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Weight Lifting After Brain Injury: Important Safety & Timeline Considerations

Is it safe to do weight lifting after brain injury?

Weight lifting can be safely practiced after brain injury, with the right precautions. However, it is important to allow your brain some time to heal before heading back to the gym.

In this article, we will answer some of the most common questions about weight lifting after brain injury. We’ll also look at some of the risks and benefits associated with it.

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Is Weight Lifting After Brain Injury Safe?

In most cases, yes. In fact, exercise – including weight lifting – has many benefits for recovery.

Moderate strength training and exercise can improve muscular function, increase blood flow to your brain, and stimulate neuroplastic changes. All of these benefits encourage healing in the brain.

However, while mild and moderate exercise is undeniably helpful, high-intensity weight lifting can actually cause a decrease in cerebral blood flow. This can unfortunately slow recovery and even worsen symptoms. Therefore, it is critical not to strain yourself.

In addition, prolonged heavy weight lifting can cause massive spikes in cerebral blood pressure. This increases your risk of injuries such as brain hemorrhages, which you may already be at higher risk for after a brain injury depending on the mechanism of injury. Arm strengthening in particular can significantly increase blood pressure. Once again, it is crucial that you do not lift anything extremely heavy.

You alone know how much strain your body can take though. As long as you don’t fatigue yourself or push your body to the limit, weight lifting is generally safe after brain injury.

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When Can I Start Lifting Again?

man lying on the floor of gym exhausted because he started weight lifting too soon after brain injury

The best time to resume lifting weights depends on the severity of your injury. Most guidelines say you should rest immediately after brain injury, then gradually return to exercise.

However, there have also been studies that show too much rest post-TBI can have harmful effects on recovery. In fact, inactivity can cause you to lose function.

A good rule of thumb is to listen to your body. If you feel strong enough to lift, and you have maintained good balance skills, then you can feel free to begin lifting light to moderate weights again. Additionally, it can be helpful to ask a caregiver, family member, or one of your therapists if they think you’re ready – as sometimes your judgment is impaired after a brain injury. You should still seek your doctor’s approval before returning to the gym.

If lifting weights causes too much strain, then wait and give your brain and body more time to recover.

How Much Can You Lift After Brain Injury?

man sliding weights on to barbell in gym

In general, you do not want to be lifting so much weight that you overwork yourself, especially in the early days of your recovery.

As discussed above, high-intensity workouts can actually decrease blood flow to your brain, which you do not want to happen during your recovery. After a brain injury, one of the goals of therapy is to encourage as much blood flow to the brain as possible in order to promote healthy brain function.

Therefore, most doctors and therapists recommend starting at about 25% of your previous weight lifting capacity and slowly working your way up from there. This allows you to minimize the risk of straining yourself.

Another good way to avoid strain is to practice low resistance/high repetition exercises. Choose a weight that you can do about two sets of 20-30 repetitions without any fatigue.

Other Exercises Besides Weight Lifting

woman tying shoes getting ready to go for a run on a foggy winter morning

If weight lifting is too difficult and is putting too much strain on your body, that doesn’t mean you cannot exercise at all anymore.

Aerobic exercise is a great alternative that boosts cognitive recovery in brain injury patients. Plus, it is much easier on your body than weight lifting.

Therefore, if you have too much trouble weight lifting, try doing some aerobic fitness exercises instead.

Pilates, yoga, and swimming are all great aerobic activities, and are offered as classes at most gyms and recreational centers.

Check out this list of other physical exercises for brain injury for more ideas on how to stay active after TBI.

Weight Lifting After Brain Injury

In general, weight lifting after brain injury is safe for most people and you can practice it relatively frequently. Your main concern should just be avoiding too much fatigue and strain and paying close attention to your body.

As with everything related to TBI, you should consult your doctor first before starting a new exercise. He or she can say for certain whether weight lifting is a safe option for you.

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