Working out is challenging under the best of circumstances, but if you suffer from Achilles tendinitis it can be downright painful. A common overuse injury among athletes, Achilles tendinitis occurs when the tendon that connects your heel with your calf muscles becomes swollen and painful due to repeated strain. Your doctor may encourage you to take a break from exercise to allow your Achilles time to heal, but when it's time to get moving again the right gym workout can help you ease back into your athletic routine. Working out safely and correctly on the treadmill or elliptical, if permitted by your doctor, can help you get back into shape after an Achilles tendinitis injury.
Stick with walking on the treadmill for the easiest weight-bearing workout for your Achilles tendon. When you start running again, don't over do it. Running coach Dean Hebert recommends breaking up your runs into intervals -- taking walking breaks every few minutes -- and running at a lower than normal speed. Watch your speed when using an elliptical too. The faster the pedals on the elliptical move, the less they support your foot. This may result in strain as you flex your foot toward your shin while cycling the pedals.
Incline and Resistance
According to podiatrist Dr. Stanley Beekman, using an incline on the treadmill can increase your likelihood of developing or exacerbating Achilles tendinitis. Running or walking at a steep incline -- or increasing your incline too quickly -- places additional strain on your Achilles tendon. Setting your elliptical on too high of a resistance level can have the same effect. When beginning a new workout routine or easing back into exercise after injury, start at a low incline or resistance level, then gradually increase the intensity over several weeks.
Duration and Frequency
Whether you use a treadmill or an elliptical, avoid working out too frequently for too long. Both types of cardio machines involve repetitive motions that contribute to overuse injuries like Achilles tendinitis. Work out for no longer than 30 minutes at a time when you first ease back into an exercise routine after an Achilles injury. Give yourself 24 to 48 hours of recovery time between treadmill or elliptical workouts.
Exercises that don't place strain on your Achilles tendon make safe alternatives to treadmill and elliptical workouts. Bicycling, either outdoors or inside on a stationary bike, offers many of the same cardiovascular benefits of running without the strain. You might also try swimming or rowing to stay in shape as you recover from and prevent Achilles tendinitis. Even replacing one treadmill or elliptical workout per week with a lower-impact alternative can reduce your risk of Achilles tendon injury.
Sarah Badger is a certified pilates and group fitness instructor, writer and dance teacher. Her work has appeared in "Dance Spirit" magazine and several literary journals. Badger earned her bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from Marymount Manhattan College, and currently owns a dance and fitness studio in upstate New York.