Coping with a Mandatory Break from Exercise

Hi readers. I’m about to drop some more “real talk” on you, which seems a bit premature since I just shared some inner-mosties with you a few weeks ago. But this is what’s real for me right now, and it’s totally relevant to the blog, and I actually think it might help some folks out, so I’m going to go ahead with it.

Yesterday, I had a LEEP. And as much as I wish that was some new awesome HIIT-like acronym for a new totally kick-butt workout style, it’s not. A LEEP is a procedure that’s administered to female-bodied people who show signs of pre-cancerous cells on their cervix. I’ve had quite a few abnormal paps over the past few years, but the last time they did a biopsy, they found high-grade lesion, and suggested I go through with the LEEP to avoid those cells turning into cervical cancer. It’s been an extremely scary and emotional process, but the LEEP procedure itself wasn’t all that bad. It lasted what seemed like under ten minutes, and I only experienced some mild cramping and fatigue the rest of the day.

That’s a lot of personal info I’m putting out there, but women’s health is important, and because it’s deemed unimportant by men in power who think they can make decisions about our bodies, I figure any chance I have to talk about cancer-screenings, etc., I’ll take it. So, consider this a little PSA: get regular paps, ask tough questions about sex, start paying attention to your lady-business. And hopefully my story about the LEEP can provide you some comfort should you ever have to have one.

I’m also telling my story about the LEEP because I’m going to talk about what the top-hit sites on the internet didn’t tell me: the fact that I would be told to refrain from exercise for at least a week during recovery.

Honestly, this thought didn’t even cross my mind. I read all the “What to Expect After a LEEP” FAQ’s online, and NONE of them mentioned anything about exercise. They all talk about how long it will take before you can have penetrative sex again, but not one says anything about exercise. I assumed that if that was an issue, it would be on every page. And my doctor didn’t even mention this to me in person at the procedure. My mom basically begged me to call and double-check about exercise, which I only did after Googling “exercise after LEEP” and finding about five pages that had different advice. When I got the nurse on the phone, she said they recommend not exercising until the bleeding stops, which I’m optimistically hoping won’t be more than a week, but, possibly, it will be longer.

Readers, if you’ve read this blog even a few times, you probably know that I love exercising. LOVE. I often say that exercise is to me what coffee is to other people. I can’t start my day without it. I feel tired, low-energy, irritable. And right now, as I’m writing this during the time that I’m usually sweating away, just one day after the procedure, I’m already feeling a bit stir-crazy.

But this blog has made me want to be a better version of myself. (Isn’t that romantic? YOU, readers, make me want to be a better person!). So instead of burying myself in a hole of self-pity, I’m going to try to rise above this, and respond to the situation in a healthy, happy way. And if you ever find yourself sidelined from working out because of a LEEP or another type of injury, hopefully some of what I’m trying to do will be helpful.

  • Re-frame the situation. In my case, this is pretty easy to do. Instead of focusing on this as a setback, I can view this as what it also is: I had a potentially life-saving procedure, and I’m privileged enough to have the insurance to cover it. How/why would I ever complain about something like that?
  • Eat healthy. I know this is treading on some dangerous ground. Clearly, my relationship to exercise is not entirely disconnected from my history with an ED. So to say that eating healthy should correspond to times when you can’t exercise is potentially illustrative of some messed up thinking. That being said, eating healthy, in and of itself, is a good thing. I’m going to be careful not to drastically cut my calorie intake, but I do want to be mindful of the fact that my usual eats are fuel for intense exercise. Without intense exercise, I don’t need as much. And because exercising actually makes me crave healthier foods, I just need to be careful with figuring out what my body wants and needs.
  • Remember that everything is temporary. I just talked about this in this post, but it’s worth repeating. Impermanence is our only permanent. Whatever challenges life is throwing at you, they aren’t going to last forever. If all goes well, I’ll be back to exercising in just a week. And if it takes longer than that, I’ll just keep remembering that the end is in sight…..This is a tough one. Even as I’m writing “‘just’ a week” I’m having negative thoughts that are saying “JUST a week?!?! A week is FOREVER!” But here’s the thing; it’s really NOT. So I’ll just keep reminding myself of that.
  • Take advantage of the free time. I spend hours of my day working out and getting to and from my yoga studio. This is an entirely valuable and legitimate part of my day, and is entirely worth it. However, without my usual workouts, I’ll have hours of free time. I know I will be able to find something useful to do with them! Like dissertate. Or recipe-create. Or dance around my house. Or call a friend. Or take a  walk with a friend. Or, or or or…! So many options.
  • Practice meditating. I’m bad at this. For someone who is en route to becoming a certified yoga instructor (classes start TODAY!), I am lacking a lot of skills that enable you to just “sit, breathe, and be.” I guess that’s a big reason I decided to go through with the training. But during this exercise-less week, perhaps I can flex some restorative meditation muscles. People say it works wonders. I’ll give it a shot….
  • Have some perspective. Believe it or not, this is not the worst thing happening in my life right now. There are some more serious issues at hand that I’m not going to share on the blog, that aren’t necessarily happening directly to me, but are impacting people I love in very real ways. And even if that wasn’t happening, there are a million worse things happening in the world. Poverty, war, racism, etc. Getting what is likely to be a successful treatment and being unable to exercise sort of pale’s in comparison, ya know?

