How to Maintain Fitness While Recovering From an Injury

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How to Maintain Fitness While Recovering From an Injury

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 base fitness while recovering from many sports injuries.

Athletes who are injured 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.

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.

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.

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 cross training. 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 and 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, 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 to 60 minutes about three times a week on that exercise to maintain endurance.

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, or using an upper body ergometer (handcycle) are options. Swimming may be possible if you use a pull buoy so you don't kick or use your legs.

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.

Lower 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.

A Word From Verywell

When you are injured, you don't want to lose all of the fitness gains you have made. You may want to work with a personal trainer to design an alternate fitness routine. You also need to use coping strategies to address the emotional effects of having an injury so you won't be too discouraged to continue your fitness efforts. With proper healing time and rehabilitation, you may be able to return to your favorite sports or fitness activities in good shape.


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