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High-intensity interval training can also be a valuable training tool for injured runners, or runners coming back from injury. Instead of running, many injured runners can complete HIIT on a stationary bike or water running in a pool, which allows those among the running wounded to maintain fitness before they return to running on a road, track or trail without adding any additional stress to ligaments, tendons and joints.
“Training on the bike provides a unique, good setting to work hard and push hard without worrying about the adverse effects,” says Todd Weisse, head coach of the Williamsburg Track Club in New York.
Weisse says training at a high intensity on the bike or in the pool allows runners with some injuries—such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis and certain muscles strains—to stay fit and avoid restlessness. It’s important for an injured runner to work with a physical therapist or coach to determine if this kind of training is appropriate, Weisse says.
“In an injury period, the message is to lay off and relax, but that really is counterintuitive for competitive types who want to work out and maintain their fitness,” he says. “Their bodies can tolerate the bike, and psychologically it has them working hard.”
Kari Smith of New York knows first-hand how efficient HIIT on the bike can be after getting sidelined with severe shin splints just a few weeks into her training for the Berlin Marathon in 2009, rendering her unable to do almost any run training. “It was the first time I had ever experimented with this training and I asked my coach, ‘Are you crazy? What do you think I’m going to accomplish?’” Smith admits.
Nonetheless, Smith implemented HIIT about three weeks into her 14-week marathon program, doing almost all of her speed work and long base-sustaining efforts on a bike. By the end of training she was injury-free and wound up running a new five-minute PR—3:10:25.
“My body responded to the time on the bike,” she says. “My body responds better to high-intensity workouts more than logging all those miles.”