If you’re a runner, surely someone in your world has commented about how bad the sport is for the knees. While knee pain is common among runners, running isn’t inherently bad for your knees.
Case in point, I hurt my knee at a trampoline gym. YUP. Exercise with knee pain means you have to be creative, you aren’t relegated to the couch, so get on up.
My own personal approach to getting back into running, and specifically running after knee surgery involved:
- dedicated strength training
- mental work
- physical therapy like it was my new sport
I did the work before and after my surgery and I reintroduced running again slowly and with guidance from my physical therapist. To force myself from rushing into my old ways, I continued to follow LHR training.
So when I get questions like “How can I lose weight with a knee injury?” or “How much fitness will I lose with a knee injury?” I find myself thinking, you’ve got this all wrong.
How to Exercise with a Knee Injury
There are plenty of ways to stay in shape, even with a bum knee, and the most important thing to remember during this time is to think about all of the activities you can do, as opposed to the ones you can’t.
This is a lot like running with arthritis. We’re focused on some key elements that allow us to keep going with less pain!
Regular movement will also help ensure you maintain an exercise habit and keep your morale high, thanks to the endorphin boost.
It may not be the same as a runners’ high, but it will keep you sane…or more sane…or as sane as a runner ever gets.
Talk to your Medical Professional
Before you even think about hitting the pool or gym, stop and talk to a physical therapist or other medical professional.
The eager beaver in you wants to get back to running, like yesterday, BUT you may just be prolonging your pain, or even worse, causing more damage if you go out there without knowing what your limits are.
There is no one size fits all recovery plan for knee injuries.
Each and every one is unique and recovery will vary from person to person. Stop doing what you’re doing if you feel sharp pain and talk to your physical therapist to come up with a plan that puts you on the path back to running.
- When you first notice a small amount of pain, rest for a day or two and try again.
- If the pain continues, then reevaluate.
- And consider making an appointment with your doctor to see what’s going on.
How to Stay Fit While Injured?
It may seem like the end of the world upon learning that you won’t be able to run for months, or even longer, but it’s important to keep moving as much as your body allows while your knee heals.
I always try to frame this time as a chance to work on other areas that will build you in to a better runner all around.
We know that simply resting isn’t going to get you back to running. Instead, staying active is going to result in a host of benefits, most importantly preventing other injuries and ensuring that you sleep well which is a huge part of recovery.
- Talk to your doctor and understand any limitations (i.e. no step downs or no side movements)
- Commit yourself to the physical therapy prescribed because it will encourage healing correctly
- Your upper body still works right? THEN USE IT
- Focus on how you can build muscle with strength workouts
- Improve your range of motion with mobility and yoga for runners
- Find anti-inflammatory options like turmic or things to help joint health for runners
Truly there’s a very LARGE range of what you can do, so with that excuse behind us let’s look at some additional ideas.No more excuses about not exercising due to knee pain. A workout and plenty of ideas to keep you going! Click To Tweet
What Exercise Can I do with a Bad Knee?
Depending on the severity of the knee injury, you may be restricted to upper body, hip, and core strength exercises only.
In fact, focusing on upper body strength for runners will help you to power up more hills and rev up your metabolism when you might be burning fewer calories.
- TRX (optional)
- Set of dumbbells (I recommend the adjustable ones because they take up less space and will grow with you)
- Mini resistance bands
No equipment? No worries, checkout these body weight workouts for runners.
Sample strength workout with a knee injury:
Perform 12-15 reps x 3 rounds
- Seated shoulder press (1 arm at a time)
- Seated bent over flys
- Side bends with dumbbell
- Chest press (1 arm at a time)
- Plank for 30 seconds
- Hip bridge with small march
- Runner arms
- Standing side leg raises (think Jane Fonda, but your hips and glutes will burn)
You can easily progress these moves by sitting on a stability ball or by increasing the weight. As you increase the weight, you should also feel more core activation.
Cardio with a Knee Injury
Once you can put some weight on your knee and move around without limping, you can probably begin to introduce some light cardio activities. These will keep your blood flowing and the joints and muscles limber as you heal.
During my recovery, it was very much a day to day process.
I would walk 10 minutes one day and see if I could make it 12 the next…from there I’d see if I could eventually get a little farther in the same amount of time.
In other words, DO NOT try to force it, but don’t stop trying. You didn’t become a runner by stopping when it was hard, so keep going slow and steady.
Swimming or Aqua Jogging
The pool reduces your bodyweight by up to 90%, which takes a significant load off your joints and is therefore a great way to stay in shape.
A knee rehabilitation pool workout may not resemble traditional laps that come to mind when thinking about swimming.
Pool workouts ideas include:
- Grabbing a kickboard and kicking your way back and forth
- If you are not able to kick, use a buoy to keep your legs afloat and swim using your arms only to propel forward.
- Walk slowly through the water in the shallow end
- Do a low-impact water aerobics workout if your gym offers them
- Pool running
Cycling with Knee Pain
Cycling is a great low-impact activity that works well for many folks recovering from knee injuries. BUT NOT for all, so test it out inside on a stationary bike before venturing outdoors.
You may find the recumbent bike feels easier on the knee initially, which could be because your legs are straight down and thus potentially less swelling.
It can help those suffering from patellofemoral pain syndrome or runners’ knee, caused by weakness or imbalance in the quadriceps. Cycling can also help build the muscles that keep your knee in line.
- Start indoors
- Keep the resistance low until you rebuild strength
- Pay attention to your RPM’s and as you get stronger aim for 90RPM to mimic a good foot turnover
- Outdoors start with flat paths which won’t place as much pressure on the knee as pedaling uphill.
If you already know that cycling doesn’t cause pain, then get to it! A 90 minute bike ride can simulate a 60 minute run outdoors, in terms of cardiovascular benefits and maintaining your endurance.
Elliptical with Knee Pain
Provided you can do this without limping or favoring one side, the elliptical is another low-impact option for runners.
Some might say this is a better choice than walking on the treadmill because you can move faster with minimal impact on your knee, since you don’t lift your feet off the pedals. It also gets your heart rate up in a similar way to running.
For me personally, I’d prefer to take a long walk than hang out on the treadmill…but again that’s me!
Walking and Hiking
Which of course leads us to our most basic option of simply walking or eventually hiking. During my recovery this is what truly helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Being outside in nature was so soothing and it kept me focused on the ultimate end goal of getting back to running.
This all feels like a long winded way of saying, just do something, but stop if it’s painful.
Have you been sidelined due to a knee injury? How did you stay in shape during recovery?
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