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Beginning To Exercise After Bariatric Surgery

Pandora Blog 4

Guest blogger, Pandora Williams presents Blog #4 for us today! Pandora is dedicated to helping pre and post operative bariatric patients find a healthy balance in life to reach and maintain weight loss goals while battling obesity. After having bariatric surgery and losing 260 pounds, Pandora has become a Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach, Motivational Speaker and a Marathon Runner! We are very excited to have her share personal insight with us on how she continuously battles obesity and stays motivated! If you’d like to learn more about Pandora Click HERE to read her 1st Blog Post. Also, Click HERE to read her 2nd Blog Post where she reveals the #1 concept patients must understand once they have bariatric surgery. And if you missed the most recent post about Click HERE to read her 3rd Blog Post about how to start training for a half marathon!

I often get asked “Where do you start when it comes to exercise after bariatric surgery?”

This is a hard question to answer, because there is no unilateral answer for each and every individual. Every weight loss journey is about one person. Fitness is also about one person. That is why your weight loss journey and your fitness are so personal. Every individual is different, and that is one of the biggest reasons that personal training should be personal.

You start with cardiovascular exercise and you start with movement. So where do you start? You start with movement and you start with making sure that you are doing more today than you were yesterday.

Let’s be blunt for a moment. Most of us that have just had Bariatric Surgery have a history of having a very sedentary lifestyle. We’re not going to go from doing cardio for zero minutes a day to doing cardio for sixty minutes a day. We have to start with small goals and then set new goals when we reach them.

The first time I got on a treadmill at 420 lbs my goal was to walk thirty minutes or a mile, whichever came first. I walked for thirty minutes because I couldn’t walk an entire mile in that time frame.

The moral of the story, while the recommended allowance for cardiovascular exercise to achieve weight loss is sixty minutes a day, don’t start there. You’ll get burned out fast, start slow and gradually progress. If thirty minutes is doable for a week go to thirty-five, if thirty-five minutes a week for 5 days is an achievable goal try for forty. Keep adding time until you build up to 60 minutes a day 5 days a week.

When we are carrying extra weight around movement can be harder for us. It’s important that we select modes of exercise that are realistic to what we can do. I never attempted to get on an elliptical machine or started jogging until I could walk for sixty minutes a day. Even then I worked on increasing my walk speed before I decided it was time to try to start jogging.

Choosing exercises you enjoy increases your motivation to exercise

working out with weights

It’s important to remember that cardio is cardio and that you can choose to do cardio in many forms. If you HATE being on a treadmill, choosing to walk on a treadmill each day as your cardio exercise is probably NOT the best idea for you. If you hate to do something you are very unlikely to want to do it on a regular basis, which means when push comes to shove and your mind starts making up excuses not to get that workout in, you are more likely to listen.

Instead, choose exercises that make you want to do them. You hate being on a treadmill but you like walking outdoors, good, plan your cardio around when you can do outdoor walks. Maybe you prefer to swim and need to look into joining a gym that gives you access to a pool so that you can kickboard across the pool for sixty minutes. Perhaps you want to consider an exercise video of dance routines or a Zumba class. Maybe you prefer being on a bike to walking. Cardio is cardio. Choose a form that makes you want to do it rather than a method that makes you cringe when you think about it. This is the best way to make sure that you keep coming back for more.

In the beginning it’s not about the intensity of your exercise.

Intensity will come into play much later as you start losing weight and as your body starts to naturally adapt to the exercise that it is doing. When you first start, your focus should be on duration rather than intensity. This is true for both cardiovascular and strength and resistance based exercise.

You want to choose cardiovascular exercises that are low to moderate intensity and modalities of exercise that work around any physical limitations that you have. If you have bad knees, swimming and cycling may be much better cardio selections that walking, jogging or dancing.

Understand the goals of strength and resistance training.

Me getting in some KettleBell swings!
Me getting in some KettleBell swings!

When you’ve got cardio down and you are meeting the daily recommendations for cardio ( 5x a week of moderate intensity cardio for a total of 150 minutes per week ) it’s time to start working on adding in strength and resistance based exercise.

When you do this you want to choose strength and resistance exercise intensities that focus on what you are trying to achieve. When you are first starting out in your weight loss journey you goal isn’t necessarily to build muscle, your goal is to maintain lean muscle mass.

This is something many don’t understand when it comes to weight loss. Those that suffer from obesity tend to have a higher amount of lean muscle than one might think. It makes sense if you really think about it. If I go grab a hundred pound sandbag and carry it around with me all day, chances are I am going to build muscle and expend more calories moving that bag around. Excess weight isn’t much different. Your body has to carry that weight around, your muscles have to be stronger in order to do that and your body also expends more energy ( or calories ) in performing that endeavor.

