Return to running after an injury with the right post-injury training plan

Injuries may set you back momentarily, but with the right post-injury training strategy, you’ll be able to rebuild your running performance and confidence safely and efficiently.

Man running in nature.

How to return to running after an injury

How to safely return to running is probably one of the most common questions any experienced runner has had to seek answers to – at least once. Here, we’ve covered all you need to know about getting back on your feet safely. 

As passionate runners ourselves, we know that you’re probably eager to return to running and to regain your previous fitness. 

After an injury – and once you’ve received your doctor’s green light, especially in case it was a major one – your main focus should be to ensure that your body is ready to return to running. That’s key for ensuring your running journey is sustainable and enjoyable.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about safely returning to running after an injury, information about the most common runners’ injuries, and our top advice on preventing injuries in the future.

Consistency and accountability are as important for getting back to running after a break as for training for a specific goal. Some of the best ways to regain your running fitness after recovering from an injury are to:

  • Assess your body’s current condition with a few simple tests (more on that later)
  • Get back to running slowly, increasing your weekly mileage progressively
  • Put your running sessions in your calendar to keep them top-of-mind
  • Add other types of movement to your routine (strength training, mobility work, cross-training)
  • Make running a social activity: Run with friends, join a running club, or find a running buddy in your neighborhood

To help you with all this, we’ve built Runna, a dedicated running coaching app that you can use to build your own personalized post-injury running plan that sets all training sessions for you, enabling you to focus on building back your running performance.

The contents of our articles, such as text, videos, images, are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

Check with a doctor in addition to using our content and before making any medical decisions.

Our personalized post-injury running plans

Recently been injured or forced to take some time out of running and not sure how to build your strength and endurance back? Our post-injury plans have been designed to help you gradually return to running at a safe rate.

There are plenty of things you can do to convert your runs into non-impact sessions – but once you’re ready to go back to running, you should make sure you have the right approach to prevent aggravating your injury or getting any new ones. 

One of the best ways to recover your running fitness after an injury is to use a personalized post-injury running plan that adapts to your preferences, current running level, and schedule. 

A tailored post-injury running plan will help you get back to running safely, stay in shape, and make a smooth transition towards your next goal. 

With Runna, your running coaching app, you get a personalized post-injury running plan that:

  • Sets out all training sessions for you
  • Builds up your weekly mileage gradually
  • Automatically adjusts your mileage and types of runs to your performance and preferences
  • Provides you with strength training sessions adapted to the equipment you have
  • Helps you manage your recovery and nutrition

In short, having a balanced post-injury running plan will help you regain confidence as a runner and improve your running game week after week.

Whether you are a beginner or an elite runner with countless races under your belt, if you’re recovering from an injury, our plans will help you do that in the best way possible.

6 week post-injury running plan for beginners

If you’re a beginner runner who’s recovering from an injury and just got your doctor’s OK to get back to running, this plan is for you. 

Easing back to running post-injury can be tricky – so, we designed this plan to help you gradually return to running at a safe rate. 

This plan is six weeks long and we recommend taking your time so that you don’t reinjure yourself. The first three weeks are focused on building your running volume at an easy effort, using a series of walk-runs, while the second half is centered around faster paces to get you ready to rebuild your fitness. 

Don’t rush the process, though – if you feel some pain or discomfort don’t push through it. Take extra time off as needed.

Intermediate 6 week post-injury running plan

If you used to regularly run at least 5 km and are trying to get back to running after an injury, this plan will help you do that safely. 

Consult with your doctor first to make sure you’re ready to get back to running – and take your time with this 6-weeks plan, so that you don’t risk another injury. 

During the first three weeks, you’ll be gradually building your running volume at an easy effort and using a series of walk-runs. In the second half, you’ll start doing faster runs to help you rebuild your performance. 

If you notice pain or discomfort, take extra time off as needed and don’t rush the recovery process. 

