Cardio ideas for a gimp.
March 18, 2010 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I need a cardio exercise that is as close to being as effective and versatile as running as possible that I can do with certain injuries (knees and ankles).

I have bad knees and ankles. I can't run, elliptical and stair climber and speed-walking are no good for my ankles (I have problems flexing them), rowing doesn't wind me at all, and biking is OK but it would take 3 times as long at least to get the same level of workout compared to running.
Swimming front crawl is great but it isn't at all versatile. I can't just go out my front door and start swimming.
I just thought of trying rollerblading which I am going to go and try out.
I really need a low-impact cardio exercise that preferably is doable indoors in the winter time that will kick my ass.
posted by GleepGlop to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked into spinning classes at your local gym? You say you can cycle, spinning is stationary cycling but with a much more high-intensity, group class approach. And can be done indoors in the winter.
posted by peacheater at 11:26 AM on March 18, 2010

Hmm, didn't realize the spinning link on Wikipedia redirected to the indoor cycling page. I guess that's because it's a brand name. Here's the official site.
posted by peacheater at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2010

I am not sure why biking is ok if you have issues flexing your ankles. Done properly your ankles will flex. If it does not hurt your ankles this may also be good for them and if you ride hard enough it can be almost as much work as running. I will admit though that it is hard to ride that kind of pace. It hurts. The easiest way is to sprint for a minute, then ride at a relaxed pace for a minute and then keep repeating this until you are too tired to continue.

Perhaps a dumbbell or kettle ball could help. These things will seriously wind you.
posted by caddis at 11:32 AM on March 18, 2010

I spin 2x/week at my local community college. With 4 different instructors, there are workouts from "pleasurably aerobic" to "sit in the back row with your clips loose in case you have to leave to throw up."

this campus has like 7-8 classes a week during school terms and usually 1 class a day during spring and winter breaks. there are regular classes in summer too.

definitely check out spinning.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:36 AM on March 18, 2010

If rowing doesn't wind you at all, you're either doing it wrong, or you're doing it on the wrong machine. I flatter myself that I'm in pretty decent shape, but a Concept2 (or any other decent erg) can, if I choose, take me to painful places with no trouble at all. Your local YMCA or other gym may well have one to try. (If you're talking about rowing an actual boat and it doesn't wind you either, then you're definitely doing it wrong.)
posted by buxtonbluecat at 11:49 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Well, I'd suggest jumping rope as an alternative to running; it can be done indoors in short time periods and is VERY intense... and it's not as hard on your joints as you'd think.

10 minutes of jumping rope is the equivalent of 30 minutes of running.

Also, try using a weighted hula hoop when you're watching TV. It's NO impact on any of your joints and you'd be surprised at how difficult it is.

I have done both and can attest to the fact that jumping rope will kick your ass and the hooping will tone your core and give you better balance and stability.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:50 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

2nding the Concept2.

I started rowing late last fall for a change from riding the road bike and it pretty much kicked my arse at first. The local sports/rec center has one that I use 2-3 times per week. It will definitely get your heart rate up. There's a widget on the Concept2 website that can locate an erg in your area. If you start using one, make sure to check out their online logbook too. It's pretty cool to log your progress over the weeks and months. Plus, you know, if you row 1M meters, you get a t-shirt.

(300K down, 700K to go)
posted by jquinby at 11:58 AM on March 18, 2010

I'm a runner and just recovered from a foot injury in which I was unable to run for 12 weeks. During that time I used kettlebell swings and snatches to maintain fitness in a high-intensity interval training type routine.

In terms of all around fitness, its probably the best exercise I've ever done.

If it weren't for my racing hobby, I'd probably be doing kettlebell workouts as my primary exercise instead of running.

There are a few good ways to get started. The book Enter the Kettlebell from Dragondoor is a good overview. Viking Warrior Conditioning (also from Dragondoor) focuses on using the 35lb kettlebell for cardiovascular workouts. This is the program that I was doing and it was great for me as a runner.
posted by robokevin at 12:03 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of people who tell me they have bad knees refuse to do spinning. I find that new people often have sore knees because they're not positioned properly or don't put enough resistance on the bike. If you give spinning a try (its a really great workout!) arrive early and ask the instructor to set you up and show you how to stand on the bike properly.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:03 PM on March 18, 2010

Rollerblading puts a lot of pressure on your knees, fyi. If you have problems flexing your ankles as well, you may not be able to stop quickly. Skating may be dangerous for you.

For the requested maximum ass-kicking indoors with very low impact or strain on your ankles and knees, I would go with a rowing machine or a cross country ski machine, one designed like a Nordic Trak. You can get a sweet cardio workout on either one if you're doing it right! If you're not getting enough of a workout rowing, just up your speed and the resistance. It's definitely ass-kickable. I use both the rower and the ski at the gym and they're just great. Lots of panting and sweating. Both require some bending of the knees but no real strain or hyperextending, and both require virtually no ankle bending. Look on craigslist for used machines on sale when you find the one that works for you.
posted by iconomy at 12:05 PM on March 18, 2010

On road bike your energy output is cubic in proportion to your speed because the power required to move something through a fluid increases cubicly with respect to the velocity. If you think it'll take you a lot longer to get a workout on a bike than running, try sprinting and see how long you can last. It may be that you haven't biked enough to be comfortable doing this. Don't give up biking! I routinely use it as my primary daily workout when I ride to and from work, 25 minutes each way at full tilt. Each 25 minute ride is more than sufficient to bring up my heart rate and wear me out.

