Life After VSG

Time for (the right) Gains

At my lowest post surgery weight, I was 114 lbs. — that was 110 pounds lost since having had Gastric Sleeve surgery on July 10, 2018. My surgeon, Dr. Clark, mentioned at my 9 month pre-op surgery that some people may overshoot their weight loss, but not to be too concerned about it as most people are able to regulate their weight once their body settled. My final goal weight was 125 – 130 lbs. and I obviously overshot my mark, but I would think back to what Dr. Clark said and wasn’t too worried about it. Actually, I figured that the more fat I lost initially, I could hopefully gain those pounds back through building muscle mass. I have started on my journey towards getting stronger using a beginner lifting program called Stronglifts 5×5. Before I get into the specifics of the program, I wanted to share a little more about my motivations as to why I am on this journey.

When You're A Wimp...

Growing up, I was pretty scrawny and not at all athletic. In middle school, I recall joining the tennis team (I joined the football team too, but that lasted ONE DAY). I remember going to a couple of practices and I remember the coach walking up to me and saying, “Look, I have a deal for you. I hear you are pretty good in band…If you want to take this period and go to the band hall and practice, I’ll give you your PE credit.” OUCH!! 

In the end that worked out for me, since I did end up making music my career, but I had to have been pretty uncoordinated and nonathletic for the coach to have made that proposition.

My brother, on the other hand was a mean muscle machine. He was just built with muscle and he was strong. I always envied his strength, but it was never in the cards for me. I remember, as a bratty teenager, that I was really mad at my mother. I talked back to her and called her a B!7©H. Now, I had this coming, but my brother charged at me and lifted me clear off the ground and I flew to the other-side of the room. Not my proudest moment.

As I gained weight, I didn’t gain much muscle. It was still hard to pickup heavy items and if I did pickup something, I couldn’t carry it for very long. I had very little functional  strength. I hated when it would snow, because I knew that when I had to shovel it, I was going to be out of breath and get chest pains. Running for 5 minutes would have killed me!

In college, I hurt my back trying to get a dead car onto a UHaul trailer. That injury has plagued me for over 20 years! I never knew when I would hurt my back. One morning, I was at my house and I injured my back because I turned the wrong way. My wife was not available so I called and asked if one of my employees could come and help me downstairs and to a doctor. That was pretty embarrassing. 

Most recently, I was already down to 114 lbs. and I was helping load a box truck full of music equipment. I was trying to slide open the door and was putting all my strength, but still struggling. Another one of my employees came to my rescue and just opened it. Yeah, I felt weak.

Why is Functional Strength Important?

The last example above had to do with my functional strength. Functional strength has to do with the everyday movements that a normal able bodied person might have to perform. For instance shoveling snow, carrying groceries, walking up and down the stairs, and lifting boxes. When I was at my heaviest, I would find myself winded and tired just by doing very simple activities. I would tire easily just playing out in the yard with my son. My goals for getting fit are not centered around wanting to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but being able to enjoy life and not let my fitness level get in the way of living my life. 

When looking for a lifting program, I wanted to find something that would allow me to get stronger and allow me the ability to do things like carrying groceries or playing with my kids without feeling like I was about to die of exhaustion. Also, I didn’t want to spend all my time in the gym. Some people might like spending 2-3 hours a day in a gym for 5-7 days. I didn’t want to do that, plus, I’m a pretty busy guy!

What I Was Looking for in a Program

  • Beginner program
  • Build strength
  • Not spend a lot of time in the gym
  • Easy to follow plan
  • Well known (not experimental)

The program that seem to fit the bill for everything I was looking for in a strength training program was Stronglifts 5×5. Designed by Mehdi Hadim, the program is apparently similar to Mark Ripetoe’s Starting Strength, which focuses on similar exercises. The thing that sold me on Stronglifts was the straightforwardness of the website and how much information was available. The app sealed the deal for me. The app is free for the first twelve weeks…that is plenty of time to test whether or not this program is working for you. 

