Exercise Timeline after Breast Reduction Surgery

Exercises to Do and to Avoid in the First Month after the Surgery

Breast reduction surgery, also known as reduction mammoplasty, is a significant procedure that can bring substantial relief and improvement in quality of life for many women. However, the journey doesn’t end once the surgery is over. A critical aspect of the recovery process is adhering to a proper exercise regimen. In this blog, Consultant Plastic Surgeon Anthony MacQuillan will provide a detailed exercise timeline after breast reduction surgery, outlining exercises to do and avoid in the first month to ensure a safe and effective recovery.

Post-Surgery Exercise Timeline

Following breast reduction surgery, it is essential to approach physical activity with caution. Proper exercise can aid in recovery by improving circulation, preventing complications like blood clots, and promoting overall well-being. Conversely, inappropriate or premature exercises can lead to complications, such as increased swelling, bleeding, or even compromising the surgical results. Hence, it’s important to follow a structured exercise timeline.

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Weeks 1-2

The initial phase after surgery is all about rest. The body needs time to heal, and any strenuous activity can jeopardise this process. During the first two weeks, you should focus on allowing your body to recover.

While rest is vital, complete inactivity is not recommended. Light walking is encouraged as it promotes blood circulation, which is essential for healing and preventing complications like deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Short, gentle walks around the house or garden are beneficial.

Recommended Exercises

  • Light Stretching: Engaging in gentle stretching exercises can help maintain flexibility and prevent stiffness without exerting too much pressure on the surgical site. These stretches should be mild and focused on areas away from the chest, such as the legs and lower back.
  • Deep Breathing: Practicing deep breathing exercises can aid in relaxation and improve lung capacity. This is particularly beneficial as it helps in managing pain and reducing stress, both of which can facilitate a smoother recovery process.
  • Pelvic Floor Exercises: These exercises can be safely performed and help maintain core strength without impacting the chest area. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can also contribute to overall stability and support during the recovery phase.

Activities to Avoid

  • Upper Body Exercises: Any form of upper body exercise, including lifting, pushing, or pulling movements, should be strictly avoided. These activities can strain the chest muscles and the surgical site, potentially leading to complications or delayed healing. Even seemingly light tasks, such as lifting a grocery bag or reaching for items on a high shelf, should be avoided.
  • Strenuous Activity: Activities that significantly increase heart rate or involve vigorous movement should be avoided. This includes high-impact cardio exercises, running, or any form of sport that requires sudden movements or exertion. Such activities can cause undue stress on the body and the healing tissues, increasing the risk of complications.
2008 - Breast Reduction by Anthony MacQuillan Front

Weeks 3-4

By the third week, most patients can begin to incorporate gentle exercises into their routine. However, it’s important to start slowly and listen to your body.

Recommended Exercises

Light Upper Body Exercises

  • Wall Push-ups: Wall push-ups are an excellent starting point for regaining upper body strength. They involve less resistance compared to traditional push-ups and allow for a controlled range of motion, minimising the risk of straining the chest muscles. Begin by standing a few feet away from a wall, placing your hands shoulder-width apart against the wall, and performing a push-up motion. This exercise can help rebuild strength in the arms and shoulders while being gentle on the chest area.
  • Shoulder Rolls: Shoulder rolls are another gentle exercise that can help improve mobility and reduce stiffness. Simply roll your shoulders in a circular motion, both forwards and backwards, to loosen the muscles. This movement helps maintain flexibility without putting stress on the surgical site.
  • Bodyweight Rows: Using a stable, horizontal bar or the edge of a sturdy table, bodyweight rows can be performed to work the upper back and shoulders. This exercise should be done with caution and without overexerting the chest muscles.

Low-Impact Cardio

  • Walking: Walking remains a highly recommended activity, with a slight increase in pace and duration as tolerated. This helps maintain cardiovascular health and promotes continued circulation, which is essential for healing.
  • Stationary Cycling: Stationary cycling at a low resistance is another excellent option. It allows for a controlled workout that strengthens the legs and improves cardiovascular endurance without impacting the chest area. Ensure the resistance is kept low to avoid undue strain.


  • Avoid Heavy Lifting: Heavy lifting should still be avoided during this period. Lifting heavy objects can put significant strain on the chest muscles and the surgical site, potentially leading to complications. Instead, start with very light weights, such as 1-2 pound dumbbells or resistance bands with minimal tension. Gradually increase the weight only as tolerated and always with a focus on proper form to avoid injury.
  • Introduce Gradually Pushing or Pulling Movements: Pushing and pulling movements should be introduced very gradually and with minimal resistance. These activities can strain the muscles around the chest and shoulders if not performed carefully. Begin with light, controlled movements, such as gentle resistance band exercises, and avoid any sudden or forceful actions.
  • Listen to Your Body: It’s important to listen to your body and be aware of any signs of discomfort or pain. If any exercise causes discomfort, stop immediately and consult with Anthony or physiotherapist. Recovery times can vary significantly from person to person, so personalising the exercise regimen based on individual progress and feedback is crucial.
  • Be Cautious with Overhead Movements: Even at this stage, avoid exercises that involve lifting weights above the head, as these can put undue stress on the chest area. Focus instead on exercises that keep the arms at or below shoulder level to minimise risk.
  • Balance Exercise with Rest: Ensure that exercise sessions are balanced with adequate rest periods. The body still needs time to heal, and overexertion can lead to setbacks. Short, frequent sessions of gentle exercises with ample rest can be more beneficial than longer, strenuous workouts.

Weeks 5-6

At this stage, patients can start to reintroduce more challenging exercises, always under the guidance of Anthony or physiotherapist.

