If you work out regularly, you probably know how frustrating it is when injury prevents you from getting your sweat on. After I ran my first marathon a few years ago, I ended up with an injury that had me on crutches for a couple of weeks, with my doctor’s advice to rest and take it easy. I hobbled around and felt miserable not being able to do much with a painful leg.
It’s easy to decide to just give up on your fitness when you’re unable to do your usual workout, but with a little creativity, you can definitely stay active and feel good!
1. Your first step should be to use your doctor as a resource. When you’re at your appointment for your injury, pick your doctor’s brain! What movements or activities should be totally off-limits? What would they suggest you try as an alternative? If you don’t tell your doctor you want to keep exercising as you recover, they may not offer up advice, so don’t be afraid to speak up. Your doctor can also give you a list of physical therapy-type exercises to help your recovery; take the list to the gym and try them as a starting point.
2. Think about what it is you can't do and come up with a replacement. For example, instead of running or walking, you may be able to use a bike with no problem. If your injury is painful enough to even make cycling impossible, you could try a hand-cycle (called an ergometer), walking in a pool, or using the rowing machine. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, cardio is defined as “any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically," so even doing a circuit-style weight training session could count as cardio if you keep your weights light, with high repetitions, and move quickly from one exercise to the next to keep your heart rate elevated.
3. If you have a lower body injury and aren’t able to put any weight on your feet at all, then move it down to the floor! For lower-body strength training, try exercises on the floor using ankle weights or bands. Use machines for lower body that don't require weight through your feet, like hamstring curls, leg extensions, and the Roman chair.
4. When you have an upper body injury, you can be limited in all your activity because jostling the injured area can be painful. If you are limited to walking very slowly, you could do that on a treadmill with the resistance high in order to make it challenging. Usually a semi-recumbant stationary bike is fine for upper-body injuries, but again, make sure you increase the resistance so your heart rate stays elevated throughout your workout. Most lower body strength training should be okay for you; if you are unable to hold weights in both hands, you can enjoy the extra abdominal workout you get by using your abs to balance yourself as you squat or lunge with weight on only one side!
5. Don't underestimate the power of the Internet for finding workouts. Search YouTube or dedicated workout websites for your injury to see what you can try. Double check with your doctor to get their opinion on the suggested workouts first, of course, but this can be a great way to find some options that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to you.
Have you ever had an injury you were able to work around when exercising? What’s the one form of exercise you’d miss the most if you were injured?
Images via Carly Pizzani
Editor's Note: This advice does not replace that a medical professional. Always check with your doctor before attempting to return to an exercise routine post-injury.