Strength Training: A Crucial Component of Surgical Performance

By Michael Reinhorn MD  (These are my personal opinions)

While technical skill is essential for any surgeon, achieving peak performance in the operating room requires a comprehensive approach encompassing physical fitness. This blog post highlights the importance of strength training, often overlooked but critical for optimizing a surgeon’s physical capabilities.

For the first fifteen years of my surgical career, I, like many others, primarily focused on cardio as the cornerstone of physical fitness. While activities like cycling and jogging offer health benefits, a persistent back injury that I sustained on the job during my surgical residency revealed the limitations of this approach.

This pivotal moment led me to discover the significant impact of strength training. Working with Andrew Millet at Move Strong Physical Therapy, specializing in sports medicine, and coaches from Cressey Sports Performance, a renowned facility known for training high school to professional athletes, I embarked on a journey that fundamentally changed my understanding of surgical preparedness.

The key takeaway: strength training is not just for aesthetics or recreation; it’s a vital tool for maximizing surgical performance. For me, habits like consistent sleep and brushing teeth are non-negotiable.  For the last five years, regular strength training sessions have been added, ideally four times per week.

The benefits are clear but require hard work and dedication. Increased energy levels, improved endurance during long surgeries, and elimination of back pain are some positive outcomes I’ve personally experienced. This newfound physical resilience allows me to focus solely on my patients, free from distractions caused by discomfort or fatigue. At the age of 53, I have more energy, strength, and focus than I did when I was 40.

Observing the positive impact on my own practice, I’ve learned from surgeons who incorporate strength training into their routines.  I also see the preparation that athletes require to perform their particular sport and see the parallels to performing in the operating room. Surgery is a very technical, physical, and intellectual activity. The focus is not dissimilar to what a professional race car driver requires when having their own lives in their hands while pursuing excellence. This realization and growing research highlighting the long-term health benefits and injury prevention associated with strength training compels me to advocate for a shift in how we approach surgical preparedness.

While cardio has its place, strength training deserves recognition as an essential pillar of a surgeon’s physical foundation. Its impact extends beyond the operating room, promoting longevity, preventing injuries, and fostering overall well-being.

Therefore, I urge my fellow surgeons and anyone seeking to optimize their physical potential to embrace the transformative power of strength training. It’s an investment in your well-being, a key to unlocking peak performance, and, ultimately, a testament to our unwavering dedication towards our patients and our craft.

In addition to the above, I often observe core muscle imbalances in patients with groin pain, often stemming from activities like cycling where they’re hunched over for extended periods. A well-rounded strength training program incorporating various movements can help prevent such issues. While I’m not a certified trainer, working with a physical therapist, personal trainer, or strength coach can provide personalized guidance and maximize the benefits of strength training for individual needs.

Keywords: surgeon, strength training, physical fitness, operating room performance, endurance, injury prevention, core muscle imbalances, cardio, longevity