Can I Use Cross Trainer with Calf Strain?

Cross trainers are often a popular choice for people experiencing a variety of sprains and exercise related injuries due to the comparatively low impact workouts they can provide.

But is the cross trainer a suitable machine to use if you have calf strain?  Cross trainers can be effective tools in helping you maintain cardio fitness and strengthen your lower leg muscles if you are recovering from calf sprains or similar injuries. Although there are some instances in which the elliptical should be avoided, many people find that the smooth, controlled range of motion afforded by cross trainers is more comfortable on sore calves than other athletic sports or running. 

Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at how and why the elliptical might be an attractive choice for people experiencing mild sprains or discomfort in the calf region. 

Can I Do the Elliptical With a Pulled Calf Muscle? 

A pulled calf muscle is a relatively common injury that many people who exercise regularly may encounter at some point in their fitness journey. The good news is that pulled calf muscles are not usually serious and can be recovered from through a combination of rest and gentle rehabilitation.

NordicTrack Elliptical Commercial Series 14.9

If your calf sprain or pulled muscle is relatively mild, then the elliptical can be an effective tool at helping you build back strength and return to your usual fitness routine. It can also help people maintain or even improve cardio-vascular fitness during periods where other forms of exercise put too much strain on the affected calf area. There are, however, some caveats to this. 

It is generally recommended that you rest and refrain from anything but the gentlest of exercises for at least 1 or 2 weeks after any acute calf injury has been sustained. It is also a good idea to have your injury checked over by a physician prior to resuming any form of exercise, just to ensure there is nothing more serious at play.

Once the general pain has subsided, you may find that a gentle return to stretching and smooth motion is manageable. This is where the cross trainer can prove a helpful fitness companion.

The lower impact offered by the elliptical when compared to other aerobic sports or traditional running means that less of a jarring impact is placed on the lower joints and muscles, including the calves. Indeed, one 2010 study looking at various types of muscle activation found that the major calf muscles were put under less strain by the elliptical machine than they were by traditional running or even walking. 

The elliptical can also offer a closely defined range of motion and adjustable levels of resistance, helping you to start gradually and build up your workouts in a way that feels comfortable and controlled.

As with all muscle sprains, it is important that you do not exert yourself if there is residual pain in the affected calf area, as this likely signals that the muscle still needs time to repair and heal. 

Can Elliptical Cause Calf Pain?

As with any exercise machine, the elliptical can not be used risk free. There may be instances where a cross trainer workout exacerbates rather than helps with calf discomfort.

The chances of you suffering an acute calf injury whilst using the elliptical are slim, due to the smooth, controlled motion of the machine. However, overuse injuries and sprains can occur, especially if you are overloading the calf muscles by trying to operate the machine at too high a level of resistance.

Can I Use Cross Trainer with Calf Strain?

When back pedalling on the machine, the major calf muscles are engaged more fully. If you push back on the pedals at a high resistance, this could result in sprains to the calf area, particularly if your body is not used to the range of motion or level of pressure you are exerting. 

You may also experience generalised muscle soreness after working out on the elliptical. Such forms of soreness, often referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), are not usually anything to worry about. In fact, they are often a sign that the muscle is repairing small microtears caused by healthy levels of exertion, with the result that the muscle builds back better and stronger.

It is important to avoid overstraining yourself during periods of muscle soreness and to allow yourself proper rest and restrengthening days in between workouts. Muscle soreness can be a healthy sign that you have pushed yourself appropriately during a workout, but it still requires rest in order for you to gain the full strengthening benefits and avoid overuse injuries. 

Is Elliptical Good For Tight Calves?

Aerobic exercises such as the elliptical can actually cause calf tightness in some instances, particularly if your body is not used to the exercise or the strain involved. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the elliptical is bad for tight calves, but there are going to be more effective ways of loosening tightness in the legs than using the elliptical in isolation. 

Stretching before and after your elliptical workout is an important way of ensuring your calf muscles stay as supple and relaxed as possible. Similarly, dynamic stretching exercises such as yoga and pilates can be a great way of maintaining flexibility and looseness in the calf and general leg area.

Finally, sports massages and foam rollers can help to reduce tension in the calf area, loosening out any tight spots or knots that can form over time. 

Elliptical With Calf Strain

As with any injury or persistent discomfort, it is important to consult a trained medical professional for the best advice around appropriate diagnosis, rest, and recovery if you think you have strained your calf. 

Nevertheless, many people find the elliptical to be a good cardio workout whilst they are recovering from calf strains, as the range of motion and low impact function of a cross trainer puts less strain on the calves than other traditional weight-bearing aerobic exercises.

A key aspect of any calf strain recovery is making sure that you trust your body and the signals it sends. Trying to work through worsening pain is likely to result in a worsening of the injury overall. You could cause a relatively mild sprain to develop into a more serious and debilitating ailment. 

Make sure that when you return to any form of exercise, including workouts offered by the elliptical, that you are starting slowly, gently, and at a low resistance. This can help make sure you are building back strength in a way that is balanced, healthy, and controlled. 

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An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!