Q: I regularly do weights for my upper body, but I recently had surgery for a cyst removal in my shoulder. Now I have lost all strength on that side—arm, shoulder, etc. What can I do to help this recovery to get back to doing light weights? I am 50 and find it harder as I get older. – Greg
A: Please note: I’m not a physical therapist, so I’m not prescribing exercises for specific injuries. Rather, the following are great tips for anyone starting, or restarting, a new weight training routine. When lifting, you should always be conscious of what your body can handle—that applies to everyone whether injured or not.
When injury, illness or other life events force us to shelve our fitness routine, it’s tough to get back on track. And doesn’t this setback always seem to strike right after we’ve hit a huge fitness milestone?
Ryan Sullivan, founder of the No More Bacon blog, was about 135 days into a revolutionary new weight loss regimen and he was achieving incredible successes. Then, it was discovered that he had four hernias and needed an emergency operation. He was unable to exercise for several weeks. When he recovered, he said it felt like he was back at Day One. Yet in the aftermath of this major setback, Ryan regained strength and focus, and today has lost over 100 pounds. I commend you, too, for getting back to your fitness routine after your surgery!
Ryan offers some great tips for “committing to recommit.”
Regain Muscle After Injury or Illness
It’s vital for individuals over 30 to keep up with their strength training, because aging diminishes muscle mass at a rate of 0.5-1% of loss per year. Muscle loss, or atrophy, occurs even more rapidly when illness and injury prevent you from using certain muscles.
When working to repair your health and regain muscle, take a two-pronged approach: focus on both exercise and nutrition.
(These lifting exercises are for targeting the upper body. For lower body workouts, read this post.)
Compound movements are a great way to strengthen your upper body. Rather than doing a simple bicep curl, for example, choose an exercise that targets your shoulders, arms and back. Here are a few compound exercises to cover your whole upper body:
- Flys and Rows: work triceps, shoulders and core.
- Overhead Presses: work shoulders, back, arms and core.
- Pullovers: work shoulders, arms and core. (When you’re stronger, advance to this.)
Remember: Start light and stay in tune with your body; you’ll know when you’re ready to lift heavier. I’d suggest starting with free weights instead of loading up a bar, so you can go lighter on your recovering side—or focus only on your recovering side for now.
Before you start lifting, you need to send ample energy to your muscles. Pre-exercise nutrition—using the right carb-to-protein mix at the right time—is key.
You should also use a protein supplement after your workout to help your muscles recover. That can be a protein shake, protein bar or combination of other healthy sources (milk, yogurt, cheese, lean meats). According to Craig Ballantyne of Turbulence Training, you really don’t need more than 20 grams of protein to get that repair ball rolling.
You should also be taking dietary supplements to fortify your health and facilitate your body’s ability to recover. By supplements, I mean crucial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Be Patient with Your Body
Certified Personal Trainer Skyler Meine instructs his clients to track results. But use the results to monitor your progress and tailor your program, not to get caught up in the numbers. Don’t compare your ability to anyone else’s, or to what it used to be. It will take time to get your strength back.
Be patient and kind to your body, especially when recovering from an injury. You don’t want to aggravate the injury and thus push you further away from your goals. The same goes for anyone starting a new regimen: start slow and build up your strength.
Just like a watched pot never boils… if you can learn to enjoy the journey to strength rather than obsessing over the end result, you’ll reach your goals much faster.
Keep us posted Greg!