Runners are a special kind of people—they thrive on pushing their limits, and are (in)famous for never, ever settling. They hit the pavement seeking a "runner's high" and are known for putting their sport before all else. If it sounds to you like I'm describing an addict, you're not necessarily wrong. A runner will tell you firsthand: When running is what you do, other types of training just can't compare.
But sometimes, going for a run is simply not an option. When you've sustained an injury, or a business trip takes you out of commission for a few days, your world doesn't have to crumble. For those days when you can't hit the ground running, here are some alternative ways to get your training fix.
Sidelined by an Injury
Running is awesome for so many reasons. In addition to being low-cost, benefits can include weight control, improved aerobic capacity, and a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, running is also associated with fairly high injury incidence rates, and injuries to the knee, shin, Achilles tendon, and feet are common in runners, mostly due to chronic overuse.
But if you find yourself sidelined by an injury, don't despair—you don't have to give up training altogether! In fact, taking a couch sabbatical is counterproductive. While using Netflix as your shoulder to cry on has its (extremely legitimate) appeal, going sedentary will only make it harder to regain your strength. Instead, try alternative activities that are low- or no-impact (particularly to the injured area) like cycling, rowing, and swimming.
Once you've healed and gotten clearance from your doctor to lace up those running shoes, don't jump right back into distance runs or sprint intervals, tempting as that may be. Make sure to follow a program with small increases in distance and intensity to rebuild your endurance—and avoid reinjury.
Ambushed by the Weather
Every runner's been there—you're ready to hit the streets, but Mother Nature has other plans. Instead of moping over a rainy day, get creative with your training. Besides the obvious choice of running on a treadmill, there are plenty of other indoor activities at your disposal, some of which don't even require leaving your living room. Try sweating it out with a circuit of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that will have you breathing just as hard as you would on a run.
Similar to interval training on a track, a typical HIIT session consists of repeated bouts of high effort followed by a period of rest. HIIT has been studied in aerobic and resistance training and has been shown to increase cardiorespiratory fitness when you employ both, meaning you could still get the aerobic benefits you achieve when running. Another advantage of HIIT is that it takes less time than a typical run to achieve the same heart-healthy benefits—for example, 25 minutes of HIIT is equivalent to 50 minutes of running (which gets you to Saturday brunch 25 minutes earlier).
Tripped Up by Traveling
Whether you're spending your days trapped in a conference room or sprawled on a beach lounger, travel can sometimes impede your running. If you're not actively seeking rest days, it's cool—there are plenty of options for fitness on the road. Hit the hotel gym for a treadmill run or try a HIIT workout in your room using bodyweight-cardio moves like burpees or jumping jacks. Or, if a treadmill isn't available and it's an endurance fix you're after, consider working out on an elliptical trainer with arm action, or a rowing machine. Both of these machines allow you to up your intensity by simultaneously using the major muscles of the upper and lower body.
No gym access? You can also check out the hotel stairs, which provide the means for an intense cardio session. Jumping rope is another excellent option if running is out of the question. A jump rope is light and portable and is one of the most surprisingly challenging training devices you'll find.
Of course, for the true addict, there is no replacement for running. However, in a pinch, you can find ways to keep up your endurance and stay active. And besides, if you mix up your training methods with a variety of activities, you can stave off chronic injuries that creep up as a result of repetitive overuse.
In fact, if you aren't already involved in a regular strength training program, now is a good time to consider starting one. While running may always be your favorite way to sweat, varying your workouts with other cardio and adding in strength training may actually improve your running and help prevent injury, which will keep you going—for the long run.
Sabrena Jo is the senior exercise scientist for the American Council on Exercise, where she gets to follow her passion for relentlessly pursuing ways to help people start and stick with physical activity. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.