Friday, February 22, 2013

Guest Post: How to Ease Back Into Exercise After Surgery

Hello fellow readers of Foodie4Healing!

My name is Amber Ellison Walker. I'm a personal trainer working in the Minneapolis area. My husband, Jesse, and I run I Think I Can Fitness; a business that specializes in at home personal training. We believe that making peace with our bodies is the necessary starting point for fitness and health. This overarching theme guides our approach to working with clients.

Everyone on this earth is beautiful. This is not to say that we shouldn't work hard to improve our level of health and fitness. We should! But I think you'll find this a much easier task if you are not berating yourself the whole time.

I'm a big fan of Amy's blog. So when Amy reached out to me with questions about how to start exercising again after surgery and calf injury, I was more than happy to respond. This post is based on my response to Amy's questions about her injury. Amy and I thought this information would be useful to others in similar situations. So, away we go!

Amy: How should I ease back into exercise after my surgery?

Do just that! Ease into it! Be good to yourself. Push yourself a little bit more each day, but be very careful. Listen to your body.

In particular, I would start with walking, then walking with short runs interspersed, then slow runs, then shorter runs at your normal speed, then full length runs at your normal speed. Again, listen attentively to your body as you do this.

Amy: How do I know if it's a pain to push through or if it's a pain to pay attention to?

In general I don't recommend pushing through pain. There are a few specific situations (generally during and after a comprehensive rehabilitative physical therapy series) when pushing into pain is a good choice.

For the most part, however, pain means our body is trying to tell us something. When you know the cause and reason for the pain sometimes the only option is to "push" through it. I tell people that a fleeting pain can be ignored as long as it doesn't reoccur consistently. A pain that does not lessen as you continue to workout must be listened to (as in, go seek an expert's opinion). A pain that gets worse as you workout means you need to stop immediately.

Also I think it is important to learn to distinguish between the general discomfort of working out and pain that could mean injury. Working out, running, and all forms of physical exercise carry with them a dull and low-level discomfort. This is fine! It is when pain becomes specific to one area of the body, is recurring, and/or not getting better as you exercise that you should be particularly careful.

Amy: Would working with a heart rate monitor be good idea to keep from overdoing it?

I don't think a heart rate monitor sounds like the right solution for you. It would give information, but that information is about your heart not your calf. You need to listen to the parts of your body that are actually hurting. If you weren't dealing with a calf injury but simply rebuilding your exercise base after a long break, I would consider working with a heart rate monitor.

On a side note, our bodies are designed to be exquisitely informative about muscle injuries. Sometimes we need the help of medical equipment to rule out more serious problems. But I believe that the sensory information we get from our bodies is often much more useful than technological measurements. You can glean all the information a heart rate monitor offers and more by simply paying attention to the sensations of your body.

Amy: How often should I have rest days?

Rest days are important. Rest 1 day in 7 at least. Now a rest day simply means that you are not pushing yourself. Going for walks or playing physical games with the kids is fine. Again, make peace with you body. Give it some time to relax, have fun, and not be goal-oriented. Teach your body that physical activity can feel great and doesn't always need to be regimented.

After a surgery you may want more than one day of rest per week. This is completely ok! At first you may feel like you are taking rest days very often, don't worry it will be temporary.

A final note about exercise after Surgery:

Part of learning not to wage war on our bodies is learning to have patience. Don't be greedy. Don't be vain. Have considered expectations.

Most of us aren't going to look like the twenty-something models that inhabit fitness industry advertising. But this doesn't diminish the beauty of your body one bit. You may not be able to look like the latest fitness poster child who has been tanned and photoshopped to sell fitness products.  But, with good habits, you can be fit, healthy, energetic, and attractive.

This attitude toward exercise and your body is doubly important when you are in that delicate time after a surgery or recovering from an injury.


I love to help people adopt great fitness habits. If you have any fitness questions I'd be happy to talk with you about them. You can reach me on twitter, facebook, my blog, or via e-mail at