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How would I train if I started from scratch? Here’s my chance.

Sara Middleton - Fitness Director

Backstory: contains digestive misfortunes including poop & puke - proceed with caution - or scroll past the wall of text

Some time in February 2017 after a tough week of mysterious diarrhea, I went to my PCP complaining of intense bloating, abdominal pain, & vomiting. He did an x-ray (huh?) and stated that I had a slight bowel obstruction caused by a gas bubble. A GAS BUBBLE. I wasn’t aware air could cause THAT much pain. He instructed me to go to the ER if things didn’t clear up, but they did. This “flare up” happened again and again, with the primary issues of intense abdominal pain, vomiting, and a few days on the couch each time.

These flare ups occurred after eating high fiber foods, extra greasy stuff like classic pgh fish fry,  & the one time Catlyn made me “mac & cheese” with cauliflower in an attempt to up my veggie intake.

I cut out high fiber/hard to digest cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage (sad), kale, asparagus, etc. to no avail. The flare ups seemed random, so I started elimination diets.

Dairy. Chocolate. Soy. Alcohol. FODMAP. Whole 30. I didn’t eat gluten for 6 MONTHS. Nothing helped.

I was desperate. I had lost about 15 lbs. I didn’t have 15 lbs to lose, so no, that wasn’t a good thing. I waited what was considered an appropriate amount of time by the American Health Care System to see a GI specialist. I was so excited to have help. I typed up a document to give to the Dr with all my symptoms, the chronology of a flare up, triggers, and all the diets I had tried. He didn’t look at the document, told me I had IBS and instructed me to use Citrucel as a fiber supplement every day. A few days into using the fiber supplement, it triggered a flare up. When I called the office, I was instructed to eat smaller meals.

Somehow, my wife Catlyn managed to schedule me a (very expensive) CT scan. The scan showed I had a mass in the lower right quadrant of my abdomen. Scan Summary: [There is a cyst and approximately 2.9 cm soft tissue density to the right side of the uterus which could be a fibroid or possibly an unusually located left ovary. Correlation with pelvic sonography would be helpful.] My left ovary was on the right of my uterus? What does that have to do with my digestive system? I got an ultrasound and it confirmed that I did not have cysts, fibroids, or an unusually placed left ovary. I asked what to do next, but no one had any answers.

At that point, I gave up trying to get help from Doctors. I buckled down and weathered every flare up for a year. I threw up at work, at home, in the car, & on Stanwix street. The flare ups became more frequent & I was scared to eat or travel.

Around the 2018 Holidays, I called another GI to try again. His first available appointment was the end of March. The week before my appointment, I went to the ER while I was having symptoms. They gave me IV fluids & sent me home, even though I asked for a CT scan. A few days later, I had the GI appointment. He suggested taking an antihistamine - yep… an allergy medication. He also added to my chart that I needed to get a CT scan while I had symptoms, which turned out to be VERY helpful.

A few weeks later, on May 1st, I went to Magee’s Emergency room during a flare up. I got a CT scan, & suddenly I needed surgery. One exploratory laparotomy turned bowel resection later, my surgical team is confident I won’t have any more digestive issues. I had a pretzel like bowel obstruction where my small intestines meet my large intestines - so that area was removed. More on why later. 

I have 5 incisions in my abdominal wall, scattered across my abdomen. I’ve had to reintegrate food slowly, I’ve spent a ton of time on the couch, & I can’t sit up without pushing myself up with my arms. It’s safe to say my core is useless at the moment, but I’m excited to start training again.

Now what? How would a fitness professional proceed? At 6 weeks, I will be permitted to begin exercising.

First 4-8 Weeks of Activity (6 weeks post-op)

Climb 2-3 days per week

-low intensity, maintaining pump to build capillary networks

-work on technique snags with drills such as quiet feet, perfect repeats, etc

-make a habit of skin care & foot care (gotta splay those toes!)

-keep my healing in mind

Lift weights 3 days per week, 3x10 reps, increasing weight when body allows

Workout 1:

Bodyweight Squat

Glute Bridge

Modified Pushup

Ring Row

Workout 2:

Goblet Squat

Dumbbell Deadlift

DB Chest Press

DB Bent Over Rows 


Face Pull

I’s Y’s, T’s

Wrist & Finger Extensors

Thoracic Spine Mobility

Modified plank variations

Carry variations

This simple program will provide my body with enough of a stimulus to adapt & build strength AT FIRST. Progressive overload is necessary for further improvement, but remember, I’m starting from nothing.

Next up - 6 week measurements and testing day! Stay tuned as I get stronger!