How to maintain Cardio Fitness while Injured

Dear Lisa,
I am a dancer in Singapore. I have dislocated my patella 4 times and have done serious cartilage damage and torn a ligament. I am about to go for a knee reconstruction operation, but I am very concerned about coming back to dance because the rehab time is 8 months. I have purchased your book “Will I Ever Dance Again?” and it has given me heaps of exercises to do, but I still would like to know if there was a way for me to keep my cardio going whilst not being able to do very much at all? I know this is a tough question but I would really appreciate your help because I wouldn't want all my training for the past 10 years to go to waste.
Thank you,  I hope you can help.

P.s I am stuck in this big metal brace with a maximum bend of 50 degrees.

Hi Emily!

Maintaining cardio fitness while injured is a very important component of the rehab process, so thanks for your question! This part of your fitness often drops in many dancers during this time because they are unable to continue with their regular dancing, however, there are lots of options to keep it going. If you go into the Member’s Area of the “Will I Ever Dance Again?” Program there is actually a whole section on cardio training.

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The biggest thing to remember when you’re trying to maintain cardio fitness while injured is that you must listen to your therapist, this is because every injury, and even two people with the same injury, have different requirements at different times. For instance, after any surgery, there will be a period of time where you cannot go into a pool because of the risk of infection. The amount of bend you are allowed in the knee or even the amount it can straighten will also affect what you can do. When rehabbing from a knee injury we do often do suggest for dancers to work in water because you can raise your heart rate without loading the knee. We sometimes also make use of a stationary bike to improve cardiovascular fitness and regain mobility of the knee, as well as various other methods of cardiovascular training.

Cardio training for a dancer is different!

When most people think of cardiovascular training, they usually think of having to run or cycle for 45 mins. What is actually more important for a dancer is the recovery from exertion. Very rarely in dance are we dancing flat out for 45 mins. Instead, we perform intensely and then we recover; then perform again, and then we recover. So, when you are doing your cardiovascular training, it is not so much about “can I sustain activity for 45 minutes?” it is more like “When I push myself to the extreme, how quickly can I bring my heart back down to resting?” So that is something that we explore in the post-injury rehab discussion in the Members Area.


Find out the root cause of your injury to stop it from reoccurring!

The other thing I really want to say to you is that if you have dislocated your patella four times, there are going to be a lot of issues around the hip, or around the foot, or in the core that needs to be dealt with. It is extremely important that during the rehab process you look at fixing what contributed to that injury happening in the first place. I’m assuming that you have quite lax ligaments for the knee cap to be able to dislocate that many times. That is something that you can’t really change, but it will be fixed up a little bit with the surgery. However, if you are having recurrent dislocations there is probably something going on with the stability in your hip and core. So please make sure you work really closely with your therapist, show them the "Will I Ever Dance Again" program, and work carefully through all sections, especially things like the ‘Floor Barre’ section and the ‘Preparation for Jumps’. This is going to be very important for you to work through before you start back dancing again.

I hope that helps! Do make sure you read through the additional information that there is in the Member’s Area. There is so much more information than we could fit on the DVDs and we also keep adding to this all the time.

Good luck with the operation!

Injury Resources

If you are looking to delve deeper into this topic, check out the following programs:

  • Will I Ever Dance Again: The “Will I Ever Dance Again?” program is perfect if you are unable to train at full capacity, whether this is due to a foot injury, surgery, an accident or illness outside of the studio. It helps you build back to full capacity gradually while maintaining strength, flexibility and control in the rest of the body.
  • Level One Dance Teacher and Therapist Training: This unique course covers a multitude of assessment and treatment techniques to individualise a dancer's training. With special focuses on Postural Control, Core Stability, Flexibility, Basic Classical Technique, The Dancers Hip, Allegro, Spinal Mobility and Arabesques, it is suitable for anyone working closely with dancers.