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How to Maintain Fitness While Injured

Tips for exercising

By

Updated May 18, 2014

Man Exercising on Rowing Machine at Home
Biggie Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images
If you have a sports injury, chances are you will need to take some time off to rest, recover and regroup. But if you don't want to stop all exercise, there are ways to maintain a bit of fitness while recovering from many sports injuries.

Athletes who are injuries often worry about losing fitness during time away from training. Detraining or deconditioning) is a fact of life when you stop exercise, but if you simply want to maintain a base of fitness, there are a few ways to modify your routine. But before you do any exercise after an injury, it's wise to get the approval and recommendations of your treating physician or therapist. Follow their recommendations for when you can resume exercise, how much, and what type of exercise is best.

It's also helpful to know the guidelines for returning to sports after an injury.

Studies have shown that you can maintain your fitness level even if you need to change or cut back on your exercise for several months. In order to do so, you need to exercise at about 70 percent of your VO2 max at least once per week.

Even if one body part or joint is immobilized, there's usually no reason that you can't find other ways to stay fit while rehabilitating by using the principles of crosstraining. It may take some creativity and the flexibility to try new things, but most athletes find training through injury is possible and not terribly difficult. The key is to maintain the right attitude and protect the injured part until it heals. Here are some ways to continue working out while recovering from four common injuries:

Ankle & Foot Injuries
If your ankle or foot is injured, you still have many exercise options. If your doctor approves it and you are able to, using the rowing machine or a stationary bike with one leg, or swimming are possibilities. Work with your doctor or trainer to find other non-weight bearing cardio exercise you can do and spend 30-60 minutes about three times a week on that exercise to maintain endurance.

Circuit training is also a great choice for exercising through injuries. Here is one sample workout to try in your local gym:

  • Perform the following circuit workout M-W-F.
  • Perform each exercise for 30-60 seconds. Allow 15 seconds of rest between stations.
  • Complete the entire circuit three to four times.
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise
  1. Leg Extension Machine
  2. Chest Press
  3. Lat Pulldown
  4. Overhead Press
  5. Seated Cable Rows
  6. Stability Ball Push-Up
  7. Ab 'Bicycle' Crunches
  8. Hanging Leg Raise

Leg and Knee Injuries
Leg and knee injuries can be fairly limiting for most athletes. Almost all endurance exercise require flexion and extension of the knee joint, so developing a new routine may be frustrating. One-legged cycling, kayaking, using an upper body ergometer (hand cycle) are options. Swimming may be possible if you use a pull buoy so you don't kick or use your legs.

Here are two circuit training routines to try:

Circuit 1

  • Perform this workout M-W-F.
  • Perform each exercise for 30-60 seconds. Allow 15 seconds of rest between stations.
  • Complete the entire circuit three to four times.
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise
  1. Pull-Up or Assisted Pull-Up
  2. Chest Press
  3. Lat Pulldown
  4. Overhead Press
  5. Seated Cable Rows

Circuit 2

  • Perform this workout Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
  • Perform each exercise for 30-60 seconds. Allow 15 seconds of rest between stations.
  • Complete the entire circuit three to four times.
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise
  1. Seated Russian Twist
  2. Plank Exercise: Start Position | Finish Position
  3. Side Plank Exercise: Start Position | Finish Position
  4. Ab Crunch
  5. Decline Push-Ups

Elbow and Shoulder Injuries
Shoulder or other upper body injuries often allow the most possibility for continuing traditional cardio exercise because the lower body can be exercised fully. Walking, stair climbing, stationary (hands-free) cycling and the elliptical trainer are all possibilities. In addition, circuit training routines will maintain strength and power in the non-injured muscles and joints. Consider performing the following circuit routine 4-5 times per week.

  • Perform each exercise for 30-60 seconds, unless otherwise noted. Allow 15 seconds of rest between stations.
  • Complete the entire circuit three to four times.
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise
  1. Stationary cycling - 2 minutes moderate pace and 2 minutes higher intensity.
  2. Leg Press
  3. Elliptical trainer - 2 minutes moderate pace and 2 minutes higher intensity.
  4. Ab Crunch
  5. Walking Lunge
  6. Low Back Extensions
  7. Treadmill walking - 2 minutes moderate pace and 2 minutes higher intensity (or incline)
  8. Wall Sit

Low Back Injuries
Back injuries can be difficult to recover from, so talk with your doctor about the specific type of back injury you have and your exercise limitations before you begin any alternate activities. Walking, swimming or recumbent cycling are generally safe for those with low back pain and this will help you maintain cardiovascular fitness as you recover. Get your doctor or physical therapist's OK before trying the following circuit.

  • Perform the following circuit workout M-W-F.
  • Perform each exercise for 30-60 seconds. Allow 15 seconds of rest between stations.
  • Complete the entire circuit three to four times.
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise
  • Complete 30-60 minutes of non-weight bearing cardio on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
  1. Chest Press
  2. Lat Pulldown
  3. Overhead Press
  4. Seated Cable Rows
  5. Leg Extension Machine
  6. Wall Sit

Other Tips for Training Through Injuries

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