Due to this you will find that people that carry extra weight tend to have a higher lean muscle mass and a higher base metabolic rate than one might expect. This is because our base metabolic rate is determined by how much lean muscle we have. That is why it is so important to maintain lean muscle mass as much as possible in the beginning stages of weight loss – it helps keep the base metabolic rate up and helps insure those higher caloric deficits that really aid in those early stages of weight loss.

It is also important to make sure that you are working larger muscle groups when you are trying to lose weight. Moving larger muscles means the body is performing more work and therefore burning more calories. While you might want to have really toned arms and think that bicep curls are the neatest thing in the world, you’ll benefit much more from working on larger muscles like your back, chest, shoulders and legs in the beginning.

I always tell my clients that focusing on total body rather than focusing on just one aspect of your body is the way to go. In the beginning, strength and resistance training should be performed 1-3 times a week and focus on light to moderately heavy weights with 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. It’s also very important to make that you give your body 48 hours between strength training sessions. That means a rest day in between each day of strength training sessions.

Know the difference between pain, fatigue and soreness.

sebastian and flounder

Strength and resistance based exercise isn’t about pain. Joint pain is not healthy pain. There is a big difference between muscle fatigue and joint pain. If the exercise you are doing causes you pain the chance are that it needs to be modified.

Clients working out with me for the first time often ask me what muscle fatigue feels like. The best way that I can describe it is that your muscle actually feels tired. You’re doing chest press and everything is fine, then it starts to get harder, and harder, your muscle starts to burn a little, it make start to shake or tremble. That is muscle fatigue.

Sometimes when we are first starting out in our weight loss journey we have a lot of joint limitations in our lower body. This is the case with several of my clients and guess what, they can get just as good of a strength and resistance workout sitting down as they can standing up. Don’t be afraid to do an upper body exercise seated instead of standing. It’s all about starting at what works for you.

Muscle soreness in the days following exercise is completely normal. But for some of us who have never experienced it before that soreness can be misunderstood for pain and become a deterrent to exercise. Muscle soreness is actually a pretty common thing and is usually experienced between 24-72 hours after your workout. The amount of muscle soreness you experience will reduce exponentially as your activity threshold goes up and your body adapts to exercise.

Muscle soreness is usually reported as a point tenderness when touching muscles, tired or burning feeling in the muscle while exercising and a dull, tight and aching feeling when at rest. Muscle soreness usually lasts 2-3 days post workout and improves greatly with more movement, stretching and hydration. Sitting still and being sedentary when you are experiencing muscle soreness due to exercise is actually the worst thing you can do.

Pain on the other hand is usually reported as a ache or sharp pain at rest or when exercising. It is usually reported during exercise itself or within 24 hours of exercise. The duration tends to last longer and can linger if not addressed and it is usually located in joints and muscles where muscle soreness is only in the muscle itself. Pain usually worsens with continued activity and improves by applying rest, ice, compression and/or elevation.

If you are experiencing pain after exercise you should consult with a medical professional if the pain is extreme or lasts longer that 1-2 weeks.

I always try to make sure that my clients understand that the old “No pain, no gain,” philosophy in exercise is just that, an old philosophy. It’s outdated, overused and irresponsible. Pain is not what exercise is about. If you are experiencing pain when you are performing an exercise that exercise needs to be modified to stop the pain. You either need to research how do that or have a professional show you a proper modification.

A few common exercises that I often modify for my clients are things like squats, planks, pushups and sit-ups as these are all exercises that use your body weight and can be highly difficult for those just starting out in the struggle against obesity. But there are modifications that make all of these exercises possible for anyone, despite their beginning fitness level.

I didn’t choose running. Running chose me.

pandora running

I am often asked why I selected running as my favorite form of exercise. Here’s the truth. I didn’t. Before I ran I walked, I swam, I got on an exercise bike and hated every moment of it. I found that I enjoyed walking, swimming and even my time on an elliptical, those were my go to methods of cardio. I hated weight machines.

Let me reiterate, I hated weight machines. I tried and tried and tried to force myself to like them because I knew that I was supposed to be trying to do strength and resistance exercise. But when it came to weight machines I was intimidated by them and I felt like an idiot trying to use them, so I didn’t. But knowing that I had to get weight based exercise into my routine somehow, I hired a personal trainer.

I found that I really enjoyed the types of exercises that she gave me. Exercises that included TRX suspension straps, bosu balls, weighted balls, free weights, bars, resistance bands and stability balls. Suddenly I looked forward to these workouts.

