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Gym Leg Workouts for ACL Recovery

author image Paula Quinene
Paula Quinene is an Expert/Talent, Writer and Content Evaluator for Demand Media, with more than 1,500 articles published primarily in health, fitness and nutrition. She has been an avid weight trainer and runner since 1988. She has worked in the fitness industry since 1990. She graduated with a Bachelor's in exercise science from the University of Oregon and continues to train clients as an ACSM-Certified Health Fitness Specialist.
Gym Leg Workouts for ACL Recovery
Use a knee brace for ACL gym workouts under the guidance of your therapist. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

A complete program for an anterior cruciate ligament or ACL rehab must include progressive stretching and resistance exercises to regain near-normal range of motion and strength of your ligament. The ACL stabilizes your knee, preventing your thigh bone from moving forward relative to your shin bone. The weight machines and cable pulleys in your gym enable you to gradually strengthen your ACL for a timely recovery. Bodyweight and dumbbell exercises may be incorporated too.


All gym leg workouts for ACL recovery should begin with a hot compress, a light aerobic warm-up and a gentle stretch. Applying a heat pack over your knee increases blood circulation and raises the temperature of the tissues around the joint, including your ACL. This facilitates better stretching and strengthening to regain the flexibility and strength of your ACL. Furthermore, performing a few light stretches before your strengthening exercises increases the range of motion of your knee, which facilitates greater strength gains.


Knee stretches for your ACL should be done to the point of slight discomfort without pain. Active stretches are held for 15 to 30 seconds for two to four repetitions. Perform an active stretch by lying flat on your back with your back as close to a wall as possible. Bend your uninjured leg and place a towel around the foot of your injured knee. Position the bottom of the towel-wrapped foot against the wall as high as you can. Slowly lower your foot until you feel a slight discomfort. Raise your foot back up to relax for 15 seconds, and then repeat.

Strength Exercises

Strength exercises should also be done to the point of slight discomfort without pain. Perform strengthening exercises only through a comfortable range of motion, gradually increasing the range of motion in which you do such exercises as your ACL and surrounding tissues become more flexible. Generally, strengthening exercises are performed using very light weight for three sets of 15 repetitions, progressively increasing the resistance as your ligament becomes stronger.

Leg Extensions

The leg extension machine effectively strengthens your ACL because it permits you to change the arch at which you can perform the exercise. Strengthening your ACL through your limited range of motion reduces the likelihood you will apply access stress on your ACL. For instance, slide into the leg extension machine ensuring that the pivot point of the machine is in line with the center of your knee. Select the lightest weight plate. Adjust the leg pad so that it will only move through the range of motion of your knee. Extend both legs, using your uninjured leg to help your injured knee push against the machine. When you stop pushing or extending your legs against the leg pad, the pad should be anchored so that it does not push your leg backward, forcing your injured knee to stretch beyond a comfortable zone.

Partial Squats

Once you can bear weight on your knee, squats through a limited range of motion are excellent for strengthening your ACL. You will not need to add weight other than the weight of your body to effectively perform this exercise. To do body weight squats, stand near an immovable exercise machine in which you can hold on to the machine for balance and support. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart and stick your buttocks slightly backward. Bend your legs to lower your body just until you feel a slight stretch on your injured knee. Contract your quadriceps muscle to return to an upright position and repeat. As your therapy progresses and your ACL heals, you may squat through a full range of motion with dumbbells first, and then a barbell.


ACL stretching and strengthening exercises can potentially create swelling. Reduce the swelling and any pain associated with rehab activities by applying a cold pack over your knee for 10 to 15 minutes. A cold pack contains the swelling and promotes healing.

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