What are the Best Exercises for Injury Recovery?

If you’re an active person, an injury can really get in the way of your training plan. You’ll likely find yourself itching to get back in the gym and on your way to achieving your goals. But, overworking an injury could make things worse. So, what are the best exercises to support injury recovery?

Depending on your injury, you won’t necessarily need to sit out whilst you recover. Instead, you can focus your training on other (unaffected) areas of the body, or try low-impact exercises such as resistance training, swimming or rowing. More severe injuries such as breaks or fractures may, however, require you to fully rest up until the injury has healed.

Read on to learn more about the best exercises you can do to support your recovery from an injury.

*Before engaging in activity, we recommend consulting with your Doctor. The information we have provided in this article is generic and may not apply in all cases. 

What are the Best Exercises to Support Injury Recovery?

Some injuries may require you to sit out and rest until they have fully healed, or are in a place where you can safely start to build strength again. However, mild-moderate injuries may actually benefit from some form of exercise to strengthen the area and regain normal range of motion. These include:

Functional Hypertrophy

We first need to start by talking about the best training system for both recovery and injury prevention – functional hypertrophy. In simple terms, this means to increase muscle size, but for functional purposes rather than aesthetic purposes. The larger and stronger the muscle is, the lower the risk of a tear or injury in the future. An example workout for functional hypertrophy is:

Day 1 – Upper Body

  • A1 – Chin-up, close, neutral. Complete 6 sets of 3, 3, 4, 4, 1, 6 repetition using a 4010 tempo. Rest for 2 minutes between sets. 
  • A2 – Barbell 30 degree incline bench press, medium grip. Complete 6 sets of 6, 6, 4, 4, 2, 6 repetitions using a 4010 tempo. Rest for 2 minutes between sets.
  • B1- Dumbbell Pull Over, Flat Bench, Hook grip. Complete 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions using a 3011 tempo. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.
  • B2- Dips. Complete 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions using a 4010 tempo. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.

Day 2 – Lower Body

  • A – Barbell squats. Complete 6 sets of 6, 6, 4, 4, 2, 6 repetitions using a 4010 tempo. Rest for 180 sections between sets.
  • B – Barbell rollout, paused. Complete 4 sets of 25 repetitions using a 2210 tempo. Rest for 2 minutes between sets.
  • C – 45 degree back extension with a dumbbell in front,top of chest. Complete 4 sets of 12-15 repetitions using a 2012 tempo. Rest for 2 minutes between sets.

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Range of Motion and Flexibility Exercises

Restoring the range of motion and flexibility at the site of the injury is crucial for recovery. Here is an example of full joint range of the hip, knee and ankle joint. Such exercises help to enhance flexibility, reduce stiffness and improve joint mobility. A physiotherapist will be able to recommend specific exercises tailored to your injury, but expect to perform gentle movements, like controlled repetitions and stretching. 

Low-Impact Zone 2 Cardio

Whilst rest and rehabilitation is important after injury, it’s essential to  maintain cardiac fitness during this time. This boosts your overall fitness, whilst also promoting the body’s healing and recovery process. Depending on the injury in question, low impact cardio options could include swimming, Indoor stationary cycling, rowing or arm ergometers. 

Strengthening Exercises

Recovering strength after an injury is critical for healing. Strength exercises help to increase blood flow and rebuild muscle mass which may have reduced due to prolonged rest. They also improve stability and may help to prevent future injuries. It is recommended to consult with a physiotherapist here to ensure that the right exercises are chosen and to ensure proper form. 

Balance and Stability Exercises

Injuries can often disrupt balance and stability, therefore exercises that promote balance and stability are essential for good recovery. They may also help to prevent future injuries. Such exercises include standing on one leg, using a balance board or stability ball, or performing single-leg squats. 

Should You Workout If You’re Injured?

Some injuries, such as breaks, fractures or torn ligaments, require complete rest. No exercise should be performed during this time that impacts the injured area. However, milder injuries such as sprains and strains may allow for low-impact exercises such as swimming whilst the injury heals.

That being said, there is often no reason to completely stop exercise across the whole body. In some cases (e.g. breaks and fractures) a part of the body should remain immobilised, but there is nothing stopping you from exercising other areas of the body that aren’t impacted by the injury. 

How Long Should You Rest After an Injury?

How long you should rest after an injury depends entirely on the injury in question and the activity that you perform. You may be advised to rest anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, months or even longer. Soft tissue injuries such as mild-moderate sprains may only require a 1-2 weeks of rest before you can begin training again, whilst a fracture could mean 6-8 weeks rest. Bone breaks could put you out for 3-6 months.

The first step is to book an appointment with your GP; they will be able to give you initial, basic advice on how to proceed, and may refer you to a specialist, depending on your injury and its severity. 

How Do You Know When to Train After Injury?

There are two main schools of thought on the topic of when to resume exercise after injury:

  1. Avoid any strenuous activity until the injury has healed.
  2. Resume activity as soon as possible, avoiding anything too demanding at the site of the injury.

For mild-moderate injuries, we recommend jumping back on the horse as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. However, it is important to avoid stressing the injured area. For example, for a shoulder injury, simply avoid exercises that work the shoulder, focussing instead on the lower body, cycling or cardio.

For a mild-moderate ankle injury, simply work on the upper body predominantly until you’re confident that the sprain is healing and strength is returning. Additionally, low impact exercise such as swimming, physio stretches or using a rowing machine may help to strengthen the area, speeding up recovery time.

For leg or knee injuries, upper body workouts are recommended until the injury heals. Additionally, one-legged stationary cycling or kayaking are good options here. 

The key thing to consider when thinking about resuming exercise after injury is that exercise can do more harm than good if you’re not ready. 

Does Exercise Speed Up Injury Recovery?

Exercise can promote healing. It increases blood flow which delivers essential oxygen and nutrients to the injured area. It also helps to rebuild strength in the affected area and ensures that the injury heals correctly. Moreover, exercise can help to prevent complications and may reduce the risk of future injury.

Rehab and Prehab at Human Strength Hub

Staying injury-free is one of the most fundamental necessities for everyone who trains. It is essential for optimal and maximal progress in and out of the gym. We help injured clients optimise their muscular balance through appropriate exercise selection to get them back in the gym and training to their full potential as fast (and safe) as possible. We also design our programs with prehabilitation in mind – the idea that training and mobility exercises can prevent injury. Get in touch today to learn more.