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8 Ways to Keep Active When You Can't Exercise Like Normal

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few weeks ago, I had a spot removed from my shoulder. My dermatologist cut out a pretty hefty chunk that required several stitches and has left me with a one-inch scar.
Relief that the sketchy spot was history was soon replaced by panic when I was given post-op instructions:
  • no lifting more than 10 pounds
  • no lifting my arm past 90 degrees
  • no running
  • no bike riding or Spinning
  • no yoga involving arms or any weight on the wrists
None of that for two weeks. TWO WEEKS! What?

I exercise for a lot of reasons: for my health, to keep my weight in check, to get stronger, to help deal with stress, for the feeling it gives me, because I like it. I like staying active, and I find that the more I move, the better I feel. My back pain flares up if I skip even two days of yoga, I notice my anxiety levels rise on days I don't work out, and I just feel like something is missing from my day if I haven't sweated at least once. In addition to running two or three days a week, I usually take a weekly Pilates and Spinning class, and I walk a lot on weekends and in the evenings.

I had been forewarned that yoga would be out--no weight on the arms or wrists. But running? No running? And no Spinning? I actually cried a little.

As I lay face down on the table, I thought about all I could do, and I decided to use this as a chance to focus on exercises that I usually skimp on--power walking, core exercises, and strength training.

These two weeks would be good for me.

So what did I do?

I tracked my calories. Though I was able to reach my fitness goals for the week, I had to be creative. I wasn't burning as many calories as usual, so I knew I needed to cut back slightly. Instead of my usual 2,000 (maintenance mode for my very active lifestyle), I needed only about 1,600. Without vigorous cardio workouts, I didn’t need my usual post-workout protein shake, and my hunger levels were a little lower. The first couple of days were tough, but I stick to my limits!
I practiced yoga anyway. The biggest surprise of all was how much of my usual yoga practice I could do. Instead of taking "vinyasas" (plank-up dog-down dog transitions between sides and poses), I did boat pose, focusing on keep my core tight and strong. I've noticed a difference in just two weeks of the added core work, and though my shoulders were sore this week when I resumed my usual practice, I didn't lose much strength.
I did more lunges and squats, which I usually hate doing. There are stairs a few doors down from my building that lead six blocks north. Just walking up them is enough to leave you out of breath (Cincinnati is full of steep hills), but I used these stairs for body weight training. I went up and down them, lunging and squatting on the way up. This replaced running as my "hard" workouts for the week--no hands needed!
I power walked, taking advantage of Cincinnati's hills. In high school and when I first started to lose weight, my primary form of cardio was walking. I forgot how much I love it. I walked for an hour a couple of times last week, and I was sweating and feeling the burn. Walking works you muscles differently than running, and I always feel a good brisk walk in my glutes the next day!
I worked on my abs. In addition to adding in more core work to my yoga practice, I did a couple of Pilates-inspired workouts. I used some of Nicole's demos and what I have learned in Pilates classes. I tend to skimp on core training since I practice yoga and it works the core, but it was nice to have the time
I meditated and focused on deep breathing. Even this yoga teacher can forget sometimes that yoga is not just about the physical practice. It runs much deeper. I focus more on asana (poses) than I do pranayama (breathing exercises) or dharana/dhyana (concentration/meditation), so cutting back on my asana practice left more time for these activities. (Here's a quick breathing exercise that can help you relax in just two minutes.)
I did Nicole's workout from SELF magazine, with modifications. A few of us (Coach Nicole included) have been doing her workout from SELF magazine twice a week. The first week I had to modify quite a bit, with no jumping, no weights, and few arm movements. Believe me, it was still tough!
I rested. I usually practice yoga in the mornings, then do a cardio or strength workout at night. I rest on average one day a week, and even on that day I walk. I love being active. Over Labor Day weekend, I spent two days lazing about and avoiding the rain. I didn't do a single workout for 2 1/2 days, and it felt great to let my body chill. It was completely out of character to not do much of anything, watch hours of TV and movies on my computer, and just lie around--but it was exactly what I needed and wanted.
My stitches came out after 10 days, and I'm back to normal. My scar is healing quickly. When I look at it, I'm reminded not only of the importance of sun protection but also of regular exercise. I could have used my stitches as an opportunity to laze about for two weeks, but I didn't. It's easy to maintain healthy habits when you're in good health or when life is going as planned. But where's the lesson in that? By staying active and abiding by my healthy living philosophy in tough times, I believe that those habits become more deeply entrenched upon our lives. Do you agree?
Have you ever had an injury or procedure that has prevented you from working out? How did you cope? How did you modify your routine?

