Very recently, I seriously injured my left knee. My current diagnosis is MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) tear. This means up to 12 weeks recovery time until I can return to any sports activities.

I have been doing plenty of cardio by running (12-16 km 3 times a week). With this injury I (obviously) cannot do that and I'm afraid I'll start losing cardio fitness.

Either way I will lose plenty of muscle tone in my both legs. But I am wondering what exercises involving only upper body can replace a cardio workout?

  • 1
    Do you have any facilities available? Any equipment?
    – rrirower
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 15:42
  • @rrirower I do have dumbells at home and yoga mat. But nothing else. Usually just going to gym which now is going to be a hell of a trip to get there. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 16:04
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    Silly question, but has your doctor made any suggestions with your diagnosis? (although, if they're not a trained physical therapist, take their suggestions with a grain of salt).
    – Sean Duggan
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 18:45
  • @SeanDuggan that is a silly question to be honest. Apparently I went to specialist who in this case is orthopedist and one of the best available in the country of my current residence. And his suggestion was to rest the leg in straight position (fixed with braces and compression) until the ligaments healed to the level when we can begin proper physiotherapy. The question is not about doctor advice which I do receive. The question is how while I am unable to do cardio involving legs to maintain cardio fitness. Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 15:29
  • @AlexKey: You would be amazed at the number of people who post "my doctor has said that my leg is broken. What sort of exercise should I do to rehabilitate it?" to which we generally suggest they get actual medical advice rather than people on the Internet. And as regards trustworthy doctors, we get people with some very suspect advice given to them.
    – Sean Duggan
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 16:24

4 Answers 4


You could try using a Pull Buoy and swim freestlye (front crawl) arms only in a swimming pool.

The water will be low impact on your knee and the buoy in-between your thighs keep you buoyant and will add resistance.

and you could also combine this with a pyramid style workout;

10 lengths then rest 9 lengths then rest 8 then rest

until you get to 1 length and then go back up the pyramid. increasing effort as you go.

In my opinion this would be great cardio.

  • Thanks for your suggestion. Swimming indeed would be a good cardio. And used to swim a lot before but in my current location there are no easily accessible swimming pools. For the pyramid exercises it sounds more like strength than cardio to be honest. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 16:05

You can use an arms ergometer or home mini pedals.

Use of a set of minipedals to work arms


Cardio is anything that raises your heart rate and breathing, so it's pretty wide-open in terms of activities. With your knee injury, I assume that most types of aerobics are going to be outside your reach (no bending, twisting, etc). Which is why I'm going to suggest chair aerobics.

Yes, I know that this type of exercise is stereotypically something done by senior citizens and people who want to pretend to be exercising while sitting in front of the TV, but if you put the effort into it, you will get a workout, and the fact that you're doing it from a sitting position means you're not putting stress on your injured knee.

Another possibility is to focus on core exercises like crunches, leg lifts, and twists, but frankly, it's difficult to do those exercises and not start squeezing with your legs to get that extra bit of leverage, so that might be contraindicated by your injury.


In your position I'd try to get my hands on a handcycle. A proper one, not one designed to bolt on to a wheelchair. Second hand ideally, and sell it on afterwards so it shouldn't cost you too much.

If you're used to getting about actively, you'll probably want a form of exercise that allows you to get out and about. You don't say whether you'll be able to walk much, but I suspect you'll be strapped up tight and on crutches. I also don't know whether you've got any budget, so this may not be a viable option.

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