One legged workouts while recovering from fracture

My patella + shinbone fracture seems to be healing ok, and I started doing physical therapy 16 days after the injury to mobilize my knee. As of now, some 25 days after the injury, I have recovered most of my range of motion, but I have 20 more days to wait before I can bear weight on the leg.
So I still have 20 days at least before I can use my home trainer with two legs.
I was thinking of doing some one-legged workouts as I am starting to get bored with my cheap arm ergometer. My physical therapist also thinks it’s a great idea to start rebuilding some fitness, some muscle on my good leg and to limit muscle loss on the injured one (cross education phenomenon).

I was wondering if anyone had ever tried using TR for one-legged workouts and if you had any tips on this.



I am hard pressed to disagree with a trained professional, but personally, I would avoid doing one-legged workouts. You will likely only build an increased muscle imbalance, which holds the potential for later injury due to the imbalance. You are going to have a muscle imbalance anyway and I would think you should be trying to minimize the discrepancy, not increase it.

Does your PT have a lot of experience working cyclists (or at least endurance athletes)?

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There are some one legged drills which target your pedal stroke. However whatever energy you are going to use on the bike will be detrimental to your recovery. The body needs an enormous amount of energy to mend broken bones. Focus on bones mending.

The best advice I can suggest is ensure quality calories as you’ll see how much energy the body uses to repair itself.

Heal fully and quickly👍

thanks for your replies.
Do you think that even Z2 rides on one leg will create imbalance?

I’d rather just do unilateral leg presses, RDLs and the like to stave off the atrophy.

One-legged cycling for more than 30 seconds … no thanks.


IMHO, I think this is absolutely ok to do and would highly recommend. I fully agree with your PT. There is this long standing misconception that if one part of the body is injured, then you must rest the entire body to heal. I strongly disagree! It has not been my personal experience (I’ve had many injuries) and not what I’ve seen, read and heard. For reference see the below episode with Derek Teel from DialedHealth, who was hit by a car, suffered serious injuries and got back to training well before he was/is fully healed.

There are so many benefits both physically and mentally to getting back to training as soon as possible. Of course you don’t work through pain and delay your recovery. Rather, you work with your injury letting pain and common sense be your guide. I’d recommend speaking with your PT before any activity and if you’re cleared to do it, then 100% you should. Just don’t push it and go beyond what is approved.

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I couldn’t disagree more. Fuel the recovery and work and you’ll be better off.


Why not?
I must say that I have never tried one legged cycling before.
I am already doing one-legged presses and I am using an arm ergometer to get a minimum of aerobic exercise. But I struggle to stay in Z2 with my arms only, most of my workouts are in Z1.

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I have done it, so my reaction is based on n = 1.

It just wasn’t much fun. It may well be an excellent option, I just don’t like doing it and would rather take the hit in terms of fitness than be miserable*.

*more miserable than normal

+1000 on this. I’d do as much as your Dr. and PT allow and I’d push them hard to see what else you might be able to do. I’d start by challenging the “weight bearing” restriction and see if cycling should really fall under that (cycling is not technically a weight bearing exercise). Maybe one of those recumbent bike trainer setups would be OK if they really don’t want any weight on that leg. Spinning cranks (especially with an easy load) seems more like mobility work than weight bearing to me (at least worth asking the question). Don’t assume the Dr. or PT fully understands the dynamics of cycling unless they have already proven otherwise.

When I had badly displaced patella fracture (smashed to bits, fixed with screws and mesh), I got back on a bike trainer less than a month after surgery even though I didn’t have the mobility to turn the pedals. It took some coaxing and explaining before my PT got on board with the approach. Started with a really high saddle just rocking back and forth and pretty quickly got the range of motion to allow me to “get over the top” and do full pedal revolutions. Once I had that, I was off to the races (literally doing D races on zwift within 2-3 weeks). Dr. and PT said they had never seen anyone recover so quickly after such a serious patella injury. All injuries are different and I’m not saying my approach is appropriate for your injury, just food for thought and maybe worth proposing a similar protocol to your PT/Dr. or at least have a discussion on options. Unless you have a very sport-centric Dr. and PT, they are often accustom to working with non-athletes and they use the same protocols for recovery (which are far from optimal and built around slow progression in favor of minimizing pain). A good PT can help guide you through good pain vs. bad pain and as an athlete it’s pretty easy to differentiate.