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EVIE4NOW 6/29/2020
Thanks for thinking outside the box. Report
My daughter had a sprained ankle for the past few weeks and she’s found so many great workout alternatives on YouTube Report
NENEBFIT 3/13/2020
Nice article. Thanks! Report
KOALA_BEAR 2/7/2020
I guess I'm just lazy. I always have to remind myself to be active so when the Dr says take it easy, no workouts, I stop & it doesn't bother me at all. Report
NASFKAB 12/22/2019
Great advice Report
MNABOY 10/15/2019
Thanks Report
CD25173333 10/9/2019
The stress fracture in my foot is holding me back so I have gotten accustomed to the bike. Report
I have bad legs (arthritic and bursitis) and so I work around it... Report
Good going! I have a degenerative condition in my back so I have to work around that, but I have found a lot that I can do! My daughter just became a hot yoga instructor, teacher and I know she is hoping to show me some of it. Report
Thanks. Report
Keep moving forward Report
All great suggestions. Report
thanks Report
Thanks Report
Physical therapists are amazing at helping to find what you CAN do. Report
I came back to read this again. I've been sidelined with tendonitis in both forearms and wrists and have to say how very much I MISS working with my light weights. Even doing minimal household chores hurts a lot. I've worn braces, or wraps and been icing it for three weeks but not being able to do anything but taking a walk is frustrating. Lunges and squats don't agree with my artificial knees. I know I will heal but I'm eager for it to happen. Thank you for some substitution ideas. Report
Your substitutions were just great! Report
Would be nice if the author addressed what to do after major surgery. I had prostate cancer last year and had it removed. Granted it was with the DaVinci robot, so less bodily stress than open surgery, but still...no running for 6 weeks, no lunges, no swimming, no yoga, no pushups, no sit-ups, no biking, no cycling/spinning, nothing over 5#...you get the picture...for 6 weeks. I couldn’t even carry a gallon of milk (I did cheat a little on that one...@8.3 pounds). I was told to walk...nothing more. So I walked...a lot. But after a 6 week hiatus, it is tough to get back to running...you’ve got to start slow, easy, and short. I never regained my running ability because I sprained my ankle 3 months ago and still can’t run from that...or climb stairs easily for that matter. Some real options for seriously injured or for serious post-op members. Thanks Report
Still gotta do the hard work Report
I have a broken ankle and have found swimming with a pull buoy (to make sure I'm not tempted to kick) to be the best exercise while I wait for the ankle to heal. The arm bike at the gym is good as well, but swimming gets core and arms/shoulders all at the same time! Bonus-- I've tended to be a kick-driven swimmer, but my stroke is much better now! :) Report
thanks Report
Thank you for an informative article. Report
I definitely agree! I've learned to do modified exercises too - just to be able to move around. Report
This is great way to be active Report
I had spinal fusion surgery and spent 12 weeks with NO bending, lifting (over 5 lbs) or twisting. I spent the time walking (got in at least 3 5Ks/week), riding my stationary recumbent bike every night, and working on improving plank time (got up to 2 min). Whatever limitations you face, there are always some things you can do - I had greater appreciation for what I could do rather than focus on what I couldn't. Report
There's always something you can do, or modifications of lighter exercises and activities. The key and focus is movement! Report
This is great. I have had many times that I have had to modify my exercises Report
