Minimising Strength Loss in an Injured Limb

The worst part of injury often isn't the pain but the ongoing psychological withdrawal from exercise.

Luckily, there is a way to minimise the strength losses caused by a single limb injury.

A large percentage of the strength in a limb isn't caused by muscle size (cross-sectional area), but by neural factors - that is, the nerve telling the muscle fibres what to do in efficient and coordinated ways.

The valuable thing is, you can continue to train the neural patterns of an injured limb even if you're not using it. This is called 'cross-education'. Cross-education refers to the fact that if you have an injured arm or leg, by training THE OTHER arm/leg, you are maintaining the neural patterning in the injured arm. So even though you may lose some muscle, your movement patterns are maintained, and strength losses are minimised. So drag out those kettle-bells and dumbbells and start working the good limb.

You can also use injuries as an opportunity to work on your weaknesses.

Dan Williams's picture

Dan Williams

Dan Williams is the Founder and Director of Range of Motion. He is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Exercise Scientist with a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science. Dan is a CrossFit Coach (at CF Games Level) and four time CrossFit Regionals Athlete.


  1. True that! I couldnt use my right arm post surgery but did a lot of single ring rows, single dumbell works, single KBs, and did lots of running which was my weakness. No excuses :)

  2. avatar

    Great example Nez.

  3. Hey Dan, so if I'm not allowed to full squat on my left leg, would you suggest me doing single leg full squats on my right leg to keep up the strength there?  I've being doing heaps of power movements with half squat, but no full squat movements and I don't want to lose too much strength.



  4. avatar

    Yes, pistols on your good leg will maintain the neural pathways on the bad leg. Hope this helps.

  5. Great write up Dan. We tell our members this all the time. We've had 3 members train right up to the day before a knee reco and come back not long after. They all attributed their outstanding recoveries to their fitness going in and their return to training soon after.

    Having recently been reduced to 1-handed training and still somewhat limited, I know there is a truckload you can do with an injured limb. All it takes is a little thought and maintaining your commitment and you'll find your recovery time is often significantly diminished. If Kyle Maynard can CrossFit with no arms and legs, I'm sure most of us can work around a temporary injury. No excuses! 

    All that said, you still have to allow injuries to heal fully which can take up to 2 years from my understanding. Think you did a post on this not long ago Dan? Be aware of that but don't use it as an excuse.

    Jase, The Cell & CrossFit Endurance Australia

  6. avatar

    No excuses indeed.

    The article you're referring to is How Long Does it Really Take to Recover from Injury?

    As you said, appreciate the facts, but be smart n finding non aggravating alternatives. There are plenty there.

  7. Hmmm....didn't Duncan Armstrong swim as close as possible to the american favorite in order to swim in the guys draft???

  8. avatar

    Possibly. As wave reducing lane ropes have evolved, this has become less and less possible.

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