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Help! Exercises for an injured wannabe gymnast

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Hi! I'm very excited to be here, having just joined.

I've recently been discovering exercise that I really enjoy, in the form of kickboxing and and acro class. And like many beginners do, I went too hard, and have injured myself - I've got a sprained knee :(

Obviously for now I am following my physio's advice, building up the muscles around the sprain with very simple exercises. But I want to plan my return to exercise whilst I'm waiting.

So my question for you all is: what movements/exercises do you recommend as a minimum achievement before I return to class? I had just started working on cartwheels for the first time in my life, though my knee was sprained due to a weak glute when I did a jump. My ultimate aim is to be able to cartwheel and do handstands - and onwards!

And a cheeky second question: any ideas of exericises I  can do for my upper body whilst I can't use my leg?! (I can't put weight on it at the moment)


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Handstands are a very important foundational skill in gymnastic for many reasons: strength, kinesthetics awareness and beyond anything the ability to stay upside down without losing your shit. This is very important for good cartwheels.

I'd say that the best thing you can do right now to improve your gymnastics capabilities is to keep working your handstand. There a lot of fixed progressions you can follow; my progression was to consistently fall over until I could finally hold a handstand (not recommended).

Have a look at this for a start.


As for the cheeky second question, there are a crap ton of exercises you can do right now with an injured leg.

  1. CORE. That's in bold because it's super important. A strong core is a necessity. Consider the following exercises:
    • Hollow-body and Arch-body holds.
    • Leg raises (consider doing these whilst hanging on a bar)
    • L-sit progressions.
  2. Upper body: start working towards a pull-up or improve your pull-up count if you can already do some. The same goes for push-ups; these skills are time-tested and are staples in bodyweight training.

Also, take it from someone who was basically a wooden plank when he started, but you'd be very wise to start working on your flexibility and range of motion. Range of motion is a major limiting factor for a lot of beginning gymnasts and is of special interest to anybody who is prone to injuries.


Best of luck for your training and get well soon!



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Do your physio exercises every day as your first priority! 


Requirement to return to class: I'd say just make sure you can jump and land comfortably on your injured leg -- single leg jumps! Once you are healed enough for that, you are definitely ready to return to class. 


Workouts to do while you're injured: Definitely don't let a sprained knee stop you from working out. Core and upper back work will be great while your knee is out of commission. Hollow holds + v-ups + L-sits + leg lifts all will be great, as Ryu0h mentioned above. You can also work on dips (both p-bar chest-focused dips and bench tricep focused dips), push-ups, and lat raises (with weights if you have gym access, with cans or something in your hands if not). For pull-ups, if you have a bar you can comfortably reach without jumping, you can do scapular raises and pull-ups, if not, you can work on bodyweight rows! 

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Do all of the things the physio tells you to for your knee, exactly as much as the physio tells you to and no more. If they give you a number range to do (do leg extensions three to five times a day), you can do the upper limit number of times a day safely. You'll see a lot of "inspirational" stories about injury recovery where the stars aligned for someone who was overworking the hell out of their injury and they recover faster than normal which is then attributed to their hard work. 


In the real world, that does not at all work for most acute injuries like your knee sprain - particularly injuries related to overwork, if you then overwork the joint even more, you'll just make ti worse. I'm not a physio person but I have sprained joints many times (most major joints, I've sprained at least once) and reinjured joints by going too gung-ho about physio exercises. Take it from someone who knows from experience: Don't overwork your leg in recovery, that way lies reinjury and pain. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast, and injury recovery is one of those times.


In terms of exercises not involving the knee, raptron and Ryu0h have some good recommendations. Other things you could do include stretching and yoga. 


Next is some basic instruction stuff that you might already know. On the other hand, you did mention you're fairly new to exercise so I figure I'll toss it out there rather than making an assumption (I love the military expression about assumptions, it's words to live by, IMO). If you've already heard the following, feel free to ignore, but it's a really common issue for newbies to serious exercise so I figure I'll toss it out there and see if it sticks:

  • And as someone who is injury prone myself: Learn the difference between good "pain" (exertion discomfort) and bad pain (pain-pain). Muscles burning from exertion / I'm tired / I don't know how much longer I can push this activity because it's hard = good "pain". It feels like someone is stabbing a fork into my muscle or joint, or it feels like something is tearing inside of me, or it feels like one of my internal organs just exploded = bad pain. A lot of folks I know who've gotten injuries starting out have done so because they've heard "no pain, no gain" and think exercise is supposed to hurt. It's not.
    • In fact, I can give you a universal rule: If it hurts (as in, actual pain and not muscle exertion), STOP.
    • Then check the painful part to make sure it's not injured. If it's not injured, the pain should go away within a few seconds to a minute or two of the painful motion being stopped and you should be able to do the full range of motion without pain/discomfort after the initial ouch has passed. If the pain persists, or if it now hurts to do motions that didn't hurt before the ouch, you're injured and need to stop.
    • After you have stopped and checked for injury, get someone to look at your form to see what's going wrong if you're uninjured. If you're injured, you're done for the day and should see your physio or doc, but when you're recovered you should get someone to look at your form.
  • Normal discomfort during/after exercise includes:
    • Muscles having a mild burning sensation from lactic acid buildup. If it feels very intense, reduce intensity to be on the safe side until you know what normal exertion discomfort feels like for your body
    • Muscles aching later in the day, or a few days later. This is a normal part of the recovery process - you can exercise, but make sure to separate the type of exercise that caused that ache in that muscle group by at least 1 day before you do it again. So if you have arm day on Monday, don't work arms again until at least Wednesday. 
    • If you're doing cardio, your feet might ache afterwards, if it's high-impact. Consider a gel insert in your shoes, or if your feet are starting to get really painful or the pain is starting to persist, visit a pedorthist. 
  • Abnormal (STOP) pain/discomfort during or after exercise includes: 
    • Stabbing, intense burning, tearing, or ripping sensations: STOP IMMEDIATELY. Check for injury. If just hurt (not injured), then get someone to take a look at what you did and correct your form
    • Sharp, acute, intense pain that doesn't fit the above adjectives
    • A sense that your joint doesn't want to move the way you're trying to move it
    • Joint discomfort at all (exception being if you have arthritis and have been cleared for that motion by your doctor)
    • A sense that your joint might give out or pop out if you continue with that range of motion (this is one of those sensations, like a medical sense of impending doom from a life threatening condition, that if you don't know if you've ever felt it, you haven't. Trust me, if you've ever felt this or the sense of impending doom, you know. I've felt both - they're both immediately obvious and impossible to ignore).
    • Any pain with stretching means you're pushing the stretch too hard. It should feel tight but not painful.

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