A reader named Karen writes to us this week asking about alternatives to get in her higher intensity workouts (speed or quality work) while reducing the impact on the lower body. It’s true that high-speed running does place a great deal of stress on the muscles and joints of the lower-legs. The benefits gained in strength and fitness from these workouts generally outweigh the risks, but as Karen’s question points out there are instances when it makes sense to avoid too much pounding on a particular part of the body. Here’s her question:
I was the first kid on the block to have a joint replaced- I got the joint below the big toe replaced when I was 38 (years of 4″ heels followed by a botched bunionectomy.) I’ve been told by a good orthopedic surgeon that people can only get one toe joint replacement – when this one goes, you can’t get another. After the replacement goes, all they can do is pin the joint in a slightly bent position so as to do as little damage as possible to the knee, hip and back.
The best way to avoid wearing out the replaced joint is to avoid unnecessary pounding – so basically, no running. Are there other ways to achieve HIIT goals that don’t involve sprints?
That big toe sure is important in running, especially when running fast. Push-off and balance comes starts with the big toe and when people’s big toes don’t flex right, we can see all kinds of issues, including lower-back problems. The body is a chain of connected parts that pull against a lever and when there isn’t enough flexion in the toes, the whole chain upward toward the lever can have problems.
So first, keep in mind that maintaining good flexibility through the legs and feet will really reduce the impact on your joints. The stiffer your muscles are, the more pounding that you’ll put onto your feet, toes and heels. Or said another way, the more flexible you are the more fluid and resilient your body parts are, which puts less pressure and impact on them. You want to be springy, not stiff, to run.
The good news is that there are plenty of other ways to get high intensity training in without running. My favorite are spin classes on a spin bike. Spin is very effective in doing intervals, getting the heart rate way up, and burning a lot of calories in the process. When I’m really training hard, I aim to do 2 or even 3 spin workouts per week, because my body can’t handle working out on the track more than 2-3 times a week. This lets me do additional high intensity work without the pounding and potential for injuries.
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