I developed a strained calf muscle from doing a lot of walking. The walking was from recovering from the stomach flu and then the regular flu. Dr said no gym for a month After the two flus. 3 setbacks one after another from Dec 28th to Feb 28. My sister told me to be patient and I did. Couldn't do cycling, walking, yoga, no standing exercises. Water aerobics was iffy.I did a lot of calf stretches that's it. I'm back to my regular routine being careful not to overdo since my fitness level is not as strong as before Christmas. Was at my goal weight then. That's why I strained my calf muscle. Working out hard right after recovery from the two flus. Report
This is very help full I will try this
I have MS & had a stroke that left me with left side numbness & in a wheelchair. I am looking for that chair exercise challenge. I want to strengthen my core & work on balance so I can walk again. Report
Lucky you - you couldn't exercise normally for two weeks and then had to build back up. But it was two weeks. Some of us find as we've aged we are injured and won't be able to do our customary routine ever again - big difference. You just don't know what you've got til it's gone (thank you Joni Mitchell). Count your blessings. Report
I just learned from my dermatologist that I will have to go through the same ordeal. I was already told about not doing strenuous exercise for 2 weeks and I think that's what scares me the most. I don't want my fitness level to decline and appreciate your tips. Report
Meh. Telling us that you "did yoga "anyway" doesn't make you sound strong or admirable; it sounds a little smug really. Also, a couple days off per week is not "lazing about" for everyone. Recovery days are essential to rebuilding muscle and healing "micro-injuries". Aside from these things, the article had some good content. Report
I had foot surgery September 2nd of last year. I am still having problems with it I have 3 fusions and 9 pins. The one fusion has not healed right, its below my ankle bone on the outside of my right foot, doctor said to walk on it till it hurt to really bad so to say the least. I have not had a lot of walking. I had no weight bearing on the foot for months. I try to do what I can till it hurts to bad then I try it again later. That is my excerise story!! Report
Count calories? Yes.
Exercise in spite of doctor's orders? No. Report
If the doctor tells you not to do yoga, don't do yoga. Or lift or run or whatever; you may prolong your injury, if not make it worse.
I had two bulging discs and the attendant sciatica, and I made it worse by continuing to lift. If I hadn't done that, I would have only suffered for a few weeks instead of months.
Follow your doctor's orders! Request to be prescribed physical therapy, if you haven't already been assigned to it and you're capable. The therapists can show you things to keep you moving and strong while you heal. Report
Love this article! A few years back, I hurt my hamstring a few months after WLS. I was so bummed out, but I used a DVD I had bought for my dad that was seated aerobics. It got my heart rate up and I continued to lose weight! I also worked on my core and upper body during that time period. It was hard because even when I was heavier I exercised using Leslie Sansone's DVDs at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week and not being able to do weightbearing aerobics really bummed me out! Report
Taking time to heal is part of taking care of your body & health. Please never think it's "just laze"ing. I'm dismayed at the "did yoga anyway" in case it encourages anyone to think that not following doctor's orders is somehow safe or admirable. Perhaps that wasn't the intent, but some of this article sounded like "how much can I get away with" rather than "how best can I care for my body." A bit disappointed... Report
I'm healing a broken ankle right now. A trimalleolar fracture with complete rupture of the syndemosis ligament and partial rupture of the distal ligament. (Go big or go home, right?)

