Should I Still Work Out With an Injured Arm or Leg?
(By Coach Amanda)
Yes, yes you can. All thanks to cross-education.
What is Cross-Education?
Cross-Education describes the ability of exercise of ONE limb (arm or leg) to cause an increase in the strength of the other unexercised limb. Strength gains occur as a result of alterations or changes in brain (Neural) activity.
What does that mean!?
I often hear, “I don’t want to just lift one side. It’ll make me super uneven.”, or when asking someone where they’ve been “Oh, I hurt my left leg so I couldn’t come in.”. One of the biggest things that can happen after injury is atrophy of the muscle (losing all muscle mass and tone). You know, the person who tore an ACL or Achilles and was afraid they couldn’t workout during recovery. I have news for you!! With the right guidance, you CAN workout everything but the injured area and still continue to get stronger!!
Wait, how the heck can I do that?
Our brain has two hemispheres, where the right brain controls the left side of the body and the left brain controls the right side of the body. Through cross-education, we can essentially trick the brain into processing the information to both sides of the body to gain strength. This means that the brain is also storing information and movement patterns for future reference.
Let’s say for instance you injure your LEFT ankle. You can continue working out your RIGHT leg and not only get stronger in your RIGHT leg, but also your LEFT leg! Yes, you heard me right! If you continue to strengthen your RIGHT uninjured leg, your LEFT injured leg will also continue to get stronger due to the Cross-Education principle.
In one study I came across, there was a 32% increase in the trained leg and a 16% increase in the untrained leg! That means, the injured limb still made half the gains of the healthy limb, even though it wasn’t used in training.
Furthermore, once you are cleared by the doctor, your strength gains on the injured side will come back much quicker than if you had done nothing!
So next time you injure a hand, shoulder, leg, etc., keep working out to build your cross-education and keep your progress going. Believe it or not, your coaches actually love helping athletes find modifications to the workout of the day. That’s what we’re here for, to help, always.
Gardiner, P. F. (2011). Advanced neuromuscular exercise physiology. Champaign, IL: Human