Advanced 6 week post-injury running plan

If your usual training schedule included regular 10-km runs but an injury set you back, this plan is for you. It’ll help you get back to your previous running performance safely, at your own pace, once you get your doctor’s OK that you can get back to running. 

In the first three weeks of this plan, you’ll be easing back into progressively building your weekly mileage with a series of walk-runs. The second half of the plan will help you pick up the pace and get back to running faster. 

Don’t rush the process, though. If you feel discomfort or pain, take extra time off.

Elite 6 week post-injury running plan

If you used to regularly run half-marathons or longer distances and have experience with structured training sessions (such as intervals) but suffered an injury, this plan is for you.

Consult with your doctor to make sure you’re ready to get back to running. 

The first half of the plan is centered around easy walk-runs, gradually building up your weekly volume, while the second half helps you get back to faster runs. Take it easy and don’t rush the process – if you notice niggles, pain, or discomfort, take extra time off, as needed.

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How to know whether you’re ready to return to running

Once your injury has subsided, there are simple ways to check how your body feels and whether you’re ready to return to running. 

One minute jog test

Simply jog on the spot for one minute. If you don’t get any pain in the area that was injured, that’s a very good sign! 

30 second hop test 

Hop on your injured limb for 30 seconds. If you don’t feel any pain or discomfort, you’re likely ready to slowly get back to running. 

First run back 

If you didn’t experience any pain with those two initial tests, you can do your first test run after the injury. 

Take things slow this time! Run for 10 minutes, broken down into chunks of 2 minutes, with a minute of walking rest between them. The pain level should always be level 3 (of 10) or lower. We know that this might feel a bit frustrating, but it’s important to make sure you don’t run too fast too soon, which could further aggravate the initial injury. 

Next, you’re ready to start running with your post-injury training plan. There, you can adjust the number of runs and your running ability.

Common types of runners’ injuries and how to manage them

In this section, we’ll discuss some of the most common injuries runners experience – and how to manage them safely. 

How to manage niggles (minor soreness or discomfort)

A niggle is a pain that is subtle and that causes slight (but potentially persistent) annoyance. You shouldn’t ignore niggles: They’re often warning signs of overuse, fatigue, or an increase in impact or volume that’s too rapid – and might result in an injury if unaddressed. 

Here’s what to do: 

  1. Assess if anything has changed in your routine. Did you change shoes recently? Have you stopped stretching or doing strength conditioning? Are you sleeping less?
  2. Rest more and protect the area that feels sore
  3. Do an easy run to see if the discomfort is getting worse. If it isn’t, you can continue as usual, being extra careful for any pain or other symptoms. If it is, take a few rest days.
  4. Do extra strength conditioning and mobility work
  5. Reduce your weekly mileage if needed

To prevent niggles, always build up your weekly mileage and intensity gradually, adding no more than one training session per week at a time and no more than 10% additional volume.

How to manage runner's knee

Runner's knee, also known as patellofemoral pain, is a common source of knee pain that many runners experience. It’s located around the front of or behind the kneecap. Common signs and symptoms include: 

  • Pain when sitting for long periods of time (e.g., working from home)
  • Pain going up and down the stairs
  • Pain squatting or lunging 

There are a few things you can do to manage runner’s knee:

  1. Decrease your training load: If your knee feels only a bit sore, you can continue running but decrease your training volume and intensity. If it’s painful, take some time off and concentrate on other, non- or lower-impact sports (swimming, cycling, hiking, etc.). 
  2. Increase your cadence: Aim for a cadence (number of steps per minute) of 180 or more by taking shorter, faster strides.
  3. Build up your hip strength: Use exercises like around-the-clocks, banded side-steps, and step-downs to increase your hip strength and help take some of the load off your knee

How to manage back pain for runners

Most back pain is non-specific, i.e. without actual structural damage or irritation. It often occurs due to joint stiffness or muscle tightness and runners can experience it either during or after a training session. (If you experience any symptoms that include pins and needles, numbness, or bowel issues, speak to a doctor.)

