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Ankle-Friendly Cardio

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Ankle-Friendly Cardio
Ankle-Friendly Cardio Photo Credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/GettyImages

An ankle injury can throw a wrench into your workout plans. It's hard to figure out what exercises you can and can't do. Machine cardio exercises and upper body cardio exercises let you avoid putting your ankle at risk while keeping your body fit.

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Ankle Injuries

Ankle sprains are a common injury that can set you back in training unless you know how to work around them. Recovering from an ankle sprain can take anywhere from two to 12 weeks, according to an article from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

A fracture of your ankle can take six weeks for the bones to heal. It can take even longer if you damaged ligaments.

That's a long time to avoid doing cardio. If you want to preserve your fitness level or even make progress, you have to figure out how to work around your injury and find cardio exercises that are safe for your ankles.

High-impact lower-body cardio exercises like running or jumping are out. Your ankle is already going to be vulnerable after an injury, there's no need to put it in a position where it can get hurt again. If you catch the edge of your shoe while running or land on an object while jumping you can twist your ankle and be back to square one.

Read More The Best Way to Strengthen Ankles

The best ankle-friendly cardio exercises use little to no ankle movement and have very little impact. Cardio machines like an exercise bike or row ergometer use very little motion at the ankle and are very predictable.


Swimming is one of the most ankle-friendly cardio exercises. You don't have to put any weight on your ankle and you can choose strokes that involve little, if any, movement of your ankle. Freestyle, for example, can be done with very minimal contribution from your lower body, especially if you use a pull buoy between your legs as you swim to eliminate kicking.

As you swim, water envelops your foot and ankle. There's constant resistance from all angles. The resistance is useful because it prevents you from making any quick movements that might be painful. It also helps strengthen your ankle so that you can avoid future injuries.

Exercise Bike

Cycling is low-impact and safe for your ankle. You can either use a standard, upright exercise bike, or a recumbent bike. While pedaling on the bike, your foot should never leave the pedal. Some bikes even have a strap that keeps your foot locked down. You can't twist your ankle when it's stuck to a flat surface, making cycling extremely safe. You do want to avoid standing while on the bike however, as is sometimes called for in group cycling classes to power you up a climb. Just modify by staying seated and using your glutes and thights to power.

You're not going to compromise your fitness with cycling, either. It's a very intense activity powered by your leg muscles. Plus, it's quite taxing to your aerobic systems, especially if you hit high speeds or resistance levels.

Row Ergometer

The row ergometer is similar to the bike in that your feet never have to leave the platform. You strap them into the machine, grab the handle and start your rowing motion. Proper rowing technique uses a lot of lower body power in the movement mixed in with the contribution of your upper body.

When done correctly, rowing uses a lot of lower body strength and endurance.
When done correctly, rowing uses a lot of lower body strength and endurance. Photo Credit: lagunaguiance/iStock/GettyImages

Arm Ergometer

Not all gyms have this machine, but it's a gem for people who need to do cardio but want to avoid using their lower body. If you're really scared of injuring your ankle and you want something that requires absolutely no motion at the joint, try using the arm ergometer.

Essentially this machine is a bike for the upper body. You use the arm ergometer by gripping the handles and turning a wheel like you would with a bike. It has all the functionalities that a normal exercise bike does, like variable resistance and a monitor of your power output. The biggest drawback is that you don't use your leg muscles at all, so it could lead to a loss of lower-body fitness.

Read more: How to Improve Weak Ankles

Rope Slams

Battle ropes are over-sized ropes that have handles on either end. You fix the middle of the rope to a wall or pillar and grab the handles. Then, you slam the rope or make circles with the ends to work your upper body muscles.

It's a simple exercise for your lower body. You get into an athletic position to slam the ropes so that the weight doesn't throw you off. Then, you slam the rope up and down with your arms. Your feet never have to leave the ground, so there's no chance that you can roll your ankle.

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