How to Run When You Can’t Run

How to Run When You Can’t Run

By Erica Tillinghast, MS, cPT

For many gym-goers, running is viewed as the ultimate cardio workout that they are “supposed to do” to be successful in their workouts. Unfortunately, many people can no longer run, for reasons ranging from joint degeneration to bodyweight to metabolic factors, to name a few. Alternatively, the exerciser might just not enjoy running. Either way, feeling as though you are unable to be a part of a community or perform an exercise that is perceived as iconic can lead everyday athletes to stray from the gym due to feeling incapable, or simply not knowing how else to achieve their fitness goals. I’ve often had people tell me, “I’d like to lose weight, but I can’t run anymore.” Well, the gym is the ultimate panacea for finding new fitness activities – from group classes, to strength and functional conditioning, or even other cardio equipment. However, if you’re truly a runner at heart and craving that runner’s high, here are some tips to help you find that buzz on the Precor EFX®.

Quicken Your Tempo

180 strides per minute is often recommended as the optimal number of strides per minute to reduce injury risk and increase speed in runners. Shortening stride length requires faster turnover to increase speed, and this may help athletes reduce injury by eliminating heel striking and lessening overall impact due to less time in flight. However, evidence suggests many casual runners have a longer stride length and a lower steps per minute rate at 170 or less.

On the EFX, try maintaining a moderate resistance and increasing steps per minute to creep towards that 160-180 mark. 

Use Your Arms

Upper body mechanics play a big part in proficient running technique. Coordinated arm motion helps to drive the lower body and increases balance. Good runners will allow their arms to move freely and keep them close to their body. Elbows should be positioned at a 90-degree angle, and should swing front to back; they should not cross over the center of the body.  Keep wrists in a neutral position and hands relaxed. To increase speed, runners must quicken the cadence of their upper body swing.

On the EFX, increase resistance slightly and train hands free. Practice increasing arm swing and observe how steps per minute increase as the upper body actively engages to propel the movement. 

Climb a Hill (or Two)

Out on the road or trail, terrain is not level. Changing the terrain changes the muscles you recruit when running. Dashing up a hill? The Cooper Institute observed that lower body muscle activation increases 9 percent when running uphill. It also noted that hamstring activation was lower, and two of the quadriceps muscles plus the soleus were elevated. Heightened muscle activation also led to an increase in oxygen consumption.

On the EFX, vary the training grade by upping the Converging CrossRamp® level to 14-20 to simulate hilly terrains.


  1. Clark, Michael and Scott Lucett. NASM’s Essentials of Sports Performance Training. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
  2. Harper, Michael. Understanding Uphill Running. April 2010.
  3. Karp, Jason. Preventing Running Injuries. IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 10, No. 2, 2013.
  4. O’Mara, Kelly. Make a High Stride Rate Work For You., 2016.

Erica Tillinghast is an avid runner and four-time Boston Marathon finisher.

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