And, it also always helps to know you’re not alone. Here are some fellow bloggers that have had workout set-backs, but found positive ways to cope:

Angela writes about taking a break from running.

Naomi talks about taking it easy.

A fellow Minnesotan explains how she copes with injury.

Have you ever been injured? Have you ever had a LEEP? How do you cope with not being able to exercise?

48 thoughts on “Coping with a Mandatory Break from Exercise

  1. Lachrista says:

    Thank you for writing this, lady! I’ve never had a LEEP, but I did have a colposcopy, which was scary, etc.

    A friend of mine had a procedure recently and she was unable to exercise for a month or so–including yoga–which was super difficult for her. I think it was also good for her, though, because it allowed her to deal with her anxiety in other ways (reading, writing, talking, etc).

    Too often, I think our culture talks about exercise like it’s this end-all-be-all thing–that it can solve all of our problems. It can’t. I mean, it certainly helps a great deal, but so do countless other things. I think it’s good when life happens and shakes us out of our routine from time-to-time, because living is really more about being “uncomfortable” than not.

    Just my two cents. Haha. I’m glad to hear you’re taking care of your health! Maybe with this added time you have (since you can’t exercise), we can read more of your lovely writing!


    • raechel says:

      Thanks, Lachrista. I think you’re totally right about it being good to be shaken from our routine. It’s just hard. : /

  2. KatsHealthCorner says:

    I know how you feel with not exercising. I was ordered not to exercise for a while and it was SO hard! I didn’t feel like myself and it was difficult to get through. But I knew it was only temporary and that if I wanted to get better that is what I had to do. I know you can do it. :)

    • raechel says:

      Thank you, Kat! I truly appreciate hearing other people’s stories who have gone through it, and I appreciate the encouragement. :)

  3. Jess says:

    I completely understand what you mean about not exercising. A few years ago I used to feel like I didn’t know how to stop—it took a lot of deep breathing to get myself used to taking rest days and time off when I need it.

    Kudos to you for researching considerations for LEEP and asking lots of questions. I had that done when I was 21, and I was clueless. For example, I had no freaking idea you weren’t supposed to exercise for a week after, and my doctor didn’t offer up any info other than, “So, we’re gonna laser this business off your cervix and it might hurt for a couple days.” Needless to say, I now see a different doctor and make a point of asking questions.

    • raechel says:

      Yes, deep breathing, I’m going to spend a lot of time getting comfortable with that….

      Yeah, it’s totally crazy that my doc didn’t say anything about it either until I called back and asked. Ugh! Do they think women just aren’t active?!?! So how did your recovery go? Were you doing strenuous exercise at the time?

      • Jess says:

        I don’t know WHAT they think. I always ask patients about physical activity. Maybe that’s ’cause I’m not a doctor? I’m sort of joking…

        At that time I was going to the gym most days of the week and doing a lot of walking. Back then I did mostly cardio and yoga. I was also waitressing, which isn’t formal exercise but pretty strenuous.

        Unfortunately, I also didn’t get the memo about not having sex after the procedure, so I think that is really what messed with me. I remember being so freaked out by the sudden bleeding (a couple weeks after the procedure), and of course, my doctor was on vacation when I called the office. Good times.

        It sounds like you’re doing everything right though! I’m sure you’ll be feeling great soon : )

      • raechel says:

        I can’t believe they can do this stuff and provide us such little info! Ugh! So much unnecessary anxiety and confusion!

