Working out while injured | Focus on what you CAN do

Exercise regularly? Chances are you’ll experience a workout-related injury at some point or other. How can you continue working out while injured?

I’ve certainly had my share of injuries; shoulder impingement, intercostal muscle strain, undiagnosed “sore” knees and most recently, Achilles tendonitis.

Giving up my workouts is not an option. Not only do I have classes to teach and clients to train, exercising is my number one strategy for dealing with stress and maintaining a sense of balance in my life.

Each and every time I’ve been injured, I’ve had to figure out a way to balance the conflicting demands of maintaining the momentum of my training with resting and rehabilitating my injured body part. Not always an easy thing to do, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  • get a proper diagnosis. See your health care provider (doctor, physiotherapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist) for a proper diagnosis and, when applicable, treatment. Self-diagnosis via Dr. Google doesn’t count. (I’m currently seeing a physiotherapist for icing, ultrasound, acupuncture and KT taping)

working out while injured

  • determine which movements you shouldn’t be performing. Along with a diagnosis, your health care provider will make recommendations about movements to avoid. (Right now, step class and plyometrics are at the top of my ‘no no’ list)
  • switch up your training priorities. Lower body out of commission? Now’s a great time to work on upper body strength and all-over flexibility. (Need some workout ideas? Check out all the free workouts here on my blog)
  • find movements that don’t involve your injured body part. Knowing a bit of exercise physiology definitely helps, but going slowly, limiting range of motion and listening to your body will help you to find movements that you CAN perform pain free and without aggravating your injury.

After a bit of experimenting, I’ve found two movements that I CAN perform pain-free and that allow me to both train my legs and get a bit of a cardio workout in (step class is my primary form of cardio and although I don’t love cardio, my body needs it for sleep and weight management…).

Watch the two short videos below to see how I’m working out while injured!

Apparently, I’ve written about injuries a lot 🙂  Check out the following posts if you need ideas for exercises you can do while recovering from a knee injury or an intercostal muscle strain.

Workout ideas while recovering from a knee injury

Workout ideas while recovering from intercostal muscles strain

Have you ever been side-lined by a workout-related injury?

What did you do?

I’d love it if you’d share your tips and exercise suggestions for working out while injured; you never know who they might help! 




  1. I randomly gots me a runners injury (from life. go me. I was running about 18 steps a year at the time ;)) and just STOPPED AND RESTED.
    12 weeks.
    no cardio.
    I was too timid to try any other way…
    Miz recently posted…Maintainence isnt sexy.My Profile

    • I know what it feels like to be afraid to do too much and aggravate an injury. I’ve been there before and it really did a number on my head…

  2. This is tough one. I have trained through injuries since I was 15 years old. I have always found ways to do so, and have never regretted it.

    Three months ago I fell while running. During the fall I aggravated a previously torn biceps tendon which has been on the mend since 1983, but haunts me from time to time. I have always been able to train around it.

    Recently, I have been in preparation mode for a bodybuilding competition to take place this fall. As always, I chose to train around the injury. As the weeks went on after the injury, the pain got worse and worse. It got to the point where all stress on the affected area caused nauseating pain. Still, I pushed on.

    All movement hurt it — even holding on the the handles of leg extensions and leg presses. There were virtually no movements that did not cause me substantial pain. Still, I pushed — because that’s what I do.

    I’m 52 years old now. Three weeks ago in a rare moment of maturity, I decided to shut it down for a few weeks. To pass on my fall competition, and let it heal, and start anew later this month. I have never done this before, and it is very hard. BUT, it is the right thing to do. I even quit running because running caused pain too.

    I feel the tear healing already, and I am certain that if I had continued training, it would probably be worse.
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Guilty, I am…My Profile

    • Roy, you are so right about the importance of listening to your body and backing off completely, if that’s what’s necessary for recovery.
      Me? I can still do a lot of things that don’t involve my Achilles tendon. The biggest challenge will be to stay away from teaching until I’m fully recovered!
      When’s the next competition you can register for? 3 or 6 months out might be just what you need to be in peak (and healed) form!

      • I hope to start training again in a another week or two. If it goes well, I hope to compete in November. Time to get the eating back together — might have had a few breakfast burritos and some ice cream since I’ve been down…
        Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Guilty, I am…My Profile

        • I hear you. Right now, nutrition is key for me. Without much cardio it’s all too easy to blow my daily calorie goals with a few extra treats…

  3. I was told to take a break from all workouts and was miserable! Now I am doing the low impact thing. Kettlebells are my best friend with my messed up ankle (yep Achilles heel got better and realized I sprained my ankle as well). It is challenging because I don’t feel like I can go full throttle with my workouts but I mentally and physically need to do something! Also going to try a spinning class and maybe a water fitness one.
    Stephanie Robbins recently posted…Total Training 4th of July SaleMy Profile

