This one’s for the ladies. Guys, you’re welcome to stay, but, the utility of this post will be negligible to you, I feel like the utility of this post may be lost on you.
One of the most common things I’m asked about as someone who works hard to maintain and build, and improve their body, outside of nutrition and programming, is about… my boobs.
Yup, my boobs. The girls. My lovely lady lumps.
Last September, I pulled the trigger, after years of consideration, and got breast augmentation. By this point, I had lost about 60 pounds of fat and then packed on another 10 to 20 of muscle. I was, and AM, proud of my body, of the manipulations I can make of it, of the knowledge and abilities I have on how to shape and change it in almost any imaginable way. Bigger shoulders? No problem. Smaller waist? Ok. Lower body fat? Got it. But no amount of lifting, no change in macros, nothing I could do could change my chest. Yes, I could bench above my body weight. No, I could not fill out a shirt properly, with my tiny 30A chest, I was the president of the IBTC. Broad lats and shoulders meant I had to buy shirts large enough to cover my back and arms, but billowed in the front. Yes yes, I have a tailor. But nothing she could do made me feel how I wanted about my chest.
So I did it. I taught summer school to save up the money, and in the fall, when I didn’t get a new contract, I dedicated a few weeks to recovery and working on my masters. My husband was on board, and helped me research surgeons in my area, the list from which we narrowed it down to three. He attended consultations with me, and listened as I made pro-con charts, scheduled a surgery, and ultimately realized I had chosen the wrong doctor based on gut feeling, cancelled, and made an appointment with the right doc. I had less than one week between the day I scheduled and the day I went under the knife. I was lucky they could fit me in so quickly- you see, I had tickets to a music festival on the other side of the country just four weeks from then, and I wanted to be healed enough to dance, or I’d have to wait until after. I was elated to be able to debut my new boobies at the festival!
I had never had a surgery before, save for my wisdom tooth extraction back in high school. But anesthesia, a breathing tube, a scalpel… terrifying. Of course, one weighs the benefits and drawbacks, and ultimately my anxiety about these things was dampened by the fact that I really, really wanted the procedure. After “trying on” multiple sizes of implants (really!), I chose my perfect size- small enough to squish down into a sports bra without issue in the gym, but large enough to fluff up to my damn chin if I wanted to show them off. Even in the consult room, with a piece of silicone stuffed inside of a super unflattering surgical bra, I felt beautiful, and whole.
One consideration I did have to carefully consider as an athlete, was to go under or on top of the pectoral muscle. Placing the implant on top of the muscle is minimally invasive, and causes almost no muscle damage. Of course, to this point, I had been training solely for strength- powerlifting and Strongwoman, so this seemed like the best option. An under-the-muscle implant placement would mean that the pec muscle would need to stretch and accommodate the implant, and that the strength of the muscle could be compromised. This seems like a clear loser, however, consider also this: placement under the muscle allows for the least visible results. Placing an implant directly under the skin means there is very little between it and the outside of your body. When you have very little body fat, as I do, this means that any ripples in the implant may be visible, as well as the edges of it. Because of this, I chose under-the-muscle, even at the risk of losing strength. I wanted the most natural look possible.
When I woke up I couldn’t breathe. A new nurse calmed me and assured me I could breathe, and once I caught some air, I immediately asked for my husband. As he was retrieved, I touched them for the first time. Numb, and sore, oh god, sore like nothing I had ever felt before. No pain, nothing to indicate that a scalpel had just cut into my, just the most intense soreness, like I had been run over my a pickup truck across my chest. My brain was a mess, I was crying (a reaction to the anesthesia), and I asked the nurse completely insane questions about marijuana. Seriously. David after the Dentist=Stephanie after Surgery. “Is this real life?!
Now, Husband is the hero of this story. He cared for me, made sure I had all my pills (antibiotics, pain meds, muscle relaxers, vitamins) at the correct times, checked oft pills I had taken on the schedule I created, and lined up a different friend to spend the morning with me for the three days following when he couldn’t be off work. He pulled my favorite snacks down from the cupboards and put them on the counter with jar lids loosened, and made sure fresh veggies were cut for me before he left each morning. He filled my water cups and made sure Frozen was on the iPad. He picked me up into a seated position every time I needed to pee, because I couldn’t get up from laying flat on my own. At one point, he even washed and conditioned my hair, because I felt so gross but I couldn’t get my arms above my head, and then was very receptive to the Blowdrying 101 and Hair Straightening for Dummies classes I conducted in our bathroom, so that I could feel human again.
Prior to surgery, I had calculated my macros for recovery. I didn’t want to eat too little, and risk losing muscle, but at the same time, left unchecked, I’m likely to overeat and just get fat. So I set my calories to maintenance level, and increased my protein intake to a potentially unreasonable level- 1.5g per pound of lean body mass. I hoped that this would give my body enough protein to rebuild and repair, inside and out. I can’t say that I had much science to back this up- SHAME SHAME! I know, I’m sorry!- but it also allowed me to keep my fats and carbs at moderate levels as well. Rather than splitting my carbs and fats into cycles based on lifting (being as I would not be lifting during recovery) I split them 50/50. The results were favorable- I put on very little fat and lost very little muscle.
