If you're in a walking cast after an injury, you might be tempted to go about business as usual — even at the gym. However, being injured doesn't mean you can't do cardio exercise with a broken foot.
But, performing the wrong type of exercises, even if they don't involve your leg or foot, can lead to further injury. Check with your doctor before exercising with a walking cast to be sure these activities are safe for you.
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Read more: The Best Cardio Exercise for a Foot Injury
Focus on cardio exercises that involve the upper body. Low-impact activities, such as cycling on a stationary bike, may be safe too. The key is to be creative and use proper exercise form.
Cardio With a Broken Foot
You're likely wondering how you'll do cardio in a walking boot, particularly since the majority of cardio exercises involve the legs, as shown on ExRx.net. That's understandable. But with a little creativity, you can still work up a good sweat and torch some calories.
Move 1: Arm Ergometer
The upper-body ergometer, or arm bike as it's sometimes called, is used in a seated position, removing any pressure from your legs.
- Sit on the seat of the ergometer and adjust the console as needed until the crank shaft is at shoulder-height. If the console does not adjust, change the height of your seat instead.
- Grasp the handles and perform a few rotations to assess the position of the handles. You should be able to straighten your elbows without needing to lean forward.
- Adjust the crank length if needed.
- Set the resistance at the lowest level, or highest revolutions per minute (RPM) and perform a five-minute warm-up.
- Adjust the settings as desired to match your goals. For example, keep the RPMs high and pedal faster to boost your heart rate quickly.
- To strengthen your arm muscles, increase the resistance or lower the RPMs. Pedal forward for several minutes to target pushing muscles, such as your triceps, then backward for several minutes to target your biceps and other pulling muscles.
Move 2: Recumbent Stepper
If your cardio of choice is a StairMaster or stepmill, there's good news. The recumbent stepper is a safe alternative that works the same muscles, according to ExRx.net, while you are in a walking boot.
- Sit on the padded seat and place your feet on the pedals. Note — your walking boot will likely make that leg longer than the uninjured side. Place a folded towel between your other foot and its pedal to compensate.
- Adjust the seat position to allow your knees to straighten fully without locking out.
- Perform a five-minute warm-up with light resistance, and then adjust the parameters of the machine as desired.
- Use your arms as much or as little as you want, to assist your legs with this exercise.
If you have pain when doing this exercise, stop immediately. Although you aren't standing on your injured foot, you are repetitively putting weight through it during this activity.
Read more: Treadmill Vs. Stair Steppers
Think Outside the Box
If you don't have access to cardio equipment that automatically accommodates your injury, add some creativity to your workout.
Move 1: One-Legged Row
The row ergometer is a popular gym machine that boosts heart and lung health while providing a full-body workout. With some modifications, you can still include this exercise in your gym workout with a walking boot.
Set the rower on a low damper setting to minimize the amount of resistance provided until you get the hang of this exercise.
Sit on the seat of the rower and strap your feet into the pedals. If the strap will not accommodate your walking boot, leave that foot resting on the pedal.
Bend your knees and grasp the handle.
Sitting up tall, push through your noninjured foot and straighten your knees —
leaving your injured leg to go "along for the ride."
Once your knees are straight, pull the handle bar toward your lower chest to complete the movement.
Allow the handle to retract and the seat to slide forward to the beginning position. Repeat for 10 minutes, or longer if desired.
As an alternative, you can place the leg with the walking boot on a scooter, next to your machine. As you row with the rest of your body, the scooter will roll alongside the machine. However, scooter movement can be unpredictable, and you will likely need to engage your hip muscles to help keep it in the correct position.
Move 2: Battle Ropes
You've probably seen people slogging around heavy ropes at the gym, but maybe you've been too intimidated to try them. But, because battle rope exercises can also be performed in a seated position, they're suitable for a gym workout with a walking boot. Try the a few variations:
- Alternating waves: Raise and lower your arms simultaneously, but in opposite directions.
- Double waves: Raise and lower your arms simultaneously, in the same direction.
- Overhead slam: Raise both arms overhead; then slam the ropes against the ground with as much force as possible.
- Do the twist: While seated on the ground, keep your abs tight and lean back slightly. Twist your torso from side to side, swinging the ropes over your thighs as you twist — picture Russian twists, but with a rope rather than a medicine ball or weight, as demonstrated by the UConn Health Wellness Center.
Once you are comfortable with battle ropes, you might be able to perform some of these exercises while standing — but keep in mind, this will make it more difficult to balance.
Keep your feet staggered, with the injured foot in front. Shift the majority of your body weight over your back leg.
Other Exercise Options
Depending on your specific injury and where you are in the healing process, more cardio exercises in a walking boot might be an option for you.
Activities like swimming and upright stationary cycling would most likely require removal of your boot, but these low-impact exercises put less pressure through your leg than other movements, such as walking on a treadmill.
More advanced weight-bearing exercises — such as using the elliptical or practicing yoga — might be viable options later in the healing process. These activities are performed with your foot planted, minimizing repetitive stress through your joint. However, you can also use this time in your walking boot to build strength in your upper extremities with a variety of exercises, as described by the American Council on Exercise.
To prevent further injury or delays in your healing process, do not remove your boot for exercise unless specifically advised by your doctor or physical therapist.