only did you lose running fitness during your time off, but you also lost strength as well. Strength training and cross training are key as you plan to return to running and avoid re-injury. Supplement your lower mileage with cross training such as yoga, swimming, the elliptical, spin bike, or any other activity that you desire.
As your cardio increases, you’ll need to make strength training a priority as well. Incorporate strength training on a regular basis to rebuild those running muscles and prevent injuries as you begin to increase your mileage.
Try adding some squats, lunges, planks, hip lifts and more to your regular cool down or recovery routine. Including a few strength training exercises each day is a great way to stay strong as you start running again.
Create a plan
It’s hard to monitor your progress when you’re heading out sporadically and running whatever you want. Creating a plan not only helps prevent increasing mileage or pace too quickly, but it helps you stay on track and motivated throughout your return.
When you’re ready to return to running after injury, take the time to create a simple plan. Start out small with just a run or two per week, and gradually increase your mileage and frequency over the next few weeks. Map out how and when you will cross train, strength train, and recover throughout the week.
Writing things down keeps us accountable and helps avoid giving in to the urge we feel to jump back in full force. With a plan in place, you’ll be able to see that although things feel slow and sluggish now, it won’t be long before you’re back to your old routine.
Set a [realistic] goal
As you start running again, brainstorm some realistic goals you would like to accomplish. Look for races in the distant future, make a plan to return to your old running pace, or set your sights on that beautiful loop you used to run.
Determine what is motivating you as you are returning to running and keep that in mind when things feel tough. While you may feel a great deal of excitement as you lace up for your first run after injury, this excitement is usually squashed with the realization that you are out of running shape.
Setting a few goals will help motivate you through those first few weeks and remind you why you fell in love with running in the first place. Try to set some small, realistic goals during the first few weeks of your recovery so even when progress feels small, you’ll be able to check some things off your list.
Stay positive and be patient
When all is said and done, returning to running after injury is hard work. You have inevitably lost quite a bit of fitness, and it feels nearly impossible to avoid comparing yourself to where you were before you took time off.
Remind yourself of your accomplishments each day, no matter how little or insignificant they may seem. Stay positive throughout this process and remember that if you were able to run/walk a mile, that’s a mile further than you could do during your time off.
Getting back to running again takes time, and above all, patience. Enjoy the little victories along the way and remember that this season of recovery is not permanent.
Running helps make us stronger in all seasons of life. The mental strength that is gained as your patience and attitude is tested after a long break is unlike anything else. Appreciate each and every step you take along the way.