How Often Should You Go to the Gym (And What to Do) After Bariatric Surgery?

Woman working out at gym on treadmill

After bariatric surgery, you enter an exciting time in your life. You’ve had surgery, and the weight is starting to come off, probably quite rapidly. Most patients wish to build on this excitement by hitting the gym hard and enhancing their results. That said, it’s often difficult to know, especially if you weren’t a gym-goer earlier in life, how often to go and what exercises you should perform when you get there. Mind you, early on after bariatric surgery, we do not want you going to the gym and lifting heavy weights. It will take about 6 to 8 weeks before you are cleared to do so. We also know many patients will be intimidated by the gym. This is perfectly normal. Just getting up and going is an achievement in and of itself. Even if you do minimal strength training in the beginning, you’ll soon feel comfortable and start building up your routine.

With this in mind, it’s important to set proper expectations. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks of consistent gym work to see the results of your efforts. Unfortunately, many people quit before they reach that point. You’ll also want to note you will likely gain weight in the early days of your strength training regimen. This is because you are building muscle at a faster rate than you are losing fat.

Frequency of Going to the Gym

Whether or not you have had bariatric surgery, rest days are critical when going to the gym. This allows the muscles you have recently worked out to recover. There are several schools of thought about how to work out and what muscle groups to work at each gym visit. Ultimately, your choice largely depends on preference, though getting advice from a trainer or exercise physiologist can be a good idea.

Most importantly, however, please don’t overdo it, and that means giving any muscles you’ve worked out at least a day or two days of rest between gym visits. Here are a couple of sample gym schedules:

  • Monday: Chest and triceps
  • Tuesday: Biceps and Back
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body
  • Sunday: Rest

You could also consider:

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Legs
  • Saturday: Core
  • Sunday: Rest

Bear in mind this is just a strength training schedule. You will also need to schedule cardio time into the mix.

The Cardio Equation

Cardiovascular activity is a great way to lock in the gains you are making in other parts of your life. As the name suggests, cardio is excellent training for your heart and is suitable for burning calories. Most cardio activities though, do not build significant muscle and must be performed consistently to help with weight loss or maintenance. You can choose the cardio activities you enjoy most, like the treadmill, stationary bicycle, or even classes like Zumba or spin. But don’t forget about your walking. Walking is an excellent way to create a base level of stamina. Even high-level athletes use walking and, specifically, Zone-Two training to condition themselves for more intense exercise.

Let Your Body Guide You

No matter how you pursue your gym routine, listening to your body is essential. You will almost certainly be sore after going to the gym in the first several months. This is because your muscles aren’t used to the extra strain you placed on them. Take a day off that body part if you are sore. Your muscles are telling you to stop. You can still go to the gym and work on a different area.

Pain is also a sign that something is wrong. If you feel anything more than the discomfort of pushing hard, consider stopping for the day. You may have improper form if this pain occurs consistently, especially in a particular exercise. This can lead to long-term damage or an acute injury that sidelines you for a while.

Work within the limits of your abilities. Naturally, in the first several months after surgery, you may not be able to perform the way you expected or how you did when you were a kid. However, looking at this as a slow build-up, taking each session one step forward is best. Overdoing it too early will ultimately burn you out or injure you.

Eating & Drinking

Hydrating before, during, and after your workouts is essential. Your muscles rely on proper hydration to ensure they can grow and recover. Without hydration, these muscles cannot function properly. Remember, when you start working out, you’ll need significantly more water – and don’t forget electrolytes. Please speak to our office about getting the right balance of fluids. We often wait until we feel thirsty to start consuming water, but we may already be dehydrated by then. Even a 1-2% deficit in hydration makes a significant physical and mental difference.

Protein is also essential to recovery. It’s typically best to get a good dose of protein within an hour after your workout. If you are using protein shakes as part of your daily dietary regimen, we encourage you to have those after working out. You could also consider upping the protein intake from the foods you eat by consuming lean proteins, like chicken breast, turkey, and fish. You may also consider enjoying non-meat-derived sources of complete protein – soy and quinoa. No matter how you get your protein, get enough of this essential nutrient before moving on to carbs.

The Bottom Line

Your exercise routine will likely yield remarkable results you will feel early on and eventually see in improved body shape, weight loss, and muscle tone. We encourage you to keep it up and ensure you work within the bounds of your abilities to avoid injury. That said, be sure to push yourself, slowly, toward new, higher goals, and let us know about the milestones you hit along the way!

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