    • Stephanie, I hear you. I NEED to move to feel happy and relaxed and balanced in my life. I’m thinking that the spin bike might work for me too, but don’t want to commit to a full hour class as once I start, the endorphins will kick in and I’m sure to ignore pain 🙂

  4. Thanks for this blog post. Can you suggest cardio exercises after pelvic floor damage? (please don’t say swimming….)

    • Sara, how about cycling and rowing? It really depends on the type of pelvic floor damage you’re dealing with. I recommend seeing a local health care practitioner to get advice specific to your injury and recovery.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I’ve had plenty of injuries – mostly stress fractures (I seem to be prone to them!) but I’ve had a torn calf muscle, plantar fasciatis and Achilles issues.
    I’ve found that low impact things (elliptical, bike, even rowing) seem to be better/easier. So hard when you are dealing with an injury that really requires rest and you want to do anything but rest!!
    I’m sorry that you are dealing with Achilles tendonitis right now – never fun.
    Kim recently posted…Is it about the Journey or the end Destination?My Profile

    • Yep, low impact is my best friend right now! I’m planning on giving the spin bike a try this week; no standing though and probably not a ton of tension. Can you tell I have a hard time with total rest, Kim?

  6. Always great posts Tamara! I guess my craziness with workouts have always made me seek out ways to train around anything I did to myself… It is hard for me to take off except my normal & planned days off each week OR if I plan for that at another time so… I am like you – have to finds ways around it while not making the injury worse. 🙂

    I did the kettlebell swings today but with DBs because they bells are downstairs & I was working them in with my leg day upstairs.. 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & Being Present TimeMy Profile

  7. I get frustrated when my body doesn’t cooperate with my plans. After having my right knee completely reconstructed after a soccer injury in 1998, I learned fear. And to be realistic about the healing process. I am also like you; I’ll work out the parts that don’t hurt. No reason to shut down the entire body just because one part needs a rest.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Transformative Travel: 11 Helpful Tips for TravelersMy Profile

    • Ms frustration; that’s me too. I keep focusing on the positive but there’s a little voice in the back of my head that keeps worrying that I’ve come to the end of my time as a step instructor…

  8. I am currently dealing with the same injury – Achilles tendinitis. I am wondering if you are finding the ultrasound treatments helpful? My PT told me that they are not effective?

    • Lee, I can’t be sure. I’ve heard the same thing from a few other people, but because we’ve done everything all at once, I can’t attribute the little progress I’ve made to any one therapy.

      Just today, a client’s husband told me he had Graston technique performed for the same injury. He found it very painful, but also helpful. I’m going to talk to my PT about it tomorrow. What are you doing for treatment? And for exercise?

      • Trying to figure that out! And your post was helpful – I am working on what I CAN do now. Side planks is a great idea – my PT does not want me doing any 4 point position moves so regular planks and push-ups aren’t doable. However – lat pull downs, pull ups, plank rows (knees instead of toes), upper body on ball moves, chest and shoulder weight training on bench or ball, kettle bells (?), Romanian dead lift (not sure?) are all do-able.

        Yoga – downward dog and a lot of the warrior moves put too much stress on the Achilles. Got the OK on water aerobics, water walking (regular walking more than a mile or so causes pain), rowing, and spinning (limit standing) with some pointers on seat height. I was questioning my new spin shoes but she thinks my seat being too low may have contributed to my injury (?).

        I was in a boot or an ankle brace (podiatrist prescribed) for almost a month and it really did not help. My PT put me in shoe inserts (raising the heel and giving arch extra support) ,last week with instructions to strengthen my calf muscle – standing on one leg and calf raises and to stretch calf only with foam roller and use tennis ball on arch (my range of motion is normal so i don’t need to stretch out calf). It is too early to tell if it is helping but I am happy to ditch the boot!

        • Sounds like you’ve figured out what does (and doesn’t) work for you right now. I too am doing lots of stretching and have just been given the go ahead to perform body weight calf raises. Hooray! Tomorrow is another acupuncture/taping session. Here’s hoping it helps!

        • Lee, I hear you about the 4 point planks. Downward dog is NOT relaxing for me right now either.
          I spent this afternoon at the pool with my kids; I was treading water while they played. No pain!

          I’ve heard mixed feelings about the boot. My PT did not recommend it. She suggested that I might want to look into the splint socks that people with plantar fasciatis use to keep their foot in a dorsi-flexed position during sleep. I’m wearing heel inserts as well and have been given the go ahead to do moderate calf raises.

          Have you tried Graston technique? I’m thinking about it; a client’s husband found great benefits from it when he had AT.

          Here’s hoping that we both get better soon!

          • My PT did not recommend the boot either- it was the prescribed treatment by my podiatrist. I tried it for 4 weeks and it did not help. My podiatrist also suggested the “achillotrainer” – sort of a brace maybe similar to the splint socks you mentioned it has a heel insert in it. I am not sure it helped that much.

