Not everyone knows that I have battled Crohn's Disease for the last 23 years. This includes undergoing 12 pretty major surgeries within 2 years- and the subsequent 20 years spending as much time as possible pushing my physical boundaries through extreme sports.
I often tell my clients that I use myself as a test subject which allows me to better train them through the challenges they may face. This includes the recovery processes that I have had to endure; from daily maintenance of Crohn’s, a shattered wrist, broken ankle, broken elbow, broken foot, broken toe, surgery on my meniscus and now rotator cuff surgery; and I consider these to be the greatest continuing education classes of my career.
“I’d rather wear out than rust out”-Jack Lalane
Whenever I hear from clients, “I can’t workout with you for a couple months while I recover from my injury.” I always tell them that this is when your trainer actually has the greatest value to you. They can help you train around the injury and get back up to speed safely and quickly.
In my experience, when you have an injury, if you take complete rest, it is like getting one flat tire on your car and deciding to slash the other three. By contrast, benefits of exercising while recovering from an injury include; increased blood flow to the affected area, promoting accelerated healing, maintaining mobility, faster recovery of strength, maintaining metabolic expenditure, and higher overall energy and mood as exercise releases natural endorphins.
After an acute injury or surgery, while inflammation is high, rest is important. After my rotator cuff surgery, I rested for 5 days at which point my inflammation was substantially down and I did a light recovery ride on the Peloton bike and steadily ramped up from there.
Even if you can’t use one of your limbs, you can still see recovery benefits by training the one that isn’t in recovery. According to a review in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, strengthening one limb at a time can actually transfer strength to the opposite limb, helping you maintain function even when your limb is immobilized. This may actually speed up your recovery. I’m currently 4 weeks out from my surgery, I’ve lost almost zero muscle, and will continue to track my progress through my full recovery. Weight gain following an injury is very common. When you stop exercising and continue to eat the same amount of calories, that’s when rapid weight gain occurs. Adjusting your caloric intake to reflect your current level of activity is key to support your recovery.
From a motivation standpoint, it allows me to have more time to strengthen my weaknesses. My upper body has always been my strong suit so I’m putting a lot more time and energy into my legs and core right now. Rather than continue to attempt the same exercises I was doing previously which would be incredibly frustrating, I’ve shifted my focus to improving newer movements.
Here’s an outline of my routine 3 weeks after surgery:
My hope in sharing my experience is that it inspires you to not treat injuries as an end to your own training. It’s critical that when you have injuries, you work with professional healthcare providers first before restarting any activity. Do not try this on your own. I’ve been a personal trainer now for 20 years and have experimented a lot on myself and helped hundreds if not thousands of folks through their injuries. Do work with a personal trainer who understands the recovery process and physical therapist who understands athletes and weight training once given clearance by your doctor. I’m working with two different physical therapists; one of which I highly recommend, community partner Dr. Stephanie Irwin of Rise. I’ve worked with her in the past for minor challenges and she’s been a fantastic partner through this recovery process. With her help and my own dedication, I’m confident that I’ll be back to doing all the things I love way faster than my surgeon anticipates and I’ll be a more well rounded athlete overall.