  4. dboothsummers says:

    thanks for this great post. exercise is one of the best ways to deal w/ anxiety, and even if you’re not consciously using it for that, the stress of NOT working out can cause lots of anxiety.

    explore new ways of dealing with the anxiety of not working out: self-hypnosis (lots of great, free stuff online), passive muscle relaxation, hot baths where you soak some kind of conditioning treatment in your hair, have some wine and just close your eyes, meditation. it sucks that you can’t have sex, because that’s another good one. practice gratitude that you’re able to recover from the procedure. know that your body is healing and that it needs a safe, calm place to heal.

    during your normal workout hours, read a book purely for fun. spend time doing something extra with your union stuff. reconnect with friends. make an appointment with someone (because the U has amazing insurance) to discuss your ED stuff, keep it in check.

    and don’t you DARE cut your calories. your metabolism is all revved up, one week isn’t going to set you off with the way you eat. you don’t need a power shake or a post workout carb, but you don’t need to eat lettuce and cut out your vegan treats, either.

    you aren’t hurting yourself by not working out. you’re hurting yourself if you don’t recover. and it’s about being healthy, right?

    • raechel says:

      This is a super helpful response, thanks so much Deb! Those are all fantastic ideas. (And tell me about it, re: sex). Good advice, all around. Much love. <3

  5. absolutely ayurveda says:

    so happy you got this procedure done and took an important step forward on your health journey! i totally agree with Lachrista, doing that which challenges you and makes you uncomfortable can be exponential for our growth as people. and really, how fun that you have this time where you are free to do other things which usually don’t get the spotlight? maybe you could write a post about the other things you did during this time instead!

    as a sidenote, the idea of resting from exercise and what emotional and societal messages are around the “productivity” of exercise is an important and really interesting topic. as someone with chronic pain, the ways in which i engage in and relate to exercise are quite complicated and it think this post is nudging me to write about it :)


  6. mary says:

    I had a LEEP done yesterday and came across this blog after looking for information about when I can return to the gym. I am so frustrated that I am not able to go to the gym! A week seems like an eternity. But as was mentioned in the blog, I am very thankful that I was able to have this procedure to prevent further problems and an even more devastating delay!
    Thank you for sharing your story!!

  7. NancyR says:

    Hi Raechel
    I just had a LEEP last Thursday for a high grade lesion also…your blog was very helpful and mirrored a lot of my own feelings about not being able to excercise right now. I have googled everything I could find on the subject, but like you mentioned…alot of conflicting information. I just called my Dr’s office and they said, “Oh sure you can go back to excercising now” I also go to a yoga class, but my main concern was Zumba which I do 2-3 times/wk. The first two days after the procedure I had no bleeding, very little cramping and I felt great. Then this small piece of tissue was expelled and then the coffeeground type discharge began and the cramping…so needless to say at the moment I don’t even feel like doing much excercise. I work 12 hr. shifts as a nurse and have spent the last two days on my feet, so may be feeling worse because of that. Anyway…just wanted to thank you for the information.

    • raechel says:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m sorry you had to go through the LEEP, but also hopeful for you that it will take care of the problem….So far, it seems to have worked for me, as all my paps have come back normal since the procedure! I definitely think that being on your feet that long would contribute to the cramping. I hope you’re able to get a few days of rest, and that way you can be back to work and working out like normal asap!

  8. Tina says:

    Thanks so much for this! I too had the LEEP. I have been frustrated with my doctor because he had said I could excercise after a week and I shouldn’t have much bleeding, but it isn’t now after 4 weeks that I have gotten to that point. Was it that way for you too or were you able to excercise after a week? I want to go out on a jog but I am scared of it being a bad idea. Your tips are the main things getting me through this! Thank again!!

    • raechel says:

      Hi Tina! Sorry you had to go through the procedure, but at the same time, I’m glad you were able to have it done because the success rate is so high! I ended up having to do nothing but light yoga for a week, then gradually starting building up to light workouts the next few weeks, but it was almost a full month before I was able to start lifting weights and running more than a mile or so. But yoga and some lighter circuit training workouts helped me stay sane. The Tone It Up YouTube channel has a lot of lighter circuit workouts, and I relied on those a lot.

      Good luck! If you do go for a jog, just promise yourself that you will stop if it hurts. That was the biggest thing for me…Realizing I had to walk back home after making it a couple blocks sucked, but ultimately, it meant I healed without major problems that some people experience.

