What ACTUALLY happens when you stop exercising for one month (MY EXPERIENCE!)
4-6 weeks of no physical lifting.
Hearing these words when I went in for my surgical consultation in November left me speechless. Fitness was my life - I spent every day running, lifting, or performing some type of yoga/stretching to enhance my mobility. What was I going to do if I couldn't do any of this?
Reluctantly, I agreed to have the surgery - a bilateral inguinal hernia repair - performed. I was fortunate enough to have one of the most skilled surgeons I've ever met, Dr. Alli with Penn State Health (for anyone with the same problem I've had, I HIGHLY recommend going with Dr. Alli regardless of how long it takes for scheduling). Dr. Alli was incredibly thorough, patient, and understanding. He did not rush through anything and made sure I understood everything. He even dove a little deeper into some of the anatomical aspects after I explained I was a physical therapy major.
Looking back now, I'm thrilled with my results. I'm all healed up with only a few minor scars to show for it. But what happens to the body over 4 weeks of no lifting? Did all my precious, hard-earned gains disappear? Did I gain ridiculous levels of body fat, lose my girlfriend, and watch my life fall apart?
Days before surgery...
Before my surgery, I was working as hard as I could to build/retain as much muscle mass and endurance as possible. For those who have not purchased a program from me before - I always take a holistic approach to my health and fitness, and that of my clients. This involves looking at recovery status, nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress, etc. I was focusing on certain exercises I knew would provide me with the most bang for my buck, sleeping 7.5 hours a night (despite having a final exam daily for a full week), and drinking 2 gallons of water daily. I could dive deeper into what I did before my surgery, but I feel like it's easier to show pictures!
Below are a few pictures of the days before my surgery. I was at my normal 5-7% body fat percentage and enjoying the extreme definition I developed.
As far as numbers were concerned, I was ripping weighted pullups with ~75lbs on my belt, bench pressing 225 for sets of 10-12 reps, and squatting 225 for sets of 15 reps easily... all with a few holes in my inguinal ligament, and my intestines shooting down my groin. Not too shabby.
While at home, I made sure I always slept 8 hours per night, with no exceptions. Sleep is such an important piece of the body's recovery and healing process, and lack of sleep increases stress levels and causes a whole cascade of negative things. I also did what I could to remain active, such as taking light/short walks and stretching. Although this was much different than my normal level of activity, something is better than nothing.
My dietary focus was the same as usual. I ate plenty of eggs, yogurt, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables to ensure I had the adequate nutrients my body needed for recovery. I added some complex carbs to ensure I was getting plenty of fiber since I wanted to make the trips to the bathroom as easy as I could.
4 weeks later, I was cleared and ready to return to work! I had surprised everyone at the hospital (and my clearing physician) with how I was doing. I had not taken any painkillers outside of Tylenol, my scars had fully closed up and healed, and I physically looked very similar to before. Now, I felt weaker and knew that I had gained some body fat, losing some of that precious muscle definition. But, I had to agree with them. Considering I spent 4 weeks doing no physical lifting of any kind, the fact I was able to hold on so long is incredible.
I'll let you compare the difference between before (black stinger, first video) and four days after I was cleared to return to exercise (blue stinger, second video) and see if you notice any difference. In both videos, I'm performing one of my favorite exercises, the Z-press, with 95 lbs total weight.
So there you have it. Four weeks of little activity and no weight lifting, and I'm back strong! I lost a slight muscle definition and gained 1-2 pounds of body fat, but overall, the end result is worth it. My big take-home message: don't worry about lifting weights on vacation. Don't lift weights on the holidays. As you can see, the impact it has on the long-term in minimal. Spend time with those you love when you have these opportunities because some things are bigger than fitness.
In an upcoming article, I'll dive deeper into some of the physiology and rationale behind what I was doing/eating, so stay tuned!
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