StrongLifts 5x5

StrongLifts 5×5 (SL5x5) is for a person new to lifting weights and is suitable for a person that has had bariatric surgery, such as gastric bypass or gastric sleeve, once cleared for exercise by their surgeon. For me, that was one month after surgery. I wish I would have started this program then as I would have “converted” a lot of my fat into muscle and it would have helped me get stronger sooner. So, I encourage you to start as soon as you are cleared by your surgeon.

The program uses compound exercises that engages multiple muscles in order to complete. These are the type of exercises that mimic everyday movements. These exercises are broken up into and A and B day. They are:


  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Barbell Row


  • Squat
  • Overhead Press
  • Deadlift

You will alternate days with rest days in-between.  It looks like this.

Week 1
Saturday: A-Day
Sunday: Rest
Monday: B-Day
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: A-Day
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Rest

Week 2
Saturday: B-Day
Sunday: Rest
Monday: A-Day
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: B-Day
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Rest

and it keeps alternating back and forth!

What does 5x5 mean?

5×5 stands for doing 5 sets (how many times you do the sequence) of 5 reps (how many times you do the exercise within one sequence). Your A-Day would look like this:

Squats 5×5:
1st rep: do five squats
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
2nd rep: do five squats
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
3rd rep: do five squats
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
4th rep: do five squats
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
5th rep: do five squats

Bench Press:
1st rep: do five bench presses
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
2nd rep: do five bench presses
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
3rd rep: do five bench presses
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
4th rep: do five bench presses
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
5th rep: do five bench presses

Barbell Row:
1st rep: do five barbell rows
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
2nd rep: do five barbell rows
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
3rd rep: do five barbell rows
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
4th rep: do five barbell rows
rest 1.5 to 3 minutes
5th rep: do five barbell rows


The only exercise that you don’t do 5 sets will be the deadlift. Mehdi says that the deadlift works many of the same muscles that the squat does, so doing 5×5 of deadlifts would be overkill.

Proper Form Before Heavy Weight

It is absolutely important that you use good form when doing these exercises. For this reason, SL5x5 starts you out on the bar (45 lbs.). There are plenty of form videos on This page on the website talks about proper form for each of the five compound exercises. 

I encourage you to read all the great information and watch the videos often! There are also videos embedded in the mobile app.

Linear Progression

The program adds weight every successful workout day. 5 lbs for every exercise except for deadlift where you add 10 lbs. This means that by 12-weeks, you could potentially be squatting 220 lbs. Now, you can’t continue to lift heavier weight forever and you will end up failing. If you fail on a weight, you are supposed to stay at that weight for the next time. If you fail that weight three times, then you need to deload by 5 lbs. (10 lbs. for deadlift).

Once you are not making anymore progress, it will be time to move on to an intermediate lifting program. Mehdi suggests moving to a program called Madcow.

Personal Results

There are five things that I am beginning to see as I do this program.

  1. Since I have been focusing on form, I have noticed that it carries over to my everyday movements. When lifting a box with ten reams of paper, I straighten my back as if I were performing a deadlift (which is exactly what I’m doing) and lift the box correctly so I don’t hurt myself.
  2. My posture has been so much better. I find that I am standing up straighter and if I find myself slouching, I correct it.
  3. My tailbone isn’t hurting all the time. Maybe it has to do with better posture or the fact that I am building muscle around my lower back to support myself better.
  4. While I don’t have six pack abs, I feel stronger in my core! Heck, I feel stronger all around…I can even do pull-ups now!
  5. Overall, I feel more confident and willing to try more things. I even attempted and succeeded (at the beginner and intermediate levels) climbing the rock wall at our local YMCA!

Musician, Educator, Social Entrepreneur, and Blogger Rey started this blog to chronical his Weight Loss Surgery. His surgery date was July 10, 2018

One Comment

  • Nicky Bicksler

    Awesome job! Exercise has been so key in my bariatric surgery journey. I use it now instead of food to manage my emotions! I’m glad you found something that works for you. Welcome to the gun show!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *