How To Work Out Properly When You Have A Lower Body Injury
February 15th 2020
Should you work out your upper body when you sustained a lower body injury?
What about doing a full body workout?
Freak accidents as well.
So, now you have a knee injury, ankle injury, toe injury, foot injury…
Should you still go to the gym?
A general rule of thumb is to work out as long as it does not cause you any pain. Depending on your flexibility with changing your program, you will most likely need to skip a majority of your lower body exercises.
So, let us go through some guidelines of what do’s and don’t’s for when you have a lower body injury
Don’t - Work out through pain
If you are in pain, stop.
Especially if it is sharp, shooting and acute.
This will only delay healing.
Plus you will feel terrible afterward.
So, if you have a sprain or strain and doing anything that puts pressure on your foot irritates your injury, just call it quits and find something else.
Squats, deadlifts, heavy leg presses, just skip it for now if that causes you pain.
Find an alternative, hamstring curls, glute-hamstring machine, knee extension machine.
It will not be optimal but at least you are still training.
That is the most important thing in my opinion.
If you have a broken or fracture on your lower extremities, proceed with caution into the gym.
I know you will try to be safe but if you share the gym floor with your other commercial gym goers, the same cannot be said for them.
Do not expect them to treat you better just because you came into the gym with a cast.
Don’t - Expect the workouts to go by smoothly
You are more cautious.
You are careful to no bump into something that can cause it pain.
If you are in crutches, leg cast or boot, it will suck at least for the initial few weeks.
You will take up a lot of space in a commercial gym and you will get funny looks.
You need to plan accordingly and be efficient.
The longer you stay at the gym, the more miserable your experience can be for both yourself and others.
You can still work with heavy weights.
Just do not do any exercises that aggravate your injury.
You will need to be a grown-up and take responsibility for your exercise selection.
For instance, the last time I had a knee injury I ran down the following checklist mentally:
- Full range of motion squats hurt - I will skip those
- Do partial squats hurt? No, I will do them.
- Did pin squats from the bottom of the squat hurt? No, so I added them.
- Pin squats started to hurt after 3 weeks? I stopped as soon as I felt pain
- Deadlifts hurt? No, I continued them
- Front squats? Yes, they hurt, so I didn’t do any.
With this trial and error, I found an exercise I could do that works out my lower body. I just did many reps and sets to ensure I was still training heavy.
Do - Get creative
Your imagination will need to come here.
What if all squats and deadlifts hurt your knee?
Well, if you are in a commercial gym, you will go onto machines and find something that does not hurt you.
Do 3 sets of 15 of something.
Progressively overload until your injury is healed.
Strength training is not black and white.
It has flexibility and true progress will not be measured only through these short durations of your injury healing.
It will be based upon years and years of smart programming and training.
Your injury will test your ability to do so.
Do - Take the time do grow stronger mentally
Before your body gets strong, you must have a strong mind.
Your body will always follow your mind.
A weak minded person can never build a strong body, no matter how hard you try.
Sure, you can get all the best resources and help this person get to where he/she is today.
But once a crisis happens, that person will self-destruct and strength will not be found.
Take some time to reflect inwardly and to clear your mind of negativity.
Develop your virtues.
Develop your courage.
Develop your decisive actions.
Will training while injured help me recover faster?
No, but training while injured will ensure you that you can bounce back from the injury quicker.
For instance, when I was training with a left knee injury last year, I was doing heavy partial squats until my knee pain went away when I could do full range of motion squats.
Then, I started to do high reps of full range of motion squats.
And once my knee felt better, I was doing around 80% of what I was originally doing prior to the injury.
Contrast that to if I fully rested my lower body and do zero squats (I did that before during my first year of strength training).
I suffered a lower back injury and took 3 months off. I did not do any lifting, maybe doing some pullups and chinups once a week but that really did not count.
When I came back to the gym, I was detrained and had to start from scratch.
It humbled me but I worked my way back up in 8 weeks.
However, this time, I shorted that time to about 2-4 weeks because I was more proactive and courageous enough to train through an injury.
I made sure I avoided causing myself pain and just made sure I was lifted heavy even though I was not performing the exact squat movement I wanted.
I think training during my injury made it worse
You need to be responsible for your training.
You probably forced yourself into bad positions and you were in pain.
Otherwise, there would be no other reason why you should be worse off if you were training the same muscle groups.
Also keep in mind that since you have an injury, your body is working extra hard in order to heal itself.
You need to make sure you are treating your body right:
- Sleeping sufficiently everyday
- Eating good foods
- Staying low stress
- Making sure your hormones are balanced
So many factors but you are only worried about the physical aspect of your injury…
Training will make you feel productive
Especially if you are injured, you may feel down about not being able to work out at your maximum potential.
This short time period of training while your body heals your lower body injury will not turn you into the hulk.
You may get stronger but chances are you will not since you cannot do the specific movement you want, whether this is squats, deadlifts, leg presses, etc.
So, you will be detrained at your main lift and this might seem as though you got weaker.
But if you look at the alternative, you could lose 60-80% of your current strength and be very detrained.
And spend another 8 weeks just to get back to where you were.
Having been through training through a lower body injury and resting, I would highly suggest working through your lower body injury.
However, you will need to be very creative and your body might not respond to certain exercises and it is up to you to figure out what your replacement exercises are so that you can do something rather than do nothing.
You do not need to only do an upper body workout during a lower body injury.
But you need to know different exercises you could potentially do.
I can suggest a few down below from the top of my head.
You could also get Arnold’s Encylopedia for motivation, training tips, advice, etc.
Anyhow, for the lower body, I will list the general exercises in tiers based on how strenuous they could be and difficulty:
- Tier 1 - squats, deadlifts, leg press, sprints, farmer’s carries, atlas stones
- Tier 2 - lunges, stepups, machines
- Tier 3 - Isolation exercises
And for the upper body:
- Tier 1: Bench presses, overhead presses, Any row variation
- Tier 2: Push ups, pull-ups, majority of bodyweight movements
- Tier 3: Machines