Returning to Running After an Injury

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I am very out of shape having broken my ankle last July.  I’m healed and released to exercise (low impact) and we just bought a Livestrong Elliptical.  I looked at the fitness fusion programs and there is no way that I can start at 20 minutes.  I’m more like 3 minutes.  I couldn’t even make it through the fitness test.  How can I get a plan or program that will help me start from below ground zero where I am?  Thanks very much.  ~Sarah

A: Hi Sarah. I’m glad to read you’re healed and ready for a comeback. You’re very wise to ask this question and avoid pushing through something that is beyond your fitness level right now. Doing so will only frustrate you and delay your progress.

The elliptical is a fantastic way to return to regular exercise as it is low impact, but weight bearing, which aids in improving balance, muscular strength and bone density without the risk of impact.

The key is to develop a plan that is tailored to what your body is able to accomplish now. Seeing that you’re coming back from an injury, it is even more important to take it easy early on. Here are a few strategies that will help make the process more fun and highly effective.

  •  Include a variety of activities in your comeback fitness routine. For instance, performing the elliptical three times per week (M-W-Sa) and walking or a strengthening workout 20-30 minutes on the days in between. This allows for a variety of body movements and keeps your program fresh. Including a total body strengthening routine will also help develop your core strength and improve all aspects of your health and well being. Plus, it’s a great complement to your cardiovascular exercise on the elliptical.
  •  Circle a date on your calendar three weeks from your start date. Commit to staying with the same routine for three weeks before you increase time or intensity. This is the secret to success as we all try to improve too quickly. Gradually increasing as your body adapts will keep you happy, loving your exercise routine and coming back for more!
  • Set the Livestrong Elliptical to Manual mode and to the lowest level.  This affects the resistance and incline settings on the machine and will allow you to adapt to the movement at its lowest setting first. Don’t worry about the fitness test or doing programs just yet. That will come in time. For now, focus on getting to know the movement of the machine in its natural state in the manual mode. This mode allows you to control the intensity, which is what you need right now.
  •  Start with moving only your legs in the first few weeks and hold onto the non-moving hand grips. Not moving your arms with your legs will keep your heart rate lower and allow you to perform the exercise longer with less energy expenditure to avoid fatigue.
  •  As you become more fit, add in the arm movement gradually. At first, warm up and cool down without the arms for several minutes. Then, weave in 30 seconds to one minute with the arm movement – followed by several minutes with just your legs. This is an example of how a workout might look at this level;
  1. Warm up 3-5 minutes – legs only.
  2. 10-15 minutes – alternate 30 seconds on arms+legs, followed by 2-3 minutes of legs only to recover and catch your breath.
  3. Cool down 3-5 minutes – legs only.
  •  Making these changes should allow you to perform the elliptical for a longer period of time. If you find that it is still a challenge, combine it with a walking routine. For instance, you could walk 10 minutes, perform the elliptical for 3-5 minutes and then walk another 10 minutes. As you gain fitness, you will be able to increase the time on the elliptical machine and you can reduce the walking minutes. You can also walk in place and perform intervals right there in your house.  Here’s an example of an interval workout;
    1. Warm up walking in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    2. Elliptical for 3 minutes
    3. Walk in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    4. Elliptical for 3 minutes
    5. Walk in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    6. Repeat this until fatigued and cool down walking in place for 3 minutes.

You are standing at the most challenging point in your return to fitness. The first step you take is healthy movement towards improvement. The secret is to listen to your body, practice patience and finish feeling fatigued but not exhausted so you’ll want to do it again soon.

You can do this…one step (or stride) at a time.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

8 Vital Injury-Prevention Practices for Your Workouts

If you get hurt working out, you have to quit exercising for a while. Although it’s true that you should expect some “burn” or discomfort during your workout, real pain is a warning sign that you’re doing something wrong. To keep doing right, observe these 8 injury-prevention tricks from the pros:

1. Know the Danger Zones

Mayo Clinic resources split exercise injuries by cause. Training errors are injury-causing mistakes that happen because you’re training too aggressively. Technique errors are hazardous problems with your form. A session with a personal trainer can help you spot and avoid both types of errors.

