Goal-setting, visualization, and recovering from major surgery
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
I'm currently working on my next article for alive Magazine, on goal-setting and visualization for their January 2020 issue. They've requested I include an interview with someone who can "offer a personal story to attest to the power of visualization and goal setting".
The first person to come to mind is my long-term client and business assistant, Izzy Pope-Moore! She was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia: her stomach bulged through her diaphragm and into her chest cavity. To correct this condition, in April of 2016 she underwent invasive surgery, involving 9 incisions into her abdomen. Goal-setting and visualization became key components of her recovery process, and it took 18 months of hard work for her to regain her pre-surgery strength.
I won't be able to include everything she wrote in my alive article, so I'm sharing her complete answers here!
Take it away, Izzy:
1. Before your surgery, how did goal-setting apply to your strength training? Did you set goals for yourself? If so, how did you decide on them?
I began strength training around 18 months prior to my surgery. My goals when I began training where to get toned and strong. As a strength training newbie, I used goal setting to help me increase the weight I was lifting. Karina taught me the importance of lifting with good form, so I was always mindful of keeping good form while trying to increase weight.
One of my main goals was to be able to deadlift my body weight (135 lbs) for 10 reps, which I managed to do over a period of about 6 months with consistent training and small weight increases.
Push-ups were another challenge. I wasn’t able to do push-ups when I began training, however, about 8 months in I set myself a challenge which basically involved doing push-ups each day for a month and increasing the amount of reps until I was able to do 3 sets of 10!
2. After your surgery, how did you use goal-setting in your recovery? Did you focus on small actions? Habits?
Immediately after surgery, I focused on small actions to help me get moving and to build up my strength again. In the hospital my main goal was to be able to get out of bed. That took around 4 days to master! After that, I mastered walking to the patient and family room and on day 6, I was finally allowed to go home to recover.
I wasn’t allowed to lift anything for 6 weeks, so I used walking as my way of being active. Once I was discharged from the hospital, every day I would go for a walk with my Dad. These started out as 5 minute walks and we would increase the distance every day. Once I mastered walking around Vancouver’s Stanley Park (10 km), around 3 weeks after my surgery, I realized that I was doing pretty well and on the right road to recovery.
3 months after my surgery I was back training at the gym. The main goals were to get comfortable with lifting again, get into a routine and to work up to lifting what I could previously lift. It was very tricky to work around having no core and also still being stiff and sore where I’d been cut open. I had to drop down the weight drastically on every move and to modify a lot of things. I couldn’t lie flat on a bench, never mind add in any weight to lift. Incline bench presses where a lot easier to do and we focused quite a bit on legs and body weight exercises. It was a lot of trial and error with what worked and what didn’t work.
I was very aware that I was facing a huge uphill challenge to get strong again. I struggled with my energy levels for about a year and that made consistent training hard. It was a lot of small increases to weights over a long period of time and it took around 18 months to get back the strength I had prior to my surgery.
3. How do you use goal-setting in your current strength training routine? Has it changed since your surgery?
Since my surgery, I’m mindful that lifting as heavy as I can isn’t always the wisest thing to do. My main goal now is to make sure that I exercise consistently. I like to set new fitness goals each year. My goals for 2019 were to increase how much cardio I was doing and to work on increasing my strength. Through the year, I’ve managed to increase my cardio sessions from 3x30 minute workouts to 5x30 minute workouts. I still strength train 3 times a week. I’m very lucky that I have a gym at work so with a bit of planning I can fit workouts into my work day and make consistent exercise an extension of my time at work.
At the beginning of each week I’ll schedule my workouts into my calendar and although sometimes my workout weeks don’t always go as planned, most of the time I make it to the gym.
As for how much I lift, I feel much stronger than I was before my surgery. When increasing what I’m lifting for any move, I take it in small steps and slowly increase the weight by the smallest amount possible, and usually do fewer reps of a move until I feel confident. For bench presses I’ll often work on increasing my weight on the floor before moving up to working on the bench.
I’m careful around deadlifts and don’t feel comfortable lifting more than 100 lbs. I’m aware that I’m strong enough to lift that and more, I just don’t think that it’s the smartest thing to do with the surgery I’ve had.
4. Do you use visualization as part of your goal setting (or did you, during recovery)? If so, how?
I used visualization during my recovery, mainly to help me get up and around in the hospital. Picturing myself getting better, getting out of hospital, sleeping in my own bed and getting out and about gave me determination that I was going to be OK and that I could get strong again.
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