Top surgery is a life-changing experience, but also a major medical procedure that your body will need time – and resources – to recover from.
With the following six tips, you’ll not only be able to get into the best physical shape you can for surgery; you’ll also set yourself up for a smoother post-op recovery.
1. Give yourself time.
Whether you want to lose body fat, build muscle, or get better at a particular sport, there’s no escaping the fact that it takes time to reach your fitness goals.
For this reason, I usually recommend that clients preparing for top surgery work with me on their training and nutrition for at least three to six months, depending on their experience and goals.
Having said that, any attempts to improve your fitness are better than doing nothing at all!
So, if you’re reading this in the last two months before your top surgery date, don’t get discouraged. You still have time to get started.
2. Maintain a stable weight in the last two to four weeks before surgery.
Your body’s ideal state is called “homeostasis”, or balance. When you disrupt that balance, for example by adjusting your diet to lose fat or gain muscle, you are putting your body under some level of stress, even though you may not always realise it.
In the last two to four weeks before surgery, I recommend returning to homeostasis by eating enough calories to maintain your weight within a range of a few pounds or kilograms.
This is what I call “practising maintenance”. Doing so can teach you how to keep your hard-earned results, reduce your physical and mental stress, and provide you with enough calories and nutrients to sustain you for your upcoming surgery.
3. Have a healthful, balanced, high-protein diet.
Eat a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, dietary fats such as omega 3-rich nuts, seeds, and oily fish such as salmon, and protein sources, as well as an appropriate amount of calories to achieve your current goal.
In addition, focus on having a protein source with at least three meals per day, as this will help you feel more full after meals, build and maintain muscle mass.
Protein is also a component of most tissues in your body, so it can benefit your health and recovery from surgery in multiple ways, including by supporting muscle growth.
4. Perform resistance training, either with bodyweight-only exercises or with external weights.
In addition to preparing your body for surgery and for a swifter, smoother recovery, habitual exercise will also benefit you for the rest of your life.
By performing resistance training for at least your major muscle groups, which are chest, back, shoulders, quads, hamstrings, and core, you will strengthen both muscles and bones, develop a balanced physique, and improve your confidence, mental health, and metabolism, among countless other benefits.
If your top surgery goal is a masculine-looking chest, you can prioritise this body part by doing at least one chest-focused exercise first in every workout targeting this muscle. In most cases, I recommend compound lifts, such as push-ups or chest presses. If you want to add more than one exercise, you can include one that isolates the pecs, for example a pec fly variation done with dumbbells, bands, cables, or the pec deck machine.
Using the appropriate form to feel your pecs working and to perform the exercise safely, push yourself hard enough on every set that you struggle to control the weight on the last one or two reps.
When starting your programme in the lead-up to surgery, aim for two full-body workouts per week, in line with the UK physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64. You can then choose to train more often as you establish the habit and become fitter.
After surgery, it is generally recommended to wait for at least six weeks before you resume your resistance training program, but this will depend on your own individual recovery rate and advice from your surgeon.
5. Don’t neglect cardio.
During surgery, you’ll spend several hours under general anaesthesia. For this reason, improving your cardiovascular fitness can help you lower the risk of respiratory complications.
The UK physical activity guidelines currently include at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes at a higher intensity per week, or a combination of the two. If you aren’t doing quite this much yet, start with what’s accessible to you right now.
Something as simple as a daily walk can go a long way (pun intended).
With consistency, you’ll be able to increase your activity levels gradually until you’re meeting or even exceeding the guidelines.
6. Set realistic targets.
While there are science-backed principles to optimise fat loss and muscle gain, consistency is your greatest way of achieving long-lasting results.
The two main reasons why people give up is that they either go in too hard, too soon, or the challenge they set themselves isn’t engaging or exciting enough.
For example, if you’re not exercising right now, and you decide to go to the gym five days a week from tomorrow, you may last a month at best before you miss a workout or three, get frustrated, and burn out.
To make a true lifestyle change, you need to set realistic, achievable targets. I recommend targets that are easy enough that you’re confident they can be accomplished, but not so easy that they fail to motivate you.
As you build your confidence and habits, you can increase your targets gradually as needed. For example, you may start with one or two workouts per week, then move up to three or four over the next few months.
The goal isn’t to work as hard as possible. It’s to find your own personal fitness solution, which enables you to meet your goals by staying consistent for the rest of your life.
About the author:
Nikias Tomasiello is an online fitness coach specialising in the improvement of physique, mindset and lifestyle through a science-backed, habit-based approach. Nikias offers virtual training and/or nutrition coaching to clients all over the world. Find out more by visiting: http://fittotransformtraining.com/, following Nikias on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/nikias_fittotransform/ or by listening to the Fit to Transform Podcast, released on all major podcast platforms, including Spotify. Nikias can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.