  9. UoGo says:

    Hello Raechel!
    Your blog post was most insightful. I’m fairly up-to-date on the medical literature in regard to LEEP procedures (I’m slated for mine later this summer), but as with most other commentators, I’ve found conflicting evidence and accounts. My concern is not so much the procedure itself, but rather the aftermath. I too am very fitness-oriented and tend to work out nearly every day (with variations: running, yoga, cycling, etc.), so the thought of giving that up for a bit is…a little overwhelming. However, lots of the outlook suggestions here have been inspiring, and I’m sure I can manage lighter exercise if I must – as yoga teaches us, it’s important to be compassionate towards our bodies when they need it. I suppose my question in mostly in regard to post-LEEP bleeding. Given that most healthy and active women vascularize well, I am tempted to believe we’d bleed less or have less problems. Did you find you bled the whole month? Did you find bleeding came as a result of physical exertion? Finally, I commend you for blogging about this in an honest and instructive way. Thanks for taking the time!

    • raechel says:

      Hello! I’m so glad the post was helpful for you! I didn’t bleed the whole month….Probably only about a week.I didn’t notice a correlation between bleeding and exercise though. There was one instance that I was traveling and lifted my heavy suitcase—it was terribly painful, but there was no bleeding. It sounds like everyone is different, so this may not be the case for you.

      Good luck! Just listen to your body and find ways to get that endorphin kick in a way that won’t put yourself in harms way! : )

  10. Selena says:

    This was very very helpful!!!!! I’ve been searching for this information for days. You would think the doctor would tell you to avoid any exercising for a few weeks. I had a LEEP and a laparoscopy done Wednesday. I’m just now getting around and driving. If I walk around too much now I start cramping or lift a few books or raise my arms too high my lower incision started hurting. So I figured I will not be hitting the gym anytime soon especially weights (what I’m really craving). But thank you for the information you provided be cause it was very helpful. Also, I have so much extra time I’m a week ahead in my school work. All I want to do now is study since. That is all I can do for now. However, I will start walking tomorrow!!!

  11. Car says:

    I just had a leep procedure done 3 days ago and it’s so nice to find support for not exercising after. I have been advised to take 2 weeks off completely, and 3 off of anything strenuous.
    It’s killing me to not be able to do anything but short, easy walks. I was getting so into my yoga and weights recently and I’m so worried that the break will kill my motivation when the time comes to jump back into it.
    Thank you for posting this list and putting things back into perspective for me so that I can focus on the positives and try to keep my motivation going!

  12. Francisca says:

    Seriously, thank you for posting this. I just called to schedule my LEEP to be done with it, and feel such a relief even at having made that first call. Like you I’m very active, and I came online to find information about post-procedure exercise, and I found your link. All the medical sites told me I should be able to resume “normal activities” within 1 to 3 days. Well, exercise is a very normal activity for me. But I’m going to be safe, and I appreciate your sharing. We’re so blessed to live in a time when a LEEP is even possible! My best.

  13. Francisca says:

    btw, did you have any further recurrences or abnormal paps following the procedure? Thank you very much!

    • raechel says:

      Hi! I ended up being free and clear of abnormal paps after the LEEP. Glad you found this post helpful! Good luck; I’ll be wishing you well in your recovery!

  14. Jen says:

    Hi Raechel, my Doctor called me on Thursday to say I had an abnormal pap and to come in right away to redo it. I went in the next day (yesterday). When I got there, they had me fill out a consent form for a Colposcopy (I thought they were just redoing my pap)? Ok, then during the Colposcopy, my Doctor tells me based on what she saw she needs to shift gears and perform a LEEP on me right then and there. Disconcerting… Then afterwards the only thing she mentioned was no sex for 2 weeks, and I forgot to ask about exercise. So in researching it on my own, I was SO happy to find your post–thank you! I have just recently built up my stamina to take 4-5 spin classes a week and was seeing results, so I’m bummed that I’ll have to take a big step backwards endurance-wise over the next few weeks (doesn’t help that the Tour de France is on TV reminding me about what I’m missing). I guess I will start walking, and wait for the results next week. Thank you again!

    • raechel says:

      I’m really glad this could be of use! I know how hard it is to be inactive, especially after that kind of invasive procedure. Stay strong, you will be healed soon!

  15. Liz says:

    Thanks for posting this! I know you wrote this a long time ago, but I had the LEEP done a few days ago. My doctor told me not to lift weights for a week. That’s about all she said (and not having sex for a month). I am a personal trainer so I still have been carrying some objects but not doing actual exercise. Was looking to see if doing light cardio was ok and came across your blog! I also wanted to take a bubble bath because that helps me relax, but I read that that can cause infections :( Reading this definitely helped me though!