I've been non-weight bearing on that leg for 6 weeks now, with at least 2 more to go. I'm going stir crazy. I've been using hand weights to focus on my upper body, and trying to do a lot of core work. I got the okay from my doctor to start going up and down the stairs with my crutches (still no weight bearing on the broken ankle, but he trusts my ability to do it slowly), so my good leg is staying nice and solid. Just getting around on my crutches is a surprisingly decent cardio workout, but I have to be careful not to overdo it, because too much time up and about and my broken ankle starts to swell.

I have somehow managed to drop pounds, but I am no where near as active as I was when I got injured. I read somewhere that growing new bone burns a crazy amount of calories - if that's true, then maybe that's why. But my injured leg also looks like a wet noodle with lost muscle tone since I haven't been able to use it in a month and a half.

I just keep telling myself that this is temporary. I should be able to start physical therapy soon, and then my ankle will be back stronger than ever which is only going to benefit the rest of my workouts and my roller derby training. Also, instead of beating myself up when I feel like I will never not be hungry (Seriously, I don't think I've felt full once since this happened. It's weird.) I just make sure I'm making good food choices. And if, for whatever reason, I want some junk food, I allow myself a small serving of it and make a healthier choice next time.

I can't wait to be able to skate again, though. Report
I had shoulder surgery on the 10th and I cannot do any exercising that jars the body for 2 months. thanks to the cold outside i cannot walk so when the 2 months are up i will do as much as the DR says i can Report
I spent all summer working up a walking routine to interval speed walking -- then in the fall tried interval jogging. Nope! Messed up a tendon day one. By then the weather was getting bad anyway so I switched to no-impact gazelle and elliptical for the winter. I hope to get back to the speed walking, at least, come spring. Report
Ah, I love to be outside, and I wish my body liked walking... I had a nasty skin patch on my lower leg removed two months ago that was large and couldn't be stitched up, so I had a skin graft -- which failed. I'm still dealing with a wound that hasn't healed yet (though it's close!). I am absolutely desperate to get to the pool, because walking actually gives me more aches and pains than it relieves. I need to move my whole body through its range of motions. Fortunately, I'm able to go back to the gym, which is very helpful, as many of the weight training exercises I do are done sitting down and do work my whole body. But I want to get in the water, where there's no gravity and I can move into positions I can't possibly do on land.

I can't help but feel when reading this article that it's very different for somebody who is already fit and at a proper weight. I will allow that I, too, could be doing core exercises, but it's the aerobic and free-flowing movements that nourish me. Right now I feel too stiff even to move to a CD in the privacy of my home, which is another form of exercise that usually works for me. And yes... I'm complaining and not doing. Report
Thank you so much for sharing this blog. I get frustrated with spark friends who have injuries or medical reasons to change their exercise and REST the affected area who simply won't or can't because they have no idea how to continue MOVING and moving towards their goals without their "regular routine". I think people are scared. I know for myself I LOST weight while I was recovering from surgery because I slept more. I had no idea how sleep helped until then. And changing the routines also helped get me through a plateau. I wish spark people focused on this problem more! Report
Good for you! When I lived in Dayton, I frequently went to Cincinnati to walk around, especially along the river. What a great city! I also discovered Charley Harper there (created many posters for Cincinnati parks), and I now have several pieces of his art work. Report
Last year I had a severe ankle injury. After several weeks of being practically immobile and with a cast and crutches (I was not allowed to stand on that leg at all) I´ve started with very short walks. Just a couple of meters at a time. Tell me about making small baby steps or taking it one step at a time! Even though I had to leave my jazz and modern dancing, after several months I was able to come back to flamenco dancing. Well, I´m 40+ so I knew I would have to stop with my dancing sometime, nevertheless it was not easy. Paradoxically the fact that I had to start with those very very short walks has helped me because I´ve focused on adding just a bit of walk, just one more block, just one more minute of rehabilitation exercising every day, and I couldn´t sit and feel depressed and sad for myself. So take it one step at time, there´s no other way. Report
I like your point about resting. This is something I am working to make time for in my life. Earlier this year a medication was causing swelling in my legs. I bought an anti-gravity lounge chair and gave myself a "prescription" to sit in it for at least 10 minutes each day. The swelling issues are long gone (after another change in medication), but I have kept up with the resting. As a busy single mom to 2 active kids with multiple disabilities, it has been a challenge for me to make time to prioritize my own needs, but I am learning. Rest (and adequate sleep!-but that's another topic) is important for healing and stress relief. Report
Well done for sticking with this. It would have very easy to use your surgery as an excuse to take it easy for a few days. Then it would have been harder to get your fitness back again afterwards. That's an inspiration to me, since I very often seem to see multiple excuses around me for not exercising! Thanks for posting :-) Report
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