If you’ve had a preventive double mastectomy and were told to lay off strength training for at least four weeks postop, there are 3 exercises that will be particularly easy to get back into once your restriction is lifted.
I can only speak from my experience with a preventive (prophylactic) double mastectomy WITHOUT reconstruction.
I’ve been lifting weights since I was 15. It’s in my blood. I can’t function without strength training.
So imagine my dismay when the surgeon told me I’d have to stay away from upper body strength training for six weeks after the double mastectomy.
Nine days postop he told me I could resume leg-only workouts.
But I’d have to wait six weeks (from surgery date) to do any upper body weightlifting.
As a former personal trainer, my first thought was that the biggest issue of taking six weeks off would be the rotator cuff.
It’s not that difficult to injure one of the rotator cuff tendons when you dive head-first into chest and shoulder exercises after a long layoff.
But in addition to rotator cuff concerns, the mastectomy patient will feel their skin pulling when they move their arms a certain way.
Easiest Three Strength Training Moves after a Double Mastectomy
I define “easy” as what most closely matched my pre-surgical resistance load.
And for me, that’s been the 1) overhead heavy ball press (same amount of weight, just a bit more challenging), 2) seated cable row (practically the same amount of weight pre-surgically) and 3) close-grip lat pull-down (virtually the same weight as pre-surgical).
Ironically, there were no tight or pulling-skin issues with the pulling movements, even from overhead (lat pull-down).
Any type of row, actually, should be easy to quickly regain pre-surgical resistance load. It’s just that I prefer the seated row over standing versions.
I’m unable to dead hang 100 percent my body weight (it’s 46 days postop as I write this), due to what feels like my skin might tear. Patience is key, as I practice assisted dead hangs.
Though you shouldn’t feel any skin pulling during pressing movements (e.g., lying dumbbell press, seated shoulder press), you will certainly feel that you must knock back the weight load.
This is due to the layoff. The rotator cuff doesn’t like layoffs. Most people, after a lengthy absence from strength training, will feel a tweakiness in their shoulders when resuming chest and shoulder routines, particularly chest.
But oddly, in my case, the heavy ball shoulder press felt virtually the same as it did pre-double mastectomy. I did 8 x 40.
If you’re scheduled for a preventive double mastectomy and fear what the layoff will do for your strength training, there’s hope in that once you get the restriction lifted, you’ll likely find that rows and lat pull-downs (at least closer grip) can be performed nearly at pre-surgical level.
Overhead presses should still take the rotator cuff into consideration.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.