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Strengthening Abdominal Muscles After Surgery

Abdominal Exercises May Help You Get Back In Shape After Surgery

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Updated September 26, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Yoga

Yoga can be part of an overall fitness plan that keeps you motivated.

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People who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are no strangers to abdominal surgery. If you have Crohn's disease, there is a 50% chance that you will require surgery to manage your disease. In ulcerative colitis patients, only about 10% will require some type of surgery.

After recovering from surgery and being cleared by your surgeon to your regular activities, your thoughts might turn to firming up your abdominal muscles. When you're ready, Paige Waehner, About's Guide to Exercise, is ready to start you on the road to fitness.

Getting Started With Abdominal Exercise

A few tips to remember before you get started on your new workout routine:

  • Get permission from your surgeon and your general practitioner before beginning a new exercise routine.

  • Sip water (or sports drinks) before, during, and after your workout to keep from dehydrating (this is especially important for ostomates).

  • Start your exercise routine as part of an overall fitness plan that includes eating a well-balanced diet.

  • If you skip a workout, don't guilt yourself over it, but resolve to keep your next exercise time.

  • Be aware that you do have limitations -- everyone does. For example, contact sports may not be a good idea directly after surgery.

Fitting Exercise Into Your Day

The first thing to consider is how to fit an exercise routine into your schedule. Paige advises a day of rest in between each workout session, so three times a week is a good target to start exercises. You'll want to schedule your workouts at the same time of day because that will help you get into a routine.

Targeting Your Abdominal Muscles

Paige recommends reverse and regular crunches to target abdominal muscles (see Flatten Your Abs for more information). To prevent straining your back muscles, remember to keep your back flat against the floor. It's not necessary to have any special exercise equipment to do crunches. However, an exercise ball will help you to target your abdominal muscles.

Contrary to what many people think, doing large amounts of crunches all at once won't necessarily help you, Paige says. Concentrating on keeping a proper form while exercising and doing a variety of exercises is the way to get those abs flattened. "Choose several different exercises to target different portions of your abs, and then do 2 or 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions," she advises. See the sample workout routines posted below for more information.

Create A Fitness Routine

Along with tightening up the ab muscles, it is a good idea to put some cardio exercise and weight training into your workout routine. Walking, running, swimming, and bicycling will help create an overall fitness routine and all of these could be good activities for people who have IBD. Weight training can help strengthen muscles that are weak after inactivity or after the use of steroids (which can cause unintentional weight gain). Paige reminds us that while "ab exercises help firm up the muscles of the torso, they don't do much for reducing the body fat that is covering up the abs." In other words: if you've got some extra weight in the abdominal area, an overall fitness plan and a sensible diet to lose that weight, coupled with your abdominal exercise, is the best plan.

Keep Your Workouts Fresh

To keep from stagnating or getting bored, Paige recommends keeping a variety in your routine and incorporating many different kinds of exercises to maximize your body's response. Workout videos focusing on ab muscles, yoga, or Pilates may also help.

Enlist the help of those around you to keep up with your new fitness routine. Find an exercise buddy, head to a gym for a workout with a trainer, or ask your doctor to recommend an exercise program. With some determination and sweat, you can be on your way to looking and feeling great despite the abdominal surgery.

If You Want Results, Keep At It

The key to firming and toning is making exercise a habit. Many people will notice that their strength increases quickly after starting a comprehensive fitness program. Weight loss and other noticeable effects will take more time -- anywhere from 6 to 18 weeks.

Sample Ab Workouts

Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Pelvic Tilts Crunches or Ball Crunches
Reverse Crunch
Oblique Twists
Reverse Crunches
Full Vertical Crunch
Oblique Twists
Ab Rolls and Plank on Ball
Twists on Ball
Core Ab Rolls

Pushup/Twist
Advanced Oblique
Ab Rolls
and Plank on Ball
Related Video
Strengthen and Tone with this Fast Ab Workout
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