Rehab Leg Workouts

I’ve had a few questions from people who are either recovering from leg injuries or who have some kind of compromise, e.g. a healed but partially or fully torn ACL. The “Leg Blaster” exercise is pretty intense and might not be quite the thing to start off with. Even the “Mini Leg Blasters” are hard on the knees if you’re not in good shape to begin with.

So you need something safer. This article is for those of you who are in the late stages of rehab from bad injuries — or have just been drinking a few too many beers this summer, aka too many 8-oz arm curls.

I’m working on another one, adapted from the Winter Sports Company, that’s a step up from this one but a step down from jumping in with the Leg Blasters: 8-Week Intensive Snow Fitness Program… stay tuned, it’ll be done next week.

#NotBadForAGimp

If you are recovering from an injury and hoping to get back on the slopes this winter after an injury, the best person to consult would be a physiotherapist, kinesiologist, or a fitness trainer. I’m none of these — but I have been recovering from some very serious leg injuries for several years now and been through rehab over and over after multiple surgeries. So I can relate, and I’ve got some tips for you too!

First of all, I’m going to assume that you are not in an acute stage of recovery. That you’ve not only been cleared for full weight bearing, but you’ve also been through a couple of months of rehab under the guidance of a professional physiotherapist to get things back on track — your calves, quads, hamstrings and hips are all working more or less within the correct specifications. But the power and endurance are a bit lacking. OK?

So let’s get started.

“The greatest warriors are Time and Patience.”
Leo Tolstoy

Stage 1

Skip to Stage 2 if you’re already in decent shape.

For the first couple of weeks you should be developing general fitness beginning with cardio on the rowing machines, stationary bikes, and treadmill. Dreadful stuff for those who prefer the slopes, but you need to build a foundation gently, without injuring yourself. Light weights for the upper body are good too. I would avoid the machines, which are best suited to body builders. You want to get the fine balance and correction muscles firing quickly too, and this happens best with the free weights and unstable bases of support like bosu balls and exercise balls. Do this for a few weeks to a couple of months. At first you might feel discouraged and depressed, especially if you hate gyms, but it should get better as you develop your routine and grow stronger and more resilient. Try to find a partner to train with, and try to get to the gym a minimum of two times a week for at least 45 minutes each time. Four times a week is a lot.

Low intensity workout: 2-3 weeks

Monday/Wednesday/Friday:

  • 15 mins cardio – alternate days between rowing machine, stationary bike and treadmill.
  • 15 mins free weights – for the upper body. Instead of using a bench for seated sets, try using an exercise ball. Start out light and try three or four different routines: bicep curls (seated on a ball), lat pull-downs (use a machine for this until you are strong enough for pull-ups), barbell rows (try using a large exercise ball to support one knee and a hand), and barbell presses (with your back on a ball) might be a good start for you.
  • 3-5 mins – Core. Your preference, but you could switch up the barbell presses for bosu ball pushups and get a two-fer-one exercise!

  • 3-5 minutes – step up/step down (start with a step that’s about 2-4 inches high and increase it as you get stronger). Fore/aft as well as lateral steps.

  • 3-5 minutes – bosu (or mini-tramp) hopping. 1 minute on, 30 seconds rest, repeat.
  • 5 minutes – stretching.

So that’s about 50 minutes, 3x/week and should improve your fitness a lot in just a few weeks. When you’re feeling good, progress to Stage 2.

Stage 2

Continue with an upper body workout however you want, I’ll focus now on the legs part of your workout. Here’s a routine that you can work away at for a few weeks before getting going with the Mini Blasters. For details on how to perform the exercises, scroll down a bit further for a bunch of descriptions and mini video clips.

Mid-intensity workout

Weeks 1 & 2

  • 15 mins – upper body workout (free weights, core; see above)
  • 5 mins – Bosu Step-ups
  • 5 mins – Wall-Ball sits
  • 3 mins – Ball-Hamstring Curls
  • 5 mins – seated elastic band internal/external rotator exercises
  • 5 mins – stretching

Weeks 3 & 4

  • 15 mins – upper body free-weights routine (see above)
  • 5 mins – Bosu / mini-tramp hops
  • 5 mins – Wall-Ball sits with weights
  • 5 mins – Ball-Hamstring Curls — sets of 20, progress to single leg if you’re feeling good.
  • 5 mins – Front & Side Lunges
  • 5 mins – stretching

So after a month of this, are you ready to ease into the Mini Leg Blasters? Only one way to find out.

How to do the exercises

Step-ups: Up the ante with your step-ups by raising the steps. The switch to using the Bosu or Mini-trampoline instead of a step. When you feel very stable, incorporate hops into your step routine. Alternate directions — see if one direction is easier than the other.

Wall-Ball sits: the embryonic version of a Leg Blaster! Take an exercise ball and squash the ball between your back and a wall. Take one of those volleyball-sized squishy balls (or a balled up towel like in this video) and squeeze it between your knees. Now do sits and/or squats. This will be easier on your legs than normal air squats because the ball-wall is supporting a lot of your weight, and it also sets you up so that your knees are in a good position and aren’t as stressed. Do 3 sets of 5 of these to start off with, increasing the sets and reps as you feel ready. Eventually you might want to hold some dumbbells to make it harder yet. Here’s a dull but adequate video that shows you what I mean:

Ball-Hamstring Curls: Harder than you’d imagine. Lie on your back with a medium-sized exercise ball under your calves. Straighten your back and tighten your glutes, then start rolling the ball back and forth. Start with 3 sets of 5 and progress from there.

When you get strong with two legs (3 sets of 30) then check out this video for the next level: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS09PGk0hAo. He’s a bit annoying but gets the idea across.

Hip Adductors/Adductors: Part of getting the legs strong is making sure your hips are strong. Here’s a great one that I had to make my own video for because I couldn’t find one online:

And here’s a standing exercise that works you slightly differently:

Air Squats: OK, the Ball-Wall sits are getting boring? Here’s your chance to get a little of the Leg Blaster action. Do this when you are feeling strong with the wall-ball sits, you’ve added a couple of 5-kg weights, and there’s no pain. This is where you can actually start to hurt yourself if you do it incorrectly, so have a look at this video for some guidance, or talk to a physiotherapist or trainer if you are unsure.

Front Lunges: You’re almost ready to try a set of Mini Leg Blasters? Get your front lunges nailed first. Here’s another how-to video:

And while you’re at it, do some side lunges:

As always, if you have any comments or questions please fee free to use my contact form. Good luck!

Tom Wolfe
Mountain Guide ACMG/IFMGA