Strength Training Guidelines

While it may seem counter-intuitive to lift weights after open heart surgery, quite the opposite is true. If judiciously applied, resistance training can hasten your healing and recovery and help you get back to your regular way of life quickly and efficiently. However, you shouldn’t lift much more than four to five kilos (10 pounds) during the first 4 to 6 weeks of recovery, or until clearance by your surgeon. After that, keep your progression slow to avoid any debilitating muscle soreness.

Always perform resistance movements with proper form and breathing technique. Always remember to exhale on the exertion (lifting) phase. As a rule, never hold your breath or strain during a lift. You may want to consult a qualified fitness professional for additional guidance on form and technique.

For general conditioning, work all major muscle groups from largest to smallest. You don’t want to pre-fatigue your small muscles first since they work as assisting muscles during larger movements. For example, your triceps are assisting muscles during the chest press. If you work your triceps first, they’ll be too fatigued to assist during the chest exercise.

Begin with short duration sessions as this will allow your body to safely adapt. Start off with 15 to 20 minute sessions and work up from there. Marathon training sessions may leave you tired and sore and potentially discourage you from continuing with your regimen.

Use light resistance in the beginning. It is far better to use light weights and learn proper form up front than start off with heavy weights and sloppy form. Begin with a weight that allows you to perform 10 to 15 repetitions. When you can do 15 without any undue fatigue, increase the weight by 3 to 5 percent.

Don’t overdo it. Perform resistance training two to three times per week. The in-between days are for proper recovery and recuperation. After you receive final clearance from your surgeon and/or cardiologist, then you may progress to heavier weights and more sets and repetitions.

Strength training caution after open heart surgery

  • As with aerobic training, obtain physician clearance before starting any strength training program.
  • Numbness in the chest area is normal. The surgery entails cutting nerves in your chest but the feeling usually returns within one year.
  • If signs or symptoms occur during resistance training, stop training immediately. If symptoms do not improve, or if they worsen during rest, seek immediate medical attention.

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