            I had never heard of the Graston technique. I had to google it to find out what it was! You are in BC right? I am in California – not sure if it is regional or not. It sounds excruciating!

            My AT is improving slowly. This week I walked 3 miles a couple of times , did 15 minutes on a spin bike (all I could do without pain) and did an upper body and core workout another day and “water walked” for 1/2 an hour once. I am icing, foam rolling my calf, and using a little massage ball on the arch several times per day and wearing the inserts for heel and arch support consistently. It seems to be helping. I am still a long way from my normal level of activity (2-4 spin classes, strength training 2-3 times per week, yoga at least once or twice plus walking my dogs 3 – 5 miles daily).

            One added thought – my AT started almost 2 months ago and I wasted a month of recovery in the boot. I am 63 – it takes a lot longer to recover from an injury as you get older. My shoulder injury last year took almost 6 months to recover complete range of motion. You have your advanced level of fitness and your age working for you – you should heal much faster that me!

  9. What a coincidence! My post today had the same message, focus on the CANS not the CAN”S. Related to food allergies, though. I’m also experiencing a mysterious neck pain. Having physical therapy. Think it’s related to weight training. Giving up is not an option for me either. Thanks for your timely post!
    gloriadelia recently posted…FocusMy Profile

    • I shall head right on over and read what you have to say!
      I’ve had clients with neck pains caused by improper form when weight training. When the delts and lats get tired, the traps often kick in. They’re job is to elevate the shoulders, which can sometimes cause neck strain and headache.

      • Thanks for the info about the neck. I think it’s when I do squats, and chest presses. The bar across my shoulders, maybe in the squats and straining my neck with the presses. I really like the muscle definition so don’t want to give it up, but the pain wakes me up at night. Anyway, thanks again for your awesome blog. It’s unique and so informative. I have 2 blogs, one on nutrition and fitness and one is short and sweet devotions. Both neglected of late, but getting back on the writing horse now. Blessings to you. I’ll pray for your tendon to heal up quickly. =]
        gloriadelia recently posted…Weight Loss tips for Busy PeopleMy Profile

        • Gloria, those movements could definitely be contributing to your neck pain.
          Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog; it is really a labour of love!

  10. I really need to get off my butt. I have been slacking due to a broken toe. There are plenty of things I can do, but I have not been doing them. Thanks for the inspiration to get moving.
    Jenn @comebackmomma recently posted…Full Body Workout in the ParkMy Profile

  11. Injured runner here – foot/ankle/shin pain on flex particularly, a little on pointing. Xrays show no fracture, waiting for MRI results. Could be muscle/tendonitis. Direction from podiatrist was “if it hurts, don’t” – so biking is out, and even walking causes discomfort! So what I’ve been doing for 4 days now is pool running. There is a little discomfort in some positions, but I keep changing it up, and it really helps with the swelling as well as my sanity! I highly recommend. Did 2hours today. Once I’m back in the office after the holiday, I plan to check out the arc trainer in the work gym – if it doesn’t cause pain, may join to have another option. Ellipticals have just never worked for me.

    I’m interested to know (and I’ll give it a try for a minute at the gym) – do you think rowing would be an option? Asking because I don’t really understand the foot motion involved – I think if I can keep my ankle stable it might work….BUT I’m an utter ectomorph and upper body wimp, so I could probably do a minute and have to stop!


  12. Sharon Peralta says:

    Hiya. I’m 44 and was training to take part in single scull rowing events (Veteran!) I strained my intercostal muscle on my right side a week ago whilst on a rowing machine. How, I have no idea! The no exercise thing is driving me crazy. When I see my chiropractor, the darn thing hurts more afterwards and if I get laughing over something, I’ve had it. So what can I do? I thought of doing some spinning but without getting winded so as not to strain the rib muscles and perhaps some steady walking with no intensive uphill work until the muscle eventually recovers as I can feel the fat piling on and my other muscles seizing up. I’ll let you know how I get on. I may even try some squats to keep strength in my thighs – low weight, of course.

  13. On Sunday and Monday I felt some pain in my Achilles while running.

    On Tuesday it felt tight and a bit sore. Today I saw my GP and he thinks its tendinitis and told me not to do any running, riding on a bike or Lower body weights for 3 weeks.

    I really don’t want to have 3 weeks of no cardio and lower body strength training. I noticed that you said you worked out with an Achilles injury, could you recommend some cardio and strength training options? I would be really appreciative!

    • Tami, if it’s really Achilles tendonitis, you need to listen to your doctor. I’d also recommend seeing a physiotherapist for active treatment (I used a variety of treatments including acupuncture, KT tape and ultrasound) and suggestions for stretching and strengthening exercises.

      I took two entire weeks away from step class (the primary trigger for me) and only used the treadmill, at 0% incline, for cardio. My basic rule of thumb when it comes to injury is to experiment with exercise and find options that don’t hurt. Pain is the signal your body sends to your brain to tell you to stop 🙂