The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Working Out While Your Foot Recovers

Posted by on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

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No one likes the idea of having any kind of injury, but foot injuries are particularly frustrating because they get in the way of so many basic daily activities. What, I’m supposed to stay off my foot? How can I stay off my foot? I walk around all day at home and at work, I use my foot when I drive, I run everyday, I work out.

Uh oh, there’s that last one. Lots of people–myself included–keep on putting stress on an injured foot or put off foot surgery because we don’t want to lose the ability to exercise. It may seem like a silly, if not outright stupid, reason to avoid doing something as important as let your body heal, but if you’re a person who’s used to working out every day, the idea of losing that part of your life can seem too depressing to bear.

So let’s talk a little bit about the kind of cardio you can do to maintain your level of fitness while you’re recovering from a foot injury or foot surgery.

HIIT Not familiar with that acronym? Then it’s time to get familiar with it, because it will apply to most of the other ideas we discuss today. It stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This means to alternate periods of activity where you’re working at 80-90% of your ability with periods where you’re working at a moderate level. Alternating high intensity with lower level intensity will help you burn more calories in a shorter period of time than doing an activity for a very long time at a moderate pace.

Working at 80-90% means putting in the same effort as if you were competing for a spot on the Olympic track team and you can see the finish line ahead of you and a competitor right on your tail, fighting for the same spot. Or, as I like to think of it, run like the monsters are chasing you. The most basic form of HIIT is to do one minute at 80-90% for one minute, then moderate level for one minute, repeat for ten sets (note: some people say you really should be working at 100% for the high intensity interval, but in all practicality, most people can’t find that level or maintain it for the entire period, unless they are genuinely being chased by monsters). There are, of course, many variations on that. Here’s one from Outlaw Fitness that suggests 30 second/90-120 second splits.

And how does this apply to my foot injury? Well, you may be sulking because you can’t run your usual 8 or 20 miles per day, but you can actually do just as well with a HIIT workout where you won’t be putting weight on your foot. Swimming is a great choice if you have access to a pool. Not a great swimmer? That’s actually a bit of a help here because your body has to work really hard just to be average. Trust me, I’ve been doing some swimming lately to give my injured toe a break and as no more than an adequate swimmer, I hit 80-90% of my maximum ability pretty quickly while doing one lap. If you don’t know how to swim at all, you can try deep water running, or even give yourself a step towards swimming by paddling with a kickboard. That may not look like much, but if it’s new to you, your body has to work hard and you can get something of a workout.

If you’re a landlubber or don’t have a pool nearby, but do have a gym, try doing a HIIT workout on a rowing machine. These machines are so tough that you’ll get a monster workout in less than a half an hour. By the time your foot is healed, you won’t have missed a beat with your cardio fitness and your upper body will now be super strong.

Of course there are always stationery bikes–these are great because many of the bikes will give you information about how fast you’re going and how hard you’re working so it’s easy to see if you’re on the right track (biggest problem with HIIT workouts: people thinking they’re working harder than they really are). A good spin class will also contain elements of HIIT. However, biking isn’t good for every kind of foot injury. You put a lot of weight on the ball of your foot when you’re biking, so if you have an injury in that area, biking won’t be a good idea.

If you don’t belong to a gym or have access to this kind of equipment, there are still some things you can try. Jillita Horton at Yahoo! recommends walking uphill for people with plantar fasciitis; it gives a decent cardio workout and helps stretch out your foot. If you’re on crutches, go to a walking path or track and walk a few laps. The effort involved in using the crutches will definitely get your heart rate up.

So there you go–don’t keep running on an injured or healing foot because you’re scared of missing your workouts. There are plenty of other options to get you through the recovery period. If you’re unsure of what you can do with your foot while it heals, contact a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) for an analysis of what your foot can and cannot take. Then with your new, foot friendly workout, a little patience, and a healthy diet (just cut out the sugar, for a start), you’ll be fine and ready to run again!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.