Strength training helps my brain injury
Do you want to exercise after a brain injury and feel like it’s never going to happen? Perhaps you’re so tired and in so much pain that it’s a massive effort to stand up in the shower? I have a brain injury post-concussion syndrome and I feel you, believe me. I’ve been right there with you and never thought I’d see the day I’d be in a gym lifting weights.
18 months on I’m now strength training and it’s helping my brain injury. I’d love to share my exercise journey with you so you can see there is hope and it is possible to exercise after brain injury. Before you start any kind of exercise programme, please do speak to a medical professional first and make sure that you are cleared to exercise.
Watch the video below to hear my story and see what I’m achieving in the gym:
Exercise before my brain injury
Life before my brain injury was very hectic and exercise was a big part of my life. I ran a photography business, loved spending time with my friends and exercised 5 times a week.
Just before the accident I did spin class 3 times a week, went to a weight-lifting class after one of the spin classes (yes, I had enough energy for ALL that!) and loved to get out and hike our beautiful Scottish mountains.
I put as much energy as possible into my workouts. I was totally the go hard or go home type and then I fell in the snow, got my brain injury post-concussion syndrome and life as I knew it changed in an instant.
- Read how a fall in the snow gave me a brain injury
- Read how I felt on the day I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome
Rehabilitation became my exercise
A few months after my accident my walking pattern became a lot worse and I was dragging my feet on the ground. I was referred to a brain injury clinic for rehabilitation and then for physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
I yearned for the days where I could go to a gym but for a long, long time it just never ever felt like a possibility. What I didn’t realise and my physio team pointed out was that my appointments with them were in a gym. A gym with parallel bars in a hospital. It just wasn’t the kind of gym that I was used to!
In physiotherapy we spent 10 months working on retraining my brain how to walk using parallel bars and also working on my balance. I also had exercises to do 3 times a day at home but remembering to do them and having the energy for them were big challenges.
At one point they wanted to increase my sessions but with one physiotherapy session and one occupational therapy session a week I just didn’t have the energy for any more.
My physiotherapy progressed from a hospital to a gym
During one of my physiotherapy sessions I was asked how I’d feel about going to a gym. A real gym out in the community and not at the hospital. Oh my goodness, I totally lit up at this possibility. I live close to Results Gym in Forfar and so going there became my new goal.
I went to visit the owner George Bertie with my occupational therapist and he was happy the music to be turned down when I’m there (I now have hyperacusis which makes my brain very sensitive to noise) and suggest ways to make going to the gym possible for me with my abilities.
I remember that day very well. I couldn’t get the bike to stay on because my brain didn’t know how to make my legs pedal. I tried out some seated weight machines too and I could barely manage 3 reps of anything on the lightest weight. I’m not talking about 3 sets of 12 here. I literally mean lifting a weight 3 times.
I was encouraged that going to the gym was possible but also disheartened at the change in my physical strength since the accident.
Over a period of 6 months I tried to increase my gym sessions from once a week to twice but after a brain injury your brain uses a lot more energy on all tasks. It took a lot of attempts to up my sessions and there were quite a few times where I wasn’t able to exercise at all for weeks.
I hired a personal trainer to help me with strength training
When physiotherapy came to an end I decided that I needed to have someone to help me in the gym.
This is a selfie I took before I started on a strength training program:
I wanted to work on my physical strength so I hired Alanna Donaldson at Results Gym, Forfar. She has me on a strength training program using progressive overload. We started doing exercises on the seated weight machines. Now I also use dumbbells while sitting on a weight bench and also squats and lunges using kettlebells and dumbbells.
It feels so empowering knowing that I’m growing a stronger body and I’m feeling the benefits of strength training already. The brain injury recovery is slow but this is something I’m doing for me and I can see results way quicker. I can see the difference in 6 weeks. It’s helping my pain a little and my mental health for sure seeing my wee muscles grow!
I still suffer setbacks, have to deal with all my post-concussion symptoms daily, and I need to carefully manage my energy levels. My brain is very sensitive to noise which brings on a lot of my symptoms and can make me sound like a robot. I’m also still learning to walk properly as my brain isn’t good at multi-tasking but I’m determined to make the most of the new me v2.0 and just do what makes me happy.
Strength training gives me a sense of purpose. It gives me something to focus on that to me isn’t about healing my brain but with all that oxygen flowing to the brain, it’s got to be a good thing!
Here’s a photo of me in my happy place lifting dummbells in Results Gym, Forfar:
Exercising with a brain injury
I like to do strength training because I want to build a strong body but exercise with a brain injury doesn’t mean you have to lift weights. I think it’s important to find something that you enjoy that you’ll want to keep trying.
Getting outdoors and being in nature can be so beneficial so maybe gentle walks are right for you. Perhaps you’ll find that you really like yoga. I do a little yoga now and then and it’s a challenge for both balance and concentration. Whatever you do, make sure you talk to a medical professional first to make sure it’s safe for you to exercise with your brain injury. And start small and slow.
It might take longer than you think to get there but I’m proof that it is possible to exercise after having a brain injury. Please don’t write yourself off. Just be patient with yourself, keep listening to your brain and make sure you get lots of rest inbetween your exercise sessions.
Over to you, warriors!
Are you thinking about exercising with a brain injury or have you started? What kind of exercise works for you? Pop into the comments and let me know.
I know how incredibly scary life can be when you’re living with post-concussion syndrome but I don’t want you to feel alone. I’ve got your back and if you need to chat any time, please get in touch. You’ll also find me sharing my journey on Instagram so feel free to connect and say Hi!
And remember, you’re not broken, you’re finding your sparkle so do something every day that makes you happy!
PS Don’t forget to click the link below to get the next instalment of my blog!