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Can’t comment about single leg cycling. But do you have access to Concept2 SkiErg to try? It can be used in seated position with no leg assistance. I get pretty easily to HR Z2/Z3 with it. Bought it myself after leg injury couple years ago and now using is to maintain upper body.

To get good aerobic and cardio benefit you need to use your legs, or at least one leg, because the arms themselves do not have enough muscle mass to increase oxygen consumption to a level that will require your heart to beat at a Z2 or higher rate + stroke volume. You should be conservative in determining how much power you push - working one leg is extremely taxing and you can risk tendon or ligament damage if you do too much too soon. You also want to be able to sustain the exercise rather than stopping after a few minutes.

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I am planning to do Z2 but I’ve been wondering if Z2 on one leg is going to feel like Z4 on two :wink:
I will try today I guess and adapt as needed.

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Serious question: Have you done single leg drills for more than a minute at a time? Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to find utility here. You will be able to push your muscles to the limit, but since you will only produce half the power, your cardiovascular system won’t be pushed hard enough. Hence, I don’t think training one leg only will have a positive impact.

I’d focus on recovery and rest if I were you.

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I am focusing on recovery, watching my protein and calcium intake and doing my PT exercises daily. But in addition to this, I think I’ll try the one legged option. I just need my wife’s help to install the bike on the trainer in a position where I can safely get on and off it.
Once I’ve tried that, I’ll post about my experience here.

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Just be sure to keep the resistance very low (or ERG power very low). Don’t be surprised if we’re talking 25% of what you would normally do with two legs. It will be more difficult in any case, and you’ll be using your glutes and hamstrings to a very large degree as you will be pedaling complete circles down, back, up, forward. Who knows, maybe the hardest part will be keeping your injured leg out of the way so you don’t smack it with the free pedal.

I tried my first workout today, I average about 41W over 51 minutes, with some stops to regain control of the pedal stroke from time to time. I found it difficult, particularly at the beginning, but then it got a bit easier and I only stopped because it was dinner time.
This felt like a 140W-160W workout with two legs, based on feeling and also on heart rate, so your (@Garratto) estimate of 25% is pretty spot-on. Why is it? I was honestly expecting to be closer to 50% somewhere around 40%, maybe.
Is it because I am simply out of shape, or is there a mechanical reason for the power offset?

Also, my Wahoo app computed calories based on power output, but is it correct in this case? As I said, based on heart rate, this felt like a ride with 4 times as much power.


Hi @OreoCookie,
actually, my heart rate went up pretty easily, much more easily than with my arms. My 40W workout felt like a 150W workout with two legs from an HR perspective.

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Hey that’s awesome.

Your power will increase fairly quickly if you are consistent and avoid injury. Right now you are developing motor skill because you are using your hamstrings and glutes very differently than you have in the past – when you pedal with two legs they are involved, but it’s basically passive rather than active, as you always have the opposite quad involved in the work. I’m sure you had to actually focus and intentionally pull back and up to go through the pedal stroke. 2 or 3 weeks and you’ll prolly be bumping the watts.

It’s important to pay attention to how your knee feels as you pedal, all over: anterior, lateral, medial, internal, posterior. In fact pay close attention to the internal and posterior aspects because you are putting force on the attachment points of the hamstring on the knee in a manner you haven’t done in the past, and tendons/ligaments don’t develop as fast as muscles, so if you feel a tweak or something feels off then respect the potential for injury.

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This is simply not true. Your core has more than enough muscle to get you into zone 2 and we’ll beyond. Try some seated ski erg (with correct technique) if you don’t believe me - there’s a workout to be had for sure.

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