Recommended Exercises:

  • Resistance Band Work: Light resistance band exercises can help rebuild muscle strength in a controlled manner.
  • Light Dumbbell Lifts: Start with very light dumbbells and focus on proper form and slow, controlled movements.
  • Core-Focused Exercises: Incorporate exercises that engage the core, such as gentle Pilates or yoga movements, ensuring they do not strain the chest area.

Cardio Workouts:

  • Increase Duration and Intensity: Gradually increase the duration and intensity of cardio workouts, such as brisk walking or low-resistance cycling.

Activities to Continue Avoiding:

  • High-Impact Activities: Avoid activities such as running or jumping, which can cause undue stress on the healing tissues.
  • Overly Strenuous Activities: Any exercise that feels too strenuous should be avoided to prevent complications.
2000 - Breast Reduction by Anthony MacQuillan 45 L

Weeks 7+

By the seventh week, most patients receive clearance from Anthony to resume their full workout routine. However, it is vital to ease back into exercise gradually and not rush the process.

Focus on Gradual Progression:

  • Previous Workout Intensity: Gradually work back up to the intensity and duration of your previous workouts, ensuring you are not overexerting yourself.
  • Proper Form: Pay close attention to maintaining proper form during exercises to avoid injury.
  • Listening to Your Body: Continuously monitor how your body responds to exercise and adjust accordingly. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

Exercises to Avoid in the First Month after Breast Reduction Surgery

Detailed List of Prohibited Exercises:

  • No Overhead Pressing: Avoid any exercises that involve lifting weights above the head as this can strain the chest and shoulder muscles.
  • No Push-Ups or Planks: These exercises place significant pressure on the chest area and should be avoided until fully healed.
  • No High-Impact Cardio: Activities like running, aerobics, or any high-impact sports should be strictly avoided to prevent jarring the healing tissues.
  • No Heavy Lifting: Any form of heavy lifting should be avoided to prevent pulling on the chest muscles and surgical site.

Additional Considerations for a Successful Recovery after Breast Reduction Surgery

Tailoring the Exercise Plan to Individual Needs:

  • Personalised Guidance: Every individual’s recovery process is different. Tailor the exercise plan to fit your specific needs and recovery pace.
  • Professional Advice: Seek advice from a physiotherapist or a professional trainer experienced in post-surgery recovery to create a customised exercise plan.

Long-Term Fitness Goals:

  • Setting Realistic Goals: Set achievable fitness goals and be patient with your progress. It’s important to recognise that recovery takes time, and rushing the process can lead to setbacks.
  • Sustaining a Healthy Lifestyle: Post-recovery, focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest.

Incorporating Other Forms of Physical Activity:

  • Swimming: Once fully healed, swimming can be an excellent low-impact exercise that promotes overall fitness without putting stress on the joints.
  • Dancing: Engaging in dance classes or free movement can be a fun way to stay active and improve coordination and flexibility.
  • Hiking: Gradual reintroduction of hiking can provide a great cardiovascular workout while enjoying the outdoors.

Practical Tips for Post-Surgery Exercise

  • Supportive Clothing: Wear supportive sports bras that provide adequate support without constricting the chest. Look for bras specifically designed for post-surgery recovery.
  • Comfortable Footwear: Ensure you have comfortable, well-fitting shoes to avoid any additional strain or injury during walking or other cardio activities.
  • Safe Space: Ensure your exercise space is free from hazards that could cause trips or falls.
  • Appropriate Equipment: Use appropriate equipment that suits your current fitness level and recovery stage. Avoid heavy weights or high-resistance machines initially.
  • Setting Small Milestones: Break down your recovery goals into smaller, manageable milestones to keep motivated and track progress.
  • Finding an Exercise Buddy: Partnering with a friend or family member for walks or gentle workouts can provide encouragement and make the process more enjoyable.

FAQs about Exercise Timeline after Breast Reduction Surgery

 When can I start doing yoga after breast reduction surgery?

  • Yoga can typically be resumed around 6 to 8 weeks post-surgery, but this depends on individual healing progress. It’s important to start with gentle, low-intensity poses and avoid any movements that put pressure on the chest. Always consult with Anthony before resuming yoga.

Can I swim during the first month after my breast reduction surgery?

  • Swimming should be avoided during the first month post-surgery. Immersing the surgical site in water can increase the risk of infection and interfere with the healing process. It’s generally safe to resume swimming once the incisions have fully healed, usually around 6 to 8 weeks, but confirm with Anthony.

Is it safe to use a treadmill or elliptical machine in the first few weeks?

  • In the first few weeks, it’s best to avoid using a treadmill or elliptical machine as they can cause jarring movements that may affect the healing process. Light walking on flat surfaces is encouraged instead. After 4 weeks, you may gradually reintroduce these machines at a low intensity, with Anthony’s approval.

How can I manage swelling and discomfort while beginning to exercise post-surgery?

Managing swelling and discomfort can be achieved through several methods:

  • Wear a supportive post-surgery bra
  • Apply cold compresses to the affected area
  • Keep physical activity light and gradually increase intensity
  • Elevate your upper body while resting to reduce swelling. Always discuss pain management options with your Anthony

What are some signs that I might be overexerting myself during recovery?

  • Signs of overexertion include increased pain, swelling, or redness at the surgical site, as well as feelings of fatigue or dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to stop the activity and rest. Consult Anthony if symptoms persist or worsen, as you may need to adjust your exercise routine.

Further Reading about Breast Reduction Surgery with Consultant Plastic Surgeon Anthony MacQuillan

Medical References about Breast Reduction Surgery