Getting back to the Gym after Surgery

The cast finally comes off!

Surgery was just over three weeks ago. I have one more week of non-weight-bearing, and three more weeks wearing the boot.

This means that next week I can get back to training others at the JCC. Last night I taught a small group class, but could not participate–it was a weird feeling.

Since I began my fitness journey I have had a few surgeries: Bunionectomy, double-hernia correction, emergency appendectomy (this past January) and now the surgery on my foot.

What I have learned from my past experiences:

  1. Listen to your doctor…but also listen to your body. Doctors set guidelines for how we should “ease” back into our fitness routine, but that does not work for everyone. I have seen people have the same surgery performed by the same doctor for the same condition; one was back to work in 2 days, the other was out for 3 weeks. We all respond differently; some have surgery that is 100% successful, while others experience less success. So while a doctor may tell us that we should be able to do something (run, lift weights, etc.) we must listen to our body too. If we feel that we are nowhere near the progress we and/or the doctor expected, we must be sure to communicate with him/her.
  2. Go slow. I do not expect to be running long distances for a while (even a mile). I will start with walking on the track, then little by little adding a couple of laps on the track (1/12 of a mile) each time. When I had my hernia surgery, I had completed a half-marathon 10 days earlier; I was in tip-top shape. I tried to hop back into running with both feet and it was big mistake. I actually pushed myself too hard and too quickly, setting me back further and causing greater pain. It was about a year until I felt full recovered. This does not mean that we shouldn’t push ourselves (see point 1), but caution is our ally.
  3. Try to have some goals and a plan about how to get there. This is true with any kind of fitness plan, but all the more so after an enforced break. Before heading back to the gym, have a plan of how frequently and for what duration it makes sense to be doing which exercises (what weight, how many reps, how many sets, cardio or resistance). Putting it on paper gives perspective; does it look like too much, or not enough?
  4. Don’t get impatient or give up hope. I remember after my hernia surgery thinking that I was washed up and would never recover. The reality is that I did my best work after that surgery; easily beat my half-marathon time, ran obstacle course races, won to 5ks, and became a personal trainer. Keeping a positive outlook and knowing that we are on a journey (that isn’t necessarily linear) helps our sense of progress.
  5. Do some research. I’ve been poking around the internet and found several good articles on recovery after surgery. They all contain several common themes. Best of all, they help to set appropriate expectations. The more we set appropriate expectations, the less likely we are to be disappointed. The less we are disappointed, the more positive we are. The more positive we are, the more progress we make.

I will keep you posted on my recovery with insights I develop through the process. Let’s see how the 5 points above really play out.

In the meantime, glad the cast is off!

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