Surgical breast procedures affect the ability to exercise depending on how invasive they are. From minimally invasive lumpectomies, to breast reduction, augmentation, and major reconstruction after mastectomy, muscle tissue may or may not be involved. For the sake of simplicity, this article focuses on exercises after simple elective augmentation, where implants are placed over or under the pectoral muscle.
In all cases, there is a recovery timeline that needs to be followed for the best results. Listen to your doctor’s suggestions and if you have questions, always ask before embarking on an exercise regimen.
Down Time—Doctor’s Orders
With breast augmentation, surgeons are most concerned about swelling, infection and good plastic results. For these reasons, there is a debate amongst surgeons about whether the chest muscles should ever be subjected to resistance training post breast surgery.
Most physicians recommend two weeks of complete rest (you can walk, but don’t lift, push or pull anything heavier than 5 pounds). After two weeks, you can start to move around more as tolerated. During this time the body is busy healing. You don’t want to cause bleeding by pulling on the tissues. You should also take it easy because elevated blood pressure and sweating during exercise is thought to contribute to swelling of the tissues, which inhibits proper healing. Absorbable sutures absorb more quickly in hot conditions too, so overheating the body during early stages of healing will cause the stitches to loosen before the surgical incisions have knit together.
In the Clear: 14 days post-op
The following exercises are recommended for post breast surgery patients who have intact pectoral and back musculature. When you receive medical clearance for return to physical activity, be aware that there’s a timeline. You can start at week two, post-op, and progress from there.
Walk or do low-impact aerobic exercise for cardiovascular training, keeping the heart rate under 100 BPM. Walking helps prevent blood clots. It’s a safe activity once you’re steady on your feet. If you choose to cycle or use the elliptical, do not lean into the handlebars. Keep pressure off your arms. The best option for cycling is the recumbent bicycle.
Six Weeks Post-op
Weight training can be resumed six weeks after surgery, at the earliest. Concentrate on back exercises to begin with. Note: If you’ve had reconstructive surgery where muscle and tissue were taken from the back, please avoid these exercises. Only lift light weights and pay attention to any pulling or pain sensations. Stop immediately if you experience pain and/or pulling at the surgical site.
- Reverse flies (bent over or on machines working the back—avoid reclining chest flies which work the pectoral muscles.)
- Bent-over triceps xtensions or straight arm extensions
- Lat pull-downs with wide grip
When you feel strong enough to do bicep curls and shoulder exercises, such as front and lateral raises, choose dumbbells and, again, go light. Use one arm at a time, since many exercises targeting the arms and shoulders also recruit the pecs.
Return to Normal
When the wounds have completely healed and the swelling is completely gone, and the implants have been determined to have settled into their correct position, and your surgeon says it’s ok (yes, that’s a lot of “whens”), then you may try movements that are chest-specific, e.g. push ups, chest press, chest flies, pull ups, muscle ups, handstand, sun salutations.
But you may find that your surgeon doesn’t recommend any chest exercises, ever. This is usually for a variety of reasons: they don’t see the purpose of strengthening the pecs in the average woman; they’re worried about moving the implants; they’ve already enlarged the breast with implants, so there’s no point in trying to grow the pecs with resistance training.
However, surgeons who perform breast augmentation on fitness models and female athletes do not discourage exercises that recruit the pecs. They just advise that you use good judgment; if it hurts, stop. Wear supportive sports bras (no underwires) when running or jumping. Take notice of any change in location, texture and pliability of the implants and the surrounding tissues. Female bodybuilders can and do, in fact, train the pectoral muscles without any harm to the tissues. Just consult with your surgeon beforehand to get an understanding of what type of implant and surgical placement is best for you and your lifestyle. Continue to discuss your exercise options with your physician during the course of healing.