Thursday night, less than 7 minutes into a treadmill workout, my left hamstring popped and stiffened up, bringing the workout to an abrupt end.
I could walk on it as long as I didn’t walk too fast, aka stride too far. I definitely could not run on it. It didn’t hurt in general unless I used it.
But there it is: My first injury of substance in 2.5 years, let alone substantial enough to stop me from exercising (I don’t count cramping, and I’ve had some pretty bad leg cramps). I ran over 3500 miles in that span, not including any other exercise, and of course the many more miles of walking I did. I had never been injured in any meaningful way in that span.
It’ll be fine. Again, I can mostly walk on it fine, and only feel it while walking if I overstride. I certainly cannot run, and won’t even try for at least a full week. I imagine it’ll be a few weeks before it’s healed fully. Had it not popped I’d have thought maybe I just pulled it, so it’s at least a strain or possibly a sprain. I imagine if it was grade 2 or worse I’d feel some constant pain, but again I feel no pain most of the time, even walking.
So, no running for a week or two. It’ll be like post-marathon recovery! In fact, the best way to handle a minor but shut-it-down leg injury like a sprain is to treat the next couple weeks like you’ve just finished a marathon. Stay away from running for a bit, eat and sleep a lot to help drive recovery, ease back into some cross training, then do a reverse taper of easy running until you’re back to your normal volume.
The good news is I’m not waiting for my whole body to heal. Almost everything else is in ready condition. It’s just waiting for the one injured part to slowly heal.
As for cross training… I did carefully test out other methods in the gym after the injury.
The ARC Trainer can be used pain free with care, but requires an undue amount of work from my quads. In the short run, that might pose an injury risk from quad overcompensation, more than the risk of aggravating the hamstring.
I can obviously strength train my upper body without a problem. I’ll obviously avoid any lower body weight bearing exercises for now. But I can push iron and pull weight with my upper body as normal. I had already been strength training several times a week for some time.
I can use the stationary bike without a problem! Whether recumbent or the spin bike, I’m able to pedal with no distress at all. The only issue of course is that the stationary bike is the least aerobically taxing cross training workout aside from walking. I’d have to pedal unsafely hard to get more than a walk-caliber fat burn. So up to an hour on the bike won’t be *much* of an aerobic workout, though it’s definitely better than just resting and doing nothing.
While resting the hamstring outside of necessary walking, I of course want to stay active. If for no other reason, I want to burn enough calories to ensure I don’t pile on weight during recovery. But staying active also helps generate blood and hormone circulation that will aid in moving along recovery.
Sitting/laying does speed along muscle rebuilding, but that rebuilt muscle tears again once you resume moving, as the pathways of each muscle’s movement have to be re-carved. Consistent lifestyle-based movement essentially (without getting into the buttload of nuanced science that explains this) carves the pathway along which the muscle rebuilds.
So while the muscle may recover more slowly than if you had done nothing (and jury’s out on how much damage you actually do by moving)… the existing and rebuilt muscle is less likely to be unduly re-damaged as you ramp back up to normal movement. Along with the pathways being carved in your recovering muscles, your surrounding muscle has been working and maintaining/growing their strength. This also reduces the burden on that recovering muscle as it resumes function.
Now, all that said, injuries are typically the result of form issues. The dead-halt an injury produces leads to some understandable self-reflection, and I realize that my hamstring popping was the result of a couple factors:
– I may have been, not just Thursday but prior to that, going harder in treadmill runs than I probably should have.
– My form on the treadmill may have developed problems that contributed to the eventual injury.
Admittedly, my pace on the treadmill has been about 1-2 minutes faster than I had been going in outdoor runs. Granted, this pace felt largely comfortable, and the goal was to acclimate my legs to the cadence and impact for faster outdoor running. I had been seeing results in my few outdoor runs (the heat’s led me to mostly work out indoors).
I had noticed a bit of residual soreness in my lower body over the past few weeks, though there’s a variety of other factors why it could have happened (lots of walking, reduced volume in recent weeks, lower body strength training, fewer calories in trying to shed some fat reducing available protein/glycogen, etc). It’s possible that cumulative wear and tear led to Thursday.
Perhaps it was too much. Even though I was running very few miles (and safely cross training other ways), the running I did was somewhat faster than typical easy runs, and on an unnatural treadmill.
Along with that, you do have to subtlely alter your form to safely run on a treadmill. It’s possible that my form shifted to put too much stress on my hamstring. As I’ve mentioned before, your glutes should do the bulk of the work while running, with the quads and hamstrings providing ancillary support. My hamstring probably didn’t pop while providing ancillary support. It was probably doing too much work.
As I mentioned before, I only feel my hamstring during walking when overstriding. It’s possible that, despite the treadmill’s close quarters, I’ve been overstriding a bit on treadmill runs, especially when I have the machine velocity turned up (as I did when I got hurt: I was doing a speed workout with 1min reps between 3mins of recovery).
So, as I did when I last got hurt in 2017, I’ll need to review the nuts and bolts of my form, and re-find comfortable, pain free, repeatable form. Because I’ll need to work back slowly anyway (as mentioned, I’ll be moving next month, and don’t have a current race on the horizon, so I have time to ease back), I’ll have ample opportunity to get it right again. So maybe getting hurt was a blessing in disguise.