Tips for getting your client back into the gym after surgery

Provided by: Australian Physiotherapy Association

If your job involves helping clients rehab after injury, then you’ve probably noticed  the difference in recovery time between them and elite athletes, even though elite athletes seem to be constantly sidelined with  a range of injuries! Professional athletes seem to recover from surgery—and even return to play—before your client even considers taking their gym membership ‘off hold’ and getting back into any form of regular exercise. Often, a client will prepare for surgery, put their training on hold, and cease all activity for several weeks or months before deciding to ‘get back into it’. Feeling like they’re starting all over again can be frustrating—for both you and them!

So how do elite athletes do it so quickly? Well, of course they have an enormous drive to return to sport. This, combined with access to top notch physiotherapists and other health professionals and dedicated gyms, is the ideal environment for a speedy recovery. The good news is we can get our everyday athletes and gym junkies back to their normal exercise routines with just as much success—and much faster than most people think—if we do it correctly! APA Sports Physiotherapist Lauren Gradwell has a wealth of experience in doing just that. Her top tips for helping clients to recover as quickly as possible include:

Collaboration is key

It is imperative that the sports doctors, surgeons, physios and trainers all work with each other—as well as the client—when establishing safe programs and time frames to return to activity post-surgery.

Modification, not cessation

Whether it’s a knee reconstruction, a rotator cuff repair or carpal tunnel release, your client is going to have some restrictions and will require modification of their training regime. Remember, modification definitely doesn’t equal cessation. Continuing to train in an established ‘safe zone’ can actually assist in healing, maintain healthy weight, maintain muscle mass and assist in motivation and emotional well-being.

Setting goals is imperative

Physiotherapists and surgeons will advise what activities clients shouldn’t be doing, but they are also very helpful in working out what they CAN do! It is important to start out by setting goals and check that everyone—including the client—is on the same page. In the early stages most clients will have a set of exercises they are required to do (at least daily) as ‘rehabilitation’. These exercises make an excellent base for the warm up, and having a qualified trainer supervising these exercises and ensuring they are done correctly can be invaluable. For example, many post-operative shoulder clients have been known to do their rehab exercises followed by some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on a bike, functional lower limb exercises or weights as soon as one week after surgery.

For more information on how physio can help you, go to You can also connect with the Australian Physiotherapy Association on Facebook (@AustralianPhysiotherapyAssociation), Twitter (@apaphysio) and Instagram (@physioaustralia).

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