How to tell you’re ready to return from injury

As part of our crazed addictions to running, it can become incredibly hard to take any time off from the sport we love, especially due to something beyond our control. What runners around the world then want to know is – “When can I return?”

This will always be specific to the injury and a number of precipitating factors, but there are a few general guidelines as to how and when to return from a multi-week to multi-month injury.


In the initial stages of an injury, any weight on the sight of the pain can be unbearable. But if you’ve progressed to the point where short walks feel normal, you can test out what it feels like to get out there and go for a longer 15-30 minute walk.

Depending on the injury, if you’ve been able to keep active in different ways throughout the duration of your walking, you should already be able to gauge how it feels to walk on your injury. If you are able to complete your walk pain-free, try progressing 10% the next time and see how that feels. Since walking is low-impact, you don’t need to follow the 10% rule by week as diligently, and can instead progress ever so slightly by the walk. But as soon as you feel pain, you should stop or slow down until you’re able to return home, ensuring that your injury does not get worse.

I wouldn’t recommend going on any crazy hikes, especially not in any freezing temperatures (I’m not smart sometimes). But shorter walks can be an amazing way to gauge whether or not you’re ready for that next step. Some specialists even recommend barefoot walks, but I like to suggest you do what’s comfortable, and walking barefoot on anything but grass can be unbearable for many people.

That said, walking is still limited in that it is low-impact, and not entirely conducive to the weight or impact on your body when running. So I would recommend using the other sources listed below as a better gauge for your return, and use your walks more as a way of keeping some level of fitness and muscle memory up as you sit on the sidelines.

A, B, C’s

If you haven’t grown up around runners or existed in this space for a while, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m asking you to rehearse the alphabet. A, B, C’s (also known as “drills”), are basic marching and skipping patterns that allow you to practice running form, warm-up the muscles, and even gauge your return from injury.

The problem that slightly persists in the running community around A, B, C’s is that there is no universal agreement as to what exercise matches with what letter. I was always taught that ‘A’ is your basic march, ‘B’ is a skip in march stance, and ‘C’ is where you progress to kicking out the legs. Since the basic march is a really nice way to start the progression for runners post-injury, I like to go by this lettering.

Beyond the typical ‘A, B, C’s’, there are a myriad of other exercises that you can do as basic warm-up exercises to test your readiness.

If looking at the ‘A’ as the simplest form – a basic march that requires minimal impact on the body, this is the safest one to start with post-return. You can then see how it feels to do a ‘B’ as more of a march (what the runner does at 0:20 in the video above), and ‘C’ with the skips added in such as below.

If you’re pain free throughout these exercises, this is an excellent way of gauging your readiness to return. If you feel some pain but the pain is unbearable, perhaps walking and cross-training (like cycling and pool running) should continue to be your sport of choice until you’re pain free. But if you can’t even get through the skip or leg kick-out, you’re not ready to return to running.


In continuing to mimic the actions of running, you can also try hopping and bounding activities. If it hurts after the first, don’t persist. Hopping is a higher impact action than walking and skipping, and so you’ll want to be careful here. But again, if you can make it through your hops pain free, this is a great sign for your return to running.

Bounding, jumping and hopping activities also work great as plyometrics in your strength training, helping you ensure you limit your risk of future injuries.


If you’ve done all the right steps, focused on your recovery, and tested the waters with these low-impact actions, I always think it’s best to ease back into running with a few walk-runs, and a significant cut-back on the distances you were running pre-injury. This can be different depending on the amount of time you spent out injured; but even injuries that last just a few weeks should be treated with caution to avoid reoccurring problems.

Besides, most of your ultras will incorporate flashes of walking and running intertwined together, and you should become just as comfortable walking when training for those longer efforts.

This is one more reason why walk-runs are a great tool to add to your repertoire in your post-injury regimen. The amount of running and walking that you can return to do depends on how active you were during your injury, what level you were attaining pre-injury, and the nature of your injury itself, so proceed with caution and consult the medical advice of a professional physiotherapist – preferably one who knows runners.

So in your return to injury, cautiously and carefully test the waters with walking, A, B, C’s, and hopping. If these actions feel natural and normal, you might be ready to test the waters with some slow walk-runs, and start building back toward full fitness.

Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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One response to “How to tell you’re ready to return from injury”

  1. […] returning to running from injury, I’ve focused my training entirely around intentional training. I’ve focused on […]


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