I think the title may have already ruffled some feathers.
Surgery is controversial in the arena of health/wellness. Opinions vary widely based on area of discipline: Surgeon’s sell surgery, Physical Therapists sell rehab, and your coach tells ya to suck it up, ya big baby (jk… if this actually happens to you, find a new coach).
After recently reaching my one year surgiversary (hip labral repair and femoroplasty) I have been reflecting on the process: recovery, rehab… all of the less-than-glamorous nonsense that occurred behind closed doors. My experience was probably average for any person: beforehand, it felt like a “last resort” and in the midst of rehab, I thought I had made an enormous mistake. One year later, I am confident this surgery was the right move for me… but not necessarily for the reasons that you would think. The list isn’t complete; I don’t believe I could ever articulate every way that this decision affected my life, but here are the biggest reasons why surgery allowed me to become a better athlete:
I began appreciating movement like I never had before
Pain and injury can keep you from doing what you love. In the fitness world, no one likes being told that they need to “back off” during a flare up; in every-day world, its NO fun being in pain while sitting at work or driving your car. During the worst of it, prior to surgery, I was angry and resentful of my body. Rather than giving it the care and attention to movement it needed, I either forced it, modified (still not providing what it REALLY needed) and other days I just threw a pity party.
Here’s the thing: not being able to walk independently for 6 weeks forces you to change your perspective.
You know what else it does? It pisses you off, it humbles you, it allows you to give reverence to movements that used to be taken for granted. During a running workout last week, as soon as my foot hit the pavement, I was tired. Then, I remembered some of the agility movement drills I was doing not long ago on that very sidewalk outside my gym; when I would have given anything to be able to sprint out the door.
Surgery forced me to work on the “unsexy” things
Yep, you read that right. Despite being counseled on numerous occasions about the importance of working on these weaknesses through “accessory work” I never gave it the attention it deserved. I would like to think that at some point I would have accepted this without surgery, but my physical therapist would probably make a snarky comment to the contrary ( he wouldn’t be out of line- always the stubborn patient). I mean, I just want to be great a pull ups, so doing more of them in workouts would accomplish that, right??
After surgery, I didn’t have a choice in the matter; the ONLY focus was on the finer details: mobility, single leg stability, rebuilding strength and tolerance. Getting back to daily life took a bit longer than anticipated, but a lot of work needed to be accomplished to return to the gym on my terms.
I finally stopped competing and started training
It wasn’t CrossFit that was my problem- I’m not here to knock on it. This approach to fitness can open some amazing doors for people (and 100% has for me). It isn’t the programming that is innately at fault: it’s the headspace of the athlete and how they approach the workout… and mine wasn’t always in the right place.
Sometimes the glory of the clock, completing an extra round, or lifting a heavier bar got in the way of the real goal: putting in real WORK.
Instead of looking at a workout and saying: is this something I can do? It has now become: Is this something that serves my goals? Is it going to make me better in the ways I’m looking for? If not, time to modify or put in the work in another way.
It was a hard switch to flip, but I recognize that doing so will make me that much stronger and will save something in the tank for the day I do need a “competition” mindset.
“Recovery days” gained new meaning
I wrote “recovery day” rather than “rest day” for good reason. Before surgery, my brain could not/would not accept that rest days were required for growth. Despite direct recommendations from my physical therapist and coaches over the years, I truly believed that if I wasn’t putting in physical work to get stronger, I was getting weaker.
Was it getting me any stronger in the ways I wanted? Nope. Was it building on my weaknesses that got me injured in the first place? Of course not… not even a little bit. The truth is, making gains is a lot more complicated than that. Choosing to trudge through a workout over a recovery day will not make you stronger or better than you were yesterday… and in my case, it was burning my body out. Some of us take considerably longer with muscle recovery but that does not equal weakness.
Post-surgery, I workout less on a weekly basis (goal of 3-4/week rather than my previous 5-6) and I have seen more gains in strength and mobility than I ever had before. Why? I’m fueling my body the way it needs, I’m giving it time to RECOVER, and I’m spending those recovery days doing more than just sitting around waiting to go back to the gym.
Despite continuous advice and education from a variety of avenues, I forged on my own stubborn path. Any of the above certainly could have been learned without surgery (in truth, I wish they had) but for me, surgery was the right choice. As with any lesson in life, hindsight gives enormous perspective… an opportunity to revisit, re-evaluate, and evolve.