Ankle injury; help me come up with a taxing cross-training program.
July 8, 2014 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I was recently diagnosed with a tibial stress fracture. I'd like to keep up my aerobic fitness during the 6-8 weeks the doctor said I wouldn't be able to run, but everything I have tried (cycling, aqua running) is not giving me a workout even remotely comparable to that of my running sessions. Please come up with some neato workouts I could try which don't stress the ankle, so I can run strong post-rehab. Details inside.

Like I said, I've tried both aqua running (in my pool using a belt) and cycling (both in-gym and out). Aqua running got my heart rate up higher than fast walking, but even interval training didn't really tire me out. I was going at a cadence of at least 175-180 - high knees and all - so I don't think I'm doing it wrong. Honestly, I worked out my legs far more than my cardiovascular system.

Also, aqua running is BORING, which is another strike against it for me. However, my sports doc is the one that recommended aqua running, and said I would be able to keep up my fitness by doing it. if I can find ways to spice up/refine the workout, maybe I would derive more enjoyment and benefit from it. Any ideas? (I am suffering from a slightly impinged shoulder, so regular swimming is a little iffy for me.)

Also, like I said, I tried cycling; I barely broke a sweat. I gave interval training a go, but at the speed/resistance I need to get anything out of it, it puts a fair amount of pressure on the ankle - which I don't really want.

So I suppose the ideal exercise would be in water, or maybe some home program that doesn't put stress on the lower body. At home I'm currently doing some rehab exercises that the doc gave me (calf raises, hip flexor stretches, hip abductor strengtheners, etc), but obviously that doesn't really tire me out. I'd be greatly appreciative of any advice that athletes of any level could give me on come quality workouts to keep my current level of fitness.
posted by Kamelot123 to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does your gym have a rowing machine? I was able to do that when I had posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. Kept me sane. You can do wickedly exhausting intervals on the rowing machine (like rowing for 12-15 calories every minute on the minute for 10-15 minutes).

Also, would swimming normally help? I don't know how big your pool is or if your gym has a pool you can use.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:14 AM on July 8, 2014

I'm looking for the same thing for different reasons. I've found several low-impact cardio videos online, but not sure if that's what you want.

Seconding rowing too. It's a great workout, I just don't have access to a machine.
posted by Gusaroo at 7:19 AM on July 8, 2014

How about any one of these workouts be neila rey.
posted by axismundi at 7:27 AM on July 8, 2014

Whoops. I glossed over the part about wonky shoulder. Ignore my comment about swimming normally.

Another idea is just to do a set number of push ups and sit ups continuously for a certain number of minutes. Like in 10 minutes, try to do as many sets of 5 push ups/20 sit ups (or whatever your fitness level allows) as possible. It's surprisingly tiring!
posted by astapasta24 at 7:29 AM on July 8, 2014

You have to drive through your foot to row; 1 legged rowing might be ok. I wouldn't risk too much with a stress fracture. If you aggravate it, there's a risk of extending the time you're not running. You want to heal so you can avoid problems later.

I know it's hard, but try to accept that you're not going to get a runner's high or any reward comparable to what you'd had previously. My advice is to suck it up and stick to pool running or Pilates only on non-affected joints for the full 8 weeks.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:55 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can that leg bear any weight? If regular cycling didn't do anything, have you tried spinning? You might also give bikram yoga a try just for the hell of it.
posted by peep at 8:15 AM on July 8, 2014

Can you do active yoga? Like the Jillian Michaels yells at you kind?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:21 AM on July 8, 2014

I have never found anything to be as strenuous as running. Yeah, it sucks to have to cool it for a few weeks, but you need to take care of your body and let it heal or you're only going to be out for longer. If you're in good shape now, stick with the cycling and aqua running and you won't have any trouble hopping right back on the horse when your leg is healed up. I'm always surprised at how quickly I regain endurance after a break from running and I am no kind of serious athlete.
posted by something something at 8:25 AM on July 8, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks so far!

I think rowing would probably be a bad idea. The doc said my other leg is pretty beat up as well, which could potentially turn into ANOTHER stress fracture. I kind of had the perfect storm of conditions leading up to these injuries: Bad form, low cadence, bad shoes, running too much too quickly, etc.

