Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


How to Stay Fit While Taking a Break from Running

Runners all have to take time off running sometimes; after marathons or big races; when injuries occur; or just burnout, but how do you stay fit? This article covers various forms of cross training, even ones you never thought a running coach would suggest!Unless running is your one-and-only passion, it’s likely that you’ll want to take an occasional break from the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other for your training.

Heck, even if you are a completely dedicated runner who is focused solely on improving your race times, taking downtime to rejuvenate and work on your weaknesses is still an important cycle in your long-term development.

Since we know downtime and taking a mental break from running is important, the next question is: how to stay fit during this break? You certainly don’t want to lose all that running fitness.

In this article, we’ll outline four great ways to stay fit during your break from running that are tailored to your long-term and short-term running goals.

Determine why you want to take a break from running

The most important step when deciding to take a break is outlining a specific set of goals you’re hoping to achieve from your downtime.

Do you need a mental break from just running all the time? Need a new set of challenges to keep you motivated? Want to give your legs a rest or need to breakout from an injury cycle?

By determining first what you hope to achieve you can better tailor your workouts to accomplish your goal and prepare you for when you return to your running training.

Let’s look at two of the most common reasons for needing to take a break from running:

Mentally recharging

There’s no shame if running isn’t your one-and-only passion.

Many runners like to train for a race or two, but enjoy focusing on other sports throughout the year. Even when running is your be-all-end-all sport, there are still times when you’re not all that motivated to train – like the middle of the winter for example.

Taking a mental break helps you recharge and get excited about running again. Thus, your goal during your break shouldn’t be on maintaining running-specific fitness, but rather enjoying new challenges from other sports and activities.

By putting any running-related training in the back of your mind you can optimize the time you spend away from the trails and roads and be 100% ready to rock when you return.

Physically resting

As much as we sometimes wish they were, our bodies are not machines. Sometimes it breaks down and occasionally it will need a respite from hard training.

If you’re battling nagging injury after nagging injury, taking a physical break from running itself to heal and work on your weaknesses is a prudent decision.

Likewise, we know from research that races like the marathon damage muscle fibers and require significant recovery time. Taking an extended physical break from running itself can help you comeback stronger and healthier for your next race.

Here’s why:

The goal of taking a physical break from running is to maintain your highest level of running-specific fitness without the stress, pounding, and repeated bouts of the same movements.

By implementing workouts that target and strengthen the same muscle groups or aerobic systems, you can take downtime from running with little negative impact on your running fitness.

How to maintain fitness

Now that you’ve decided on your desired outcome and why you’re taking a break, we can look at some specific workouts to help keep you fit.

Mental break options

Play other sports

Playing other sports, like soccer, basketball and the myriad of other sports we love to watch is the best way to take a mental break. You won’t be thinking about running at all and it will enable you to recharge for your next training cycle.

Even better, playing other sports can also decrease you injury risk.

When you spend an hour a day or more running in mostly a straight line, you’re bound to develop some deficiencies when it comes to lateral or diagonal movements, as well as sharp accelerations and large stresses on your bones.

Research has shown that for both men and women, each year of playing ball sports resulted in a 13% lower incidence of stress fractures.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to join a local recreational league, dust of your varsity jacket, and rekindle your inner athlete.

CrossFit or HIIT type programs

Most running coaches, myself included, don’t believe that CrossFit and other fitness-style programs are useful or recommended while your training for a specific race. Simply speaking, they lack the specificity needed to directly benefit your running and can often detract from your running workouts.

CrossFit, HIIT and other fitness programs like Insanity and P90x are great options when you’re taking a break from running.

One of the drawbacks to CrossFit and other HIIT programs is that they don’t account for long-term development. As Steve Magness outlines in this article, the randomness of exercise that CrossFit recommends isn’t progressive, so the body will stop responding to the lack of adaptation and stress after a certain amount of time.

However, the benefit of implementing CrossFit during your break from running is that you’re likely to cycle back into a running training segment before you reach this plateau.

Thus, you’re able to challenge areas outside your running-specific fitness for a period of time that allows for growth and adaptation but avoids the downside resulting from flat lining.

Runners CAN try cross fit or HIIT! @Runners_Connect explains why here #HIIT Click To Tweet

Physical break options

Aqua jogging

Aqua jogging is a form of deep water running that closely mimics the actual running movement. Your feet don’t actually touch the bottom of the pool, so it is zero impact. Studies have shown that aqua jogging can enable a well-trained runner to maintain running fitness for up to 4-6 weeks.

Therefore, it’s the perfect way to maintain aerobic conditioning when taking a break from running.

You can perform a variety of workouts, including fartlek-style sessions and even using training partners or a bungee to intensify your workouts.

The fun part of aqua jogging is that you can get creative with your workouts – using a bungee cord, keeping your hands in the air, or mixing up your effort levels.

Running-specific strength work

You can make yourself a faster, more injury-resistant runner by performing running-specific strength training – or even general strength training work.

Here’s the deal:

While I’d argue that you should be doing strength work in addition to your running training all ready, the reality is that most runners focus on the running portion of training and often skimp on the strength work.Plus, you have more time when taking a break from running to really focus on this neglected aspect of training.

It’s also a great time to start, if you haven’t already, because being sore won’t negatively impact your running

Now is the time to make strength training and injury prevention an integral part of your training.


Remember that taking a break from running is an important aspect of long-term development. Once you’ve decided on the reasons for your break you can formulate a plan to stay fit and be rejuvenated and ready to run fast when you return.

How to stay in shape while taking a mental or physical break from running Click To Tweet

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4 Responses on “How to Stay Fit While Taking a Break from Running

  1. From personal experience, I didn’t like aqua jogging. Apart from being mind-numbingly boring and slow, I pulled some groin muscles while trying to up the workout effort without the resistance I was used to from solid ground.

    Much more enjoyable, for a number of injured months, was the Elliptigo. Not cheap, but a lot of fun, and more fun than a bike in many ways. And I plan to use it to offload some long run miles once I’m training again.

  2. What about cycling? Now that the weather is getting better I’m considering cycling to and from work (ca 55 min each way) a couple times a week… Should this replace runs (now running 3-4 times a week) or just compliment them?

  3. Interesting take on CF/HIIT which as a state high school XC Coach of the Year I use in strength & conditioning for league championship high school XC team . . . But I disagree with this: “One of the drawbacks to CrossFit and other HIIT programs is that they don’t account for long-term development . . . the randomness of exercise that CrossFit recommends isn’t progressive, so the body will stop responding to the lack of adaptation and stress after a certain amount of time” . . . “Randomness” within the context of CF = intentionally programmed “constantly varied” movements to work the same muscle groups over time with increases in reps or weight for long term progressive development . . . A 3 year CFer myself, I can personally point to “long term development” in my overall fitness as I reach 60 years-old (200 lb. deadlift to 405 lb. deadlift as one example) . . . Yes, if I want to sacrifice GPP (general physical preparedness) for specificity in one area (like endurance or strength) I would need to bias my programming for that specific area or add auxiliary work . . . Which by the way, we often do when we see a weak area in our overall fitness or have an athlete who is training for a specific athletic endeavor . . . There are CF “boxes” that are biased toward strength & those that are biased toward endurance in their programming . . . Thanks for your thought provoking article . . .

    • Hi Mike, thanks for sharing your experience with CF and HIIT. We are just reporting based on the research we have come across, but we are open to other points of view. We are primarily focused on runners who want to make getting faster their number one priority. Thanks for sharing, and keep up the good work!

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