Strengthening Abdominal Muscles After Surgery

Mid 30's African American male planking
Planking and its many variations can be a great way to firm up those abdominal muscles. Check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program. © FatCamera / Getty Images

People who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are often not strangers to abdominal surgery. People with Crohn's disease have a 50% chance of needing require surgery to manage the disease. In ulcerative colitis patients, only about 30% will require some type of surgery (usually a colectomy).

After recovering from surgery and being cleared by the surgeon to participate in regular activities, thoughts might turn to firming up abdominal muscles.

 Exercise is going to promote overall better health, and getting back into the swing of exercise after surgery is one way to lower the risk of future health problems.

Getting Started With Abdominal Exercise

A few tips to remember before getting started on a new workout routine:

  • Getting permission from the surgeon, gastroenterologist, and/or general practitioner before beginning a new exercise routine is vital
  • Sip water (or sports drinks) before, during, and after a workout to keep from getting dehydrated (this is especially important for people with an ostomy or j-pouch)
  • Start an exercise routine as part of an overall fitness plan that includes eating a well-balanced diet
  • Don't feel guilty for skipping a workout, but resolve to keep your next exercise time
  • Be aware of any restrictions, for example, contact sports may not be a good idea soon after surgery

Sample Ab Workouts

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

Fitting Exercise Into Your Day

The first thing to consider is how to fit an exercise routine into a daily schedule. Most people need a day of rest in between each workout session, so three times a week is a good target to start exercises. Scheduling workouts at the same time of day because will help develop a routine.

Targeting Abdominal Muscles

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

Contrary to what many people think, doing large amounts of crunches all at once won't necessarily help you. Concentrating on keeping a proper form while exercising and doing a variety of exercises is the way to get those abs flattened.

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 a 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). Ab exercises help firm up the muscles of the torso but don't do much for reducing the body fat that is covering up the abs. In other words: for those with some extra weight in the abdominal area, an overall fitness plan and a sensible diet to lose that weight, coupled with abdominal exercise, is the best plan.

Keeping Workouts Fresh

To keep from stagnating or getting bored, keep a variety in your routine and incorporate many different kinds of exercises to maximize the 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 a new fitness routine. Find an exercise buddy, head to a gym for a workout with a trainer, or ask a 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.

A Word From Verywell

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.

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