2. Warm Up

Exercising without warming up is like stretching a cold rubber band, says “Get Fit Guy” Ben Greenfield. Instead, warm up with some light cardio or simply do some preliminary sets at very low weights to get your body ready to work out. Although stretching is a common warmup in amateur circles, it’s not the best choice. It’s not as good as light cardio for injury prevention, and stretching for flexibility is best done at the end of your workout.

3. Periodically Change Workouts

Changing your workout every six to eight weeks accomplishes two important safety goals. It helps avoid repetitive stress injuries by shifting the focus of your workout. It also avoids the risk of training a specific muscle group so much that surrounding, unworked muscles can’t handle the load.

4. Dress Right

This injury prevention tip happens before your workout even starts. If working with machines, avoid loose clothes and clothes with straps. If jogging, wear good shoes with comfortable socks to avoid blisters. Exercise outside requires clothing appropriate for the weather. Ask your personal trainer or gym staff if you have any questions about the right ensemble for your workout.

5. Set Reasonable Goals

It’s easy to get excited and aggressive during the first months of a workout routine, which often means going too hard, too soon. Martial arts teacher Tom Callos recommends setting low short-term goals to ease into your regimen. Gradually increase those goals over the long haul for impressive overall gains.

6. Check Your Equipment

Workout equipment is only safe if properly calibrated and checked for problems. Before you begin any workout, scan the device for damage. Confirm that settings like the seat height and angle of lift are appropriate for your body. If you’re not certain, check with gym staff.

7. Hydrate Early and Often 

If your muscles are even mildly dehydrated, they’re more susceptible to cramps, pulls and tears. Moderate dehydration can affect your judgment and cause dizziness. Drink before your workout and sip during. Remember: if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

8.  Protect Your Back

Back injuries are among the easiest to get while exercising, among the most debilitating while you have them and among the hardest to recover from. According to resources at, most back injures are due to improper form while exercising. The best form for protecting your back varies by exercise, but as a general rule keep your back straight and aligned. Move using your back muscles only if an exercise specifically requires it. Otherwise, use your legs and hips.


How to Return to Running after Illness

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I have been unable to run for several months due to illness and injury. What are your recommendations for getting back into running? ~Linda

A: Hi, Linda. I’m happy to hear you’re feeling better. Although it can be tempting to jump back in to your running program where you left off before the illness, doing so can be quite stressful to the body. It takes a little patience at first, but when you invest in a gradual start back, your body will reward you by adapting and improving along the way. Here are 7 tips to get you back on track.

  1. Ease back into the demands and impact of running by using a run-walk interval program. It reduces the impact on the body and allows you to get a higher quality workout in with less risk of injury or soreness.
  2. Everyone’s starting point varies based on the reasons for the time off and the injuries, but it is always wise to start conservatively to avoid doing too much too soon. The goal is to get back into running by doing just enough so you finish feeling strong and thinking, “That felt good and I could do that again.” When you ease back into it slowly, it builds fitness more readily because you can maintain consistency along the way.
  3. Stick with 30 minutes in total for the workouts including a 5-minute walking warm up and cool down, which leaves 20 minutes of run-walking. Continue on this 20-minute run-walk pattern until you’re running continuously. Then begin to progress the total time of the running workout by 5 minutes every two weeks (i.e., 25 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.).
  4. For the running part of the workout (20 minutes), repeat intervals of running until you hear your breath and walking until you catch it. This may be 30 seconds for the first running workout, but so be it. When you tune into your body, it will tell you exactly where it is effort-wise, which is the key to running wisely and returning to your routine more quickly. Repeat the intervals for 20 minutes and cool down by walking for 5 minutes.
  5. As you progress through the workouts, you may notice that some days are easier than others. This is the natural rhythm of getting stronger. Continue to run by your breath and body and practice patience.
  6. Again, stick with 30-minute workouts (20 minutes run-walking) until you’re running the entire time and progress the running time from there. This is the key to success as we tend to increase time too quickly, which leads to fatigue and aches and pains.
  7. Alternate your running workouts every other day to allow time to recover before the next run. This reduces the chance of fatigue and aches, and restores your energy for the next run. Fill in the gaps with an optional cross-training workout (yoga, strength, cycling, Zumba, etc.) to keep things fresh and the momentum flowing.

It may seem overwhelming to start back up with running. However, if you keep it real and patiently build by what your body tells you, you’ll be up and running in no time! Good luck, Linda. You can do it.