The same fluid dynamic principles apply to both rowing and cycling. If you are not getting a workout on a rowing machine, you may just not have developed enough skill on a rowing machine to exert yourself hard. This video demonstrates proper rowing machine techinque.

If your injuries are running-related, you might be interested in this website which discusses research into the effects of modern running shoes on lower leg injuries in runners. Modern running shoes, by providing support and cushioning, encourage a heel-first running style typified by high impact shock (even with expensive cushioning shoes). You might try running and walking barefoot to try to improve your lower leg strength.

Best of luck! I hope this all helps!
posted by melatonic at 12:05 PM on March 18, 2010


If you have a Wii, Gold's Gym Cardio Workout will make you sweat.
posted by socrateaser at 12:11 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

rowing doesn't wind me at all

Agree with everyone else that you're doing it wrong, if this is true. I rowed competitively in college, and it's just not possible to reach a level of fitness where you cannot get on a Concept 2 and row hard enough to want to throw up.
posted by Mavri at 12:27 PM on March 18, 2010

Chiming in on what everyone else has said about rowing machines. I have had experience of an 'easy' rowing machine - a very old and battered Concept where the resistance mechanism must have broken. I can only think that your rowing must have been on something similar, because I've used loads of different machines in my time and that was the only time I could have thought of rowing as easy!
posted by Coobeastie at 12:49 PM on March 18, 2010

I'm a marathon runner and swimming helped me get through an injury awhile ago. You can also try aquajogging (just google it) or tread water for a certain period of time with ankle weights on.
posted by floweredfish at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2010

Really good info here all around and some good ideas to try, thanks and keep it coming!
I haven't tried spinning and am definitely up for giving that a go. I find that one can flex the ankle cycling but one doesn't necessarily have to and can instead rely on the knee and hip joints to get the pedals around, hence why it works for me. However since I also have bad knees I can't necessarily go at a high intensity.
The rowers at my gym are pretty old and busted but I will definitely look into proper technique.
Interesting idea with the weighted hula hoop. That's the kind of outside the box idea I like. I'll try anything wacky. Even the jump rope is worth giving a shot.
posted by GleepGlop at 1:01 PM on March 18, 2010

Jump roping is GREAT -- if you do it on the bouncy wood floor a gym, if your knees and ankles are really just tweaky, and not actually injured, it could be very good. I have bad knees so I can't run, but I am fine on the elliptical, and I find jump roping to be great. It's incredible cardio, you can control the impact by how high and how hard you jump, and it's great for balance as well. There's a reason that boxers do it! It's in-tense!

That said, tread with major caution. I'm not a personal trainer or a fitness expert by any means and it's entirely possible that jumping rope might be dangerous for folks with certain joint problems. I really have no idea. All I know is that me and my sad knees like-ah the jump rope.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:13 PM on March 18, 2010

Oh, and speaking of wacky -- there's always The Shovel Glove. Surprised nobody's mentioned it yet!
posted by pazazygeek at 1:15 PM on March 18, 2010

Nthing getting a kettlebell. At 41, my cast-iron top-handle cannonballs are the best fitness tools I've ever used,because I'm actually seeing results with them. Swings will do wonders for your strength & cardio all at once, as well as help strengthen your knees & ankles in the deal.

Personally I recommend Enter The Kettlebell, the Book/DVD combo. They work together seamlessly, the book for reference, the DVD for seeing the (often unfamiliar) motions in action.

Power to you!

p.s. The weighted hula hoop actually sounds kinda brilliant.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't find a link to the original study, but I remember reading years ago that, despite their tendency to be overweight, orchestra conductors overall tested very well when it came to cardiovascular health. It was due to the constant arm movements they made during the course of their job. This book may be of help.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:38 PM on March 18, 2010

Pool running? Many many many serious road runners do it, in order to recover from injury, or to keep up fitness levels in the winter. No strain on bad hips/knees/ankles! If you decide to do it, make sure to get someone to teach you/educate yourself on proper technique.

Also, re having trouble with ankle flexing (I'm assuming dorsiflexion - pulling your toes toward your knees) - is it because of muscle weakness? or more of a range of motion issue? Because there are exercises that you can do to work on both of those areas. Feel free to memail me if you would like more information. :)
posted by purlgurly at 4:32 PM on March 18, 2010

One of these things is popular at my gym with people who have problems with regular stationary bikes. They often disregard the lower part completely. I've tried it and it kicks my ass to the curb and back. The upper body just isn't designed to deliver a constant cardio load and it's exhausting.
posted by chairface at 11:36 PM on March 19, 2010

Have you done elliptical without lifting your feet? I've read that that's the way you're supposed to do it, pushing down with your heels. I usually do it like that.

Most people seem to try to run on the elliptical, lifting their feet and pushing with the front part of their foot - and flexing the ankles. The way I described doesn't flex the ankles much.
posted by Locochona at 10:33 PM on March 20, 2010

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