Many people make the mistake to stop doing sports due to the fear of making their back pain worse, but that’s actually the opposite of what you should be doing. 

The best thing you can do to manage back pain is to continue moving. While you might temporarily reduce running volume, you should continue to walk and also look for ways to mobilize and strengthen your back.

How to manage shin splints

Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome), is a very common bone overload injury for runners and can be quite frustrating – but with the right management strategy, you should be able to get back to running quickly.

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain on the inside or front of the shin, spread over an area (not a single point)
  • Pain when exercising, especially running
  • Pain when pressing on the shin bone

Shin splints might be the result of: 

  • Training too hard, too often
  • Poor running form and mechanics
  • Insufficient recovery between sessions
  • A deficit in hip and calf strength

To manage shin splints, you should:

  • Decrease your training load
  • Look to build your calf and hip strength with targeted exercises

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Your personalized running coach with tailored training plans to achieve your goals, from running a faster 5k to finishing your first marathon.

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Cross-training and strength training

If you’re recovering from an injury, cross-training and strength training can be excellent ways to help you stay active, maintain your fitness, and reduce the risk of future injury.

Cross-training can be an ideal temporary replacement to running, or a permanent addition to your running routine. You can do cycling, swimming, boxing, rowing, functional training, yoga, hiking, or any other sport that you like – the most important thing is to pick an activity that you enjoy. 

Strength training improves your overall fitness and conditioning and enables your muscles to manage higher loads, protecting you against injuries. Of course, if you’re still experiencing pain from your injury, you should focus on exercises that don’t risk aggravating it.

With Runna, you can add a fully customized strength training plan to your running program. Personalize it based on your preferences, strength level, schedule, and equipment, to help protect against future injuries.

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Top tips for preventing an injury

The best way to make your running journey sustainable and fun is to prevent injuries. Here’s our top advice on how to do that:

  • Warm up before you start running using dynamic stretches and/or drills, especially before more challenging runs or speed work. Find out more about warming up and cooling down.
  • Incorporate movement into your daily routine, especially if you have a sedentary job. This can be mobility work or stretches, but even if it’s simply walking more, that’s a good starting point. See our mobility routine for runners
  • Do strength training. Strength conditioning helps your body better absorb the impact from running, improves bone density, and boosts your running performance. With Runna, you get a personalized strength training program that seamlessly fits into your running plan. Find out more about strength training for runners.
  • Ensure your shoes fit well and are in good condition. Old running shoes don’t offer the same impact-absorbing support. If they fit poorly, this could compromise your running form, which could lead to an injury. 
  • Dress for the weather you’ll be running in. To help regulate your body temperature and feel well throughout your run, dress for the right weather conditions.
  • Mix up the terrain. Running exclusively on roads can be hard on your body, especially if you bank lots of miles each week. If you can add training on some softer surfaces, such as grass or trails, this will help reduce running’s impact on your joints and bones.
  • Get enough rest and fuel your body adequately. Rest is when your body adapts to the hard work you’re putting into your training, so sufficient rest is paramount, along with protein, which is essential for this process. In short, rest, sleep, and a nutritious diet are key elements of any successful training program.
  • Build up your running volume and intensity gradually. If you push too hard, too fast, you risk injuring yourself. Building fitness is a long-term goal, so it takes time to do. Add no more than one training session per week at a time and no more than 10% to your current weekly mileage. 
  • Consider sports massages. The science behind sports massages is mixed but if you feel they are helpful for you, there’s no harm in a monthly massage. Foam rolling, regular stretching, or yoga are also great.

Take your running to the next level

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Take your running to the next level

Your personalized running coach with tailored training plans to achieve your goals, from running a faster 5k to finishing your first marathon.

Download on the App Store.Get it on Google Play.
First week free. Cancel anytime.
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