Cotton dress sock: I hear ya, and I am trying to be careful. But running was such a stress reliever for me. I was just kind of hoping that I could find some kind of exercise that helps with my stress/anxiety as much as running does.

peep: I've heard about spinning, but am kind of fuzzy on the details. Is it similar to indoor cycling? In any case, I'll give it a look.

roomthreeseventeen: Maybe! I'll see if I can find some exercises I can manage.
posted by Kamelot123 at 8:56 AM on July 8, 2014

I found treading water with hands in the air (for intervals - e.g., 30 seconds with hands in the air, 15 seconds normal treading - adjust for your fitness level) to be a great leg/cardio workout. It might be too much stress on the ankle, but you could try it.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2014

Have you tried lap swimming with a kickboard (i.e., kicking)? You can try different ways of holding the kickboard to reduce stress on your shoulder (hold it straight out in front of you with your face in the water vs. hug it to your chest), or for a pretty intense core workout, just kick without the kickboard. Most lap swimmers concentrate on arm movements because kicking a lot gets you out of breath really fast.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2014

I think swimming is going to be your best bet by far. Depending on the extent of your ankle injury, you may need to stick to arms only for a bit. You can experiment with various strokes to see what's easiest on your shoulder. Be careful when kicking off the wall.

That said, for me, the main issue when recovering from a broken ankle (granted, it sounds like I had a far worse break) was the fact that even slight impact was painful for a long long time. Cardio fitness comes back quickly.
posted by ktkt at 10:14 AM on July 8, 2014

Get a foam peanut/wedge ti hold between your legs and swim with your arms only. I was doing this with hand paddles and it's much more tiring than regular lap swimming. Hand paddles have the potential to stress your shoulders, though.

This might be a long shot, but what about pilates? You could get a one on onne session and talk about complementing your rehab, and while it wouldn't be cardio, it would still be quite a beneficial workout.

Finally, does your gym have one of those arm bikes? Basically you're pedaling with your arms. Mine does and people who need to stay off their legs seem to really like it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2014

Do you have a gym that offers gravity machine workouts? You would be able to work upper body and core abs with cable weights (with suitable mod for your shoulder, of course) and do one leg squat only. It's not exactly cardio but you will be out of breath, tired, and in better shape than otherwise. It is low impact.

Regarding swimming, you can do the following moves with shoulder and ankle injury:
1. Lie on your back. Flutter kick. This will get your heart rate up and has zero shoulder impact. Fold your arms on your belly.
2. Arms only, sculling. This is harder to get your heart rate up but gives upper body workout without shoulder stress.
Back stroke, breast stroke may be performed with caution. Freestyle is avoided at all cost. Side stroke is avoided because it is boring. Eggbeater kick traveling length of pool while upright is avoided due to rotational pressures on ankle, but by all means try it.

Hiring aqua trainer will assist with the water rehab so you are not straight up running. Have you tried the following variations:
1. Hamstring run (kick your butt with your feet)
2. Goose step run (full forward leg extension)
3. Sideways walks/runs - side lunge to go width of pool, grapevine walk to travel width of pool.
4. Deep water running - do this without flotation belt if you can and run as fast as you can upright across the deep end. You can also deep water cycle, then one leg cycle. Good luck with this.

I would not do pilates or yoga if I were you. Yoga requires flexibility in the ankle that you don't have. Pilates requires instruction to use the core muscles that you won't have the patience for.

You might also want to kick start your rehab program which surely will encompass glute work, hamstring, quads. You can do low weight, high rep on glutes, hamstrings, quads on your affected leg no impact with the right equipment (think resistance cables). Skip calves for now. A circuit train of these, combined with upper body work on exercise ball or similar, will also leave you tired.

A cross between swimming, gravity training, and rehab circuit might work for now. It's not like running but should keep you busy and tired.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:14 PM on July 8, 2014

Also - you can vary your water runs by combining exercises with those stupid looking foam arm weights - bicep curl, tricep extension, chest press, fly. Those will help with your shoulder rehab.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:16 PM on July 8, 2014

I was just kind of hoping that I could find some kind of exercise that helps with my stress/anxiety as much as running does.

If this is the actual goal (vs. weight loss or cardiovascular fitness), this might be your chance to expand your stress management repertoire to include something like mindfulness meditation, which research is showing does help manage a range of anxiety disorders. Improved bodily awareness (taught in mindfulness meditation, also, learned through feedback in rehab Pilates, with good instruction, yes that is key) might help arm you against hurting yourself more when you get back to it. (I know it's the opposite direction of where you're head's at, but where your head's at doesn't seem to be helping your body.) I agree that yoga would be a bad idea.

Personally, I wouldn't do a thing other than what's been medically advised without good instruction. Way too easy to get into weird compensations and imbalances -- especially if you've done your shoulder in as well, which suggests that something about your technique, biomechanics, or actual body parts isn't right.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:15 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to a gym with a handcycle? Looks kind of something like this.

I broke a toe two weeks ago. Frustrated for some exercise, I felt like a doofus trying it out at the gym (it's that piece of equipment that you never see anyone using, looks like it's gathering dust), but man does it get my heartrate up and breathing heavy after a few minutes - especially trying out some of the hill/resistance levels. I can't do it for more than 5 minutes at a time, but some 2-3 minute intervals on various resistance levels definitely gets me sweating.
posted by raztaj at 4:23 PM on July 8, 2014

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