Strength training for leg injuries

Strength training for leg injuries is perfect for building tissue tolerance and movement patterns as it’s highly configurable for specific goals.

Strength training should be carefully controlled and progressed in keeping with tissue healing and injury recovery.

Exercises target potential underlying causes, maintenance of general leg strength and progressive loading of the injured tissue.

Phase 1

Gentle loading on the injured structure

No more than mild discomfort at the injury site.

No residual soreness after exercises.

In stable positions (on two feet, holding on to support, etc).

Eg. Isometric (static) holds while leaning against a wall

Moderate loading on uninjured areas

Focus on maintaining strength in areas that can support injured area.

Include a mix of strength, stability and movement pattern exercises.

Complex movement patterns are not required.

Eg. Double and single leg deadlift for an ankle sprain (no ankle movement required, double leg targets strength, single leg targets stability)

Cardio training without stressing the injured area

If possible, add some simple cardio in but not at the risk of irritating the healing tissue.

Cardio selection does not need to be related to your sporting goals.

Use an interval or variable intensity approach for best effect.

Eg. Bike for 10min including 5min of 20sec hard:10sec easy repeats

Strength training for runners - Single leg barbell deadlift
Single leg barbell deadlift – great for upper leg strength without aggravating lower leg injuries

Phase 2

Increase loading on injured structure

If you’ve torn muscle, tendon or ligament fibres, focus on increasing force rather than increasing length.

Add some movement patterns but only if you can complete the movement with good technique.

Mild discomfort is OK if it’s not sharp, increasing or lingering.

Eg. Single leg box squats for FAI

Add complex movement patterns for uninjured areas

Progress towards movement patterns required for your chosen sport.

Upgrade weight, speed or complexity of an exercise but only one parameter at a time.

Maintain a few basic strength exercises as adding instability and speed will diminish strength gains.

Eg. Reverse lunges for PFPS

Upgrade cardio

Increase session intensity and overall weekly volume rather than just increasing each session’s duration.

Add variety to cardio if possible, such as bike and rower, but not at the expense of overloading the injured tissue.

If the target sport includes running, consider adding a small amount of running to begin to refresh movement patterns (see our guide on return to running).

Strength training for runners - Shoulder elevated single leg hip bridge
Shoulder elevated single leg hip bridge – performed with speed, it improves trunk strength and leg power as you get closer to returning to full training

This post continues with Phase 3 and sport-specific rehab, click here for details.