How to Safely Train While Recovering from an Injury

If you find yourself on the bench after suffering an injury, you don’t have to necessarily wait on the sidelines until you’re fully recovered. Many runners turn to cross-training as a way to continue training while still recovering from a recent injury. Which activities are best? Let’s weigh the options.


Cross Trainer

Sometimes referred to as an elliptical trainer, a cross trainer is on par with the treadmill as far as fitness gains go. However, the movement is altogether different, which will impact its effectiveness.

Elliptical workouts are low impact, but they do require you to bend your ankles, knees and hips more. Some experts say that this can be detrimental if you’re nursing an injury, a knee injury specifically. Others say that activating your major calf muscles may help with achilles problems or calf injuries.

Cross trainers still offer a great workout, allowing you to burn 318 calories per hour at a moderate pace.

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Cycling is a great complementary activity for runners, so this is a natural choice when recovering from an injury. Studies show that interval training on a bike can improve a runner’s 5km time by 30 seconds in a little over a month.

The quadriceps are responsible for about 39% of the total work performed when cycling, but your calves and hips play a big role, too. Experts recommend using cycling as a form of training when you’re recovering from achilles tendon problems and knee ligament issues.

Calorie expenditure varies greatly depending on how quickly the cycle. At 12 mph, cycling will burn about 509 calories per hour. Pushing the pace to 18 mph will allow you to burn 763 calories per hour.

The Stepper

The stepper is another low-impact activity that mimics the action of running. As far as fitness gains go, the stepper is similar to the elliptical trainer.

When using the machine, you’ll rely heavily on your quadriceps muscles, calves and glutes. Hip flexion is greater than the elliptical or treadmill, so this activity may not be the best option for someone with a hip injury. Experts recommend stairclimbing as an alternative to cycling for those who are recovering from ACL injuries.

The stepper will help you burn about 382 calories per hour at a moderate pace.


Swimming offers some unique advantages over the other activities on our list. The position of your body is different (horizontal vs. vertical), but your weight will also be supported by the water when you’re swimming. This takes some of the stress off the injured soft tissue and joints.

Swimming can be heavy on the shoulders, back and arms, which makes it a great option for people recovering from leg injuries. The breast stroke, on the other hand, requires more effort from the lower body, which makes it a poor choice for knee injuries.

The amount of calories you burn while swimming will vary greatly depending on how much effort you put into the workout. Crawl laps at a moderate pace can burn up to 623 calories an hour. Slower strokes and a slower pace may only burn 445 calories per hour.

If you recovering from an injury, it’s important to choose an activity that will allow you to continue training without further injuring yourself. If you have a leg injury, it may be best to focus on activities that work the upper body, such as swimming. However, for calf and ACL injuries, a cross trainer, cycling and other similar activities are great options.