Non-weight baring strength training for your legs?

Resistance Band TrainingTomorrow I go to the Eastside Sports Rehab Clinic for the first of four sessions to get fit for shoe orthotics. I am pretty excited about this because I hope to be able to return to training for my next Ironman without concern for being injured again.

Anyway, I got another comment on my blog post today about my stress fracture from another runner who also got a stress fracture while running the Seattle Marathon. Michelle asks if my doctor gave me any suggestions for other exercises that I could do instead of running. I’ve stayed active using a combination of non-weight baring exercises. But I too am looking for solutions to add lower body strength training back to my routine.

As a triathlete, the good news is that swimming and cycling are great alternatives for keeping my fitness level high. So, I’ve been focusing my efforts on those disciplines. I’ve also been doing some upper body strength training, which is good for overall fitness as well as helping me be a stronger swimmer. Of course it would be great to also do some lower body strength training. Stronger legs mean faster cycle times and better run endurance. But with a stress fracture you really need to avoid “weight baring” activity… so that pretty much eliminates standard lower body strength training (like squats, lunges, etc.)

One suggestion that I’ve heard is to do “deep water running“. As the name implies, the basic idea is to run in the water that is deep enough to place resistance against your entire body. Some technique tips include:

  • Try to simulate your normal running style.
  • Don’t ‘paddle’- Keep a loosely closed fist and let your legs move you forward.
  • Try to let the bottoms of your feet kick the water behind you.
  • Take short, quick strides. A fast cadence intensifies the workout.
  • Expect a lower stride cadence. Remember water is more resistant than air and your pace will decrease accordingly.

Certainly this is a good substitute for running. And about a 10 days after my stress fracture I tried to do some water running. At the time, my heel was still too tender, and even running in the water was painful, so I just opted to swim laps. But I imagine now that I can walk comfortably, I will try it again.

Another idea is to do isometric “resistance band” training. For those of you not familiar with isometric training, according Dr. Larry Van Such it is: “The sustained contraction of a muscle over a certain period of time where the length of the muscle remains unchanged.” It is essentially the idea of contracting a muscle and holding that contraction in a single place for an extended period of time. Imaging curling a 20lb dumbbell and stopping halfway through the motion and holding it there for 10 seconds.

The book “Run Faster With Isometric Training” by Larry Van Such details how to use large rubber “resistance bands” specific to this technique to increase fast twitch muscle strength.  These techniques allow you to increase the performance of your fast twitch muscles, responsible for “explosive” strength. By using bands and isometric training you can strengthen your legs muscles without actually lifting weights or baring weight on your injured feet or legs.

Wikipedia has links to additional resources discussing Isometric training in general: Wikipedia.


5 Responses to “Non-weight baring strength training for your legs?”

  1. garyd Says:

    Man sorry about the stress fracture. I’ve never had one, but I know plenty of runners that have and they do suck. I think they are easier on the mind for triathletes, as you say, because you don’t feel like you have to give up as much.

    I’m interested in the isometric strength training for running. I’ve never come across that concept or research. We tend to use isometric exercises for weaker and/or injured people, but I’ve never thought about it for performance.

    I guess if you are injured (as you are) then using the isometrics may get you “back on your feet” sooner – which means more miles, which means better performance.

    Anyway, interesting idea.

  2. zappoman Says:

    I didn’t realize when I wrote this post that it would be so interesting to so many people. But this has been by far the most read post on my blog to date. Anyway, I hope that people find it useful.

    Personally, I don’t actually have an resistance bands and so I would need to go out and buy some. Maybe Santa will bring me some in my stocking this year. 😉

  3. dRAZEN mILOS Says:

    Hi there
    I know, every injury is difficult especially when it throws you out of training. I am a triathlete from Joburg, 47 years of age, 3xIronman. Now I am avaiting surgery on my knee on the 15.12. My problem is litle bit more complicated than stress fracture I have avulsion of the posterior horn of medial meniscus and for that I need surgical stabilisation in order to start running again. My immediate postoperative period will be 6 weeks in cratches with no weight bearing what-so-ever. After that 6 to 9 months of rehab before starting tu run.
    I am opened to all suggestions in terms of non weight bearring strength leg training.
    I whish you a speedy recovery and succesfull return totriathlon.
    082 454 9555

  4. Darell Rocke Says:

    You know that was a great post. I think I’ll create a blog post and link to it.

  5. HyperGH 14X Reviews Says:

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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