Love the versatility of workouts you can get from these TRX bands!
Love the versatility of workouts you can get from these TRX bands!

It was on her suggestion that I started running. I had lost nearly 150lb. Already but I wanted to lose 100 more and she suggested that if I wanted to get more out of the 60-90 minutes of cardio I was doing each day that I was going to have to start running.

“Are you high? I weigh two hundred and sixty pounds and I am not running unless a threat of death is chasing me.”

Run Scooby!!!!
Run Scooby!!!!

Those were my exact words and I wasn’t lying. The first time I ran there was a threat of death chasing me. My father was about to pass away, he was laying in a hospice bed with hours left and I was decided to go outside and see if running would help me deal with all of the feelings I was experiencing.

Running made me feel better. It gave me a way to quiet my racing thoughts and process my feelings. I’ve always thought it was a very natural progression. I enjoyed walking and trying to achieve faster and faster speeds on a treadmill and I enjoyed walking outdoors. It made sense that I would enjoy running.

I enjoy outdoor cycling these days too, but I still hate being on a stationary bike in a gym. My preferences for weight and resistance haven’t changed much either, while I am much more comfortable and not at all intimidated by weight machines, I don’t enjoy them and still prefer to get my workouts in using more contemporary style equipment.

Finding what motivates you is important.

You can probably tell from my other posts that I LOVE earning these magnificent Disney medals!
You can probably tell from my other posts that I LOVE earning these magnificent Disney medals!

While running is very easily a solitary activity for me, I prefer a group environment when I am doing strength and resistance. I don’t enjoy doing it alone and having people doing it with me, like another fitness instructor or my clients, helps motivate me to do it, where without the company I might procrastinate and postpone a workout.

It’s important, especially in the beginning to analyze how you feel about exercise, what modalities of exercise you enjoy and what sort of obstacles you might have when it comes to meeting standard exercise recommendations so that you can find ways around those obstacles and make sure that they don’t become barriers or roadblocks in getting to your goals.

Like me, if you know you probably won’t get that strength and resistance based workout in if you’re alone, then it’s time to research your options. Hire a personal trainer, join a gym that offers strength and resistance based group exercise classes, find an online program that motivates you to participate, find out if there are small group personal training sessions offered in your area, enlist one of your friends that is looking for motivation to be a workout buddy.

I always suggest to clients that they make two lists, one for cardio and one for strength and resistance. On each one draw two columns. On one side start writing down activities you think you would enjoy doing that fall under those two categories. On the other side start listing the potential reasons that you would likely not do those things. Look for obstacles like: I’m intimidated in the gym, I’m afraid I will be the only person suffering from obesity in the group exercise class, I don’t have enough time, I don’t have the proper equipment.

Now turn the page over and for every obstacle you have listed, start coming up with solutions. If you are intimidated in the gym perhaps it’s time to look into a new gym, hire a trainer, or find someone to go with you so that it is not as intimidating. If you think you don’t have time maybe you need to pack a gym bag the night before, find a gym location that is on the way home or find exercises you can do at home rather than at the gym or even hire a personal trainer that will come to you.

Just remember this is a journey it’s not a race…

disney's up gif

It’s easy to get in over your head when it comes to exercise. One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to exercise is trying to do too much at the beginning. We want to see results and so we figure if we put more effort in early on, we’ll see results faster and that will help motivate us to keep going.

Exercise is about progression. You know that saying “what doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you”? I think that is one of the best ways to look at exercise. If what you are doing is challenging to you, your program is working. If it isn’t challenging, it’s time to take on a little more. If it’s so challenging that you can’t keep up, chances are it’s too challenging and you’re taking on too much too soon.

Focus on taking on a little a time. You didn’t gain weight overnight and you aren’t going to lose weight overnight. But as you gradually work exercise into your weight loss journey you’ll also start to lose weight, improve your cardiovascular endurance, improve your muscle strength and endurance and start to find that adding more is your next natural step. Once the time requirements of exercise have become an achievable goal and something you can do on a consistent basis, then start to look at things like intensity.

This is your journey and it’s not a race – go your distance and your pace and as long as you are working on making sure that you’re always doing a little bit better today than you were yesterday or last week, you’ll be constantly improving and constantly moving forward in a journey to a happier, healthier you. That’s why you started exercising to begin with after all isn’t it? To improve your health? As long as you are moving in that direction, you’re moving in the right one and movement is the first big step you have to take in any exercise program.

Pandora Boxing Bag

Check back to learn my first-hand experience with setting realistic and actionable goals after surgery. Inches turn into feet, feet into miles – keep the overall goal in sight while maintaining perspective!

-Until next time, Pandora

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