  16. Steph says:

    Thank you so much for this blog! I was looking for information about LEEPs and exercise and came across your blog and this truly gave me some insight. I’m in the midst of training for a November marathon and my LEEP is scheduled for beginning of September and I’m nervous about not being able to get my training back in time for the race. I will def be asking my doctor who also happens to be a runner :)

    • Francisca says:

      Hi Steph, to share, I just had the LEEP 7/1, and my doctor told me I couldn’t exercise for three weeks. Three weeks?! It turned out to be longer for me, even though it was a “simple, clean” procedure for me. I started exercising lightly on my three week anniversary, but still got spotting/blood that I wasn’t necessarily sure it wasn’t from the procedure. So I took the opportunity to go on a road trip and further “heal” my body (I’m generally pretty active). I actively camped and starting hiking – level 1 and 2 hikes and walks, and I’m now fully back to normal. Just did my first spin class! I wanted to reply to your message as I found this blog to be so helpful before mine, and if my experience helps you with figuring out whether you’ll be able to do your marathon, great! I missed out on some stuff, but really it came to be ok w/me, and I came to make the best of my time enriching myself and life in other ways. How ever it works out for you, best wishes in whatever you do!

  17. Sara H says:

    Hello Raechel and all you ladies that posted your experiences! We sometimes forget how much other girls/women can help eachother. Thank you all.
    Oh dear, I am having my LEEP on Wednesday and like many of you I googled about the recovery and found this awesome blog. I’m actually exercising like crazy until Tuesday night lol.
    I have CIN 3, I’m 35 and I want to conceive at some point…Now this thing is not only taking me away from my exercise (grrrrr) but from even trying to conceive for 6 months. The truth is I’m scared shitless, the doctor said if I didnt want to have children he would cut off my whole cervix :(
    Ok, taking a deep breath from now…
    Cheers, love and health to enjoy it all!

      • Sara H says:

        I know! Yes to women support!
        I feel like threatening the doctor and telling him: “don’t you dare cut off too much or I’ll sue you!” Seriously, I’m affraid he’ll cut off too muuuuuch :((((( Obviously I’m not going to telling that but that’s how afraid I am of him doing it!
        Oh, well, breathing deeply again…(Bob Marley’s song Every Little Thing… :)
        Thank you empowered ladies for your prayers, thoughts and support!
        I’ll tell you how it went tomorrow for future sufferers of this.

  18. Nancy says:

    Having LEEP tomorrow. This blog has been very helpful. I started working out in May, actually became an online heakrh and fitness coach. The idea of not working out is freaking me out, but I know I need to listen to my body, & I actually promised my customers, that I would listen to it, and take care of myself. My doctor has said nothing about not exercising. My hope was that I could do yoga (actually piyo) after a week, and weights after three weeks. I will ask specifically tomorrow. I will check back in too and update you all! Thanks again!!!

  19. Kate Kyleen says:

    I’m so grateful to have found your blog! I’m due for a LEEP procedure next week. No mention from the doctor about the concerns of exercise during recovery. I’m in the middle of my weight loss journey, and it’s very disappointing to discover that exercise is a no go while I heal. Already I’ve missed two weeks because of a death in the family and being sick, so hearing this and realizing how much time has been lost and will be lost is super disheartening. This is harder to accept than avoiding sex (which I love!). I plan to do walking sessions with a gal pal, and I may consider trying yoga, but are there any other exercises that could be suggested?

    • raechel says:

      Hi Kate, I’m glad this post was helpful! I also ended up doing a lot of toning exercises that didn’t require any jumping. So, for example, leg lifts on the floor, chest presses on the floor, etc. Good luck with everything!

  20. teslamay says:

    Hi! I just found this via Google, as i am about to have a LEEP later this week. I’ve been struggling with weight gain due to antidepressants over the past few months, and I’ve been dreading the break from exercise. Throw in the holidays AND an impending apartment move and I feel like I won’t exercise for another month! Your post has helped calm me down and ease my anxiety :) Consider me a new follower of your blog!

    • raechel says:

      So glad to hear I could be of help! And I completely relate to being derailed by life things resulting in weight gain and/or less movement and how regardless of actual body state, not being able to do regular physical activity *feels* awful. Sending you lots of solidarity during a hard time and a reminder that it wont’ be like this forever! <3

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