But I suppose none of that is what you’re here for. You want to know about the bit where I go back to the gym.
So at my one week checkup with the doc, I was cleared to drive again. I was off the narcotic pain meds because the side effects were worse than the pain it was preventing, and onto OTC pain control. My muscle relaxer prescription would be refilled due to the fact that, according to my doc, I had some of the strongest pecs she had ever worked with, which, sadly, meant my recovery was harder than most. My pecs were 300% not interested in loosening up to allow room for the implants beneath them. They squeezed and squeezed and had muscle spasms, I was very uncomfortable to say the least, but I was finally able to get out of bed on my own, and was doing a little bit of wandering around the house, mostly switching between the couch and the bed, but I was getting a bit restless. I was weak and tired quickly- I repeatedly tried to make dinner, but was too exhausted to complete the process.
I looked forward to my three week appointment- this was the time frame I was given for when I could get back into the gym. I had been secretly doing short sets of walking lunges around the house- I was so wiggly! I told the nurse and she laughed at me. Everything looked great, I was cleared to go to my music festival and dance the following week, and I asked again for clarity on my gym restrictions. I had told my surgeon that I was a powerlifter before surgery, though in retrospect, I doubt she had any idea what I was talking about. For the first time ever, I heard “…but no pec exercises for six months.” I was cleared for anything else up to what felt comfortable. But no. Pec. Involvement. No bench. No pushups.
I left in tears, and had a full on panic attack in the car. I called my husband, sobbing unintelligibly, and it took nearly 30 minutes to calm down to the point where I could drive. I immediately regretted everything. How could I have done this to myself? I didn’t feel like a person. Why did I do this? I sat around the house, miserable. It was too late.
A few weeks later, I would be approached at the gym, and for the thousandth time, asked if I competed. More specifically, I was asked what show I was prepping for. When I responded that I was not a competitor, the man was shocked, and told me I ought to be. This planted a seed in my head that turned into a figure competition 4 months later. That was the day I decided to make the best of things, and change my focus. Rather than focusing just on strength, and the things I couldn’t do for a short while, I chose to use the time I was under restrictions to work on a new goal- physique goals. This change in mindset was instrumental to my recovery, I believe. It got me refocused in the gym, and allowed me to further my knowledge about my body, and about nutrition and exercise as a whole. It lead to countless hours spent reading and researching, organizing my own prep, it led to this blog, a newfound love for being on stage, and to a second place trophy on my bookshelf.
I was cleared to begin pec work again right before my show. I’ll be honest, it’s uncomfortable. My pecs squeezing around the implants is… it’s very difficult to describe the feeling. It’s not painful, but it feels… gross? Just squicky. Flat bench particularly. I’ve been doing incline bench for a few weeks now, in an attempt to build up some of the strength. Initially I was gutted about not being able to flat bench yet, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that everything is a work in progress. More disheartening was the unforeseen hit my pull-ups took. Prior to surgery, I could knock out 3-4 sets of 8-10, and now I can only do 2-3 unassisted before my pecs freak out and it feels like I’m tearing my boobs off. It’s been humbling, but I not do assisted pull-ups with just a little assist (10-25 pounds usually) to avoid this, which is ok I suppose, because it allows me to really focus on my lats, which is the whole point I suppose.
One day I do hope to bench my body weight again, but if I can’t, I’ve come to terms with that too. One thing I know is this body is capable of a lot of things, and I can only keep on tinkering with it and experimenting to see where the limits are, and I intend to continue doing so. For inquiring minds, after the swelling went down and my implants settled a bit (this process actually takes up to a year, but they are fairly settled after 8 weeks or so) and I was ready to make the switch from supportive sports bras to something a bit more work-friendly, I headed over to a reputable lingerie shop for a proper bra fitting. The kind lady there helped me find that I had gone from my previous 30/32A to a 30F (or E, depending on the bra brand). For kicks, I wandered over to your favorite 5/$26 panty deal mall lingerie store to have them measure me. The dumbs hit there told me I was a 36B. The same store at another mall confirmed this. For reference, there are ZERO parts of my body that measure 36 inches around… and a B? Seriously? Did she even look at them?
A PSA: GO GET FITTED FOR A PROPER BRA. Or at least head over to this amazing bra size calculator and figure it out yourself. Your boobs, your back, your shoulders, your posture, and your neck, will thank you. TRUST. Don’t get freaked out by weird numbers and letters you’ve maybe never seen before. The US is busy vanity sizing and trying to get everybody into a 34B as far as I can tell, when they could be a 28J or a 38B. Nobody knows what the tag in your bra says, but they sure do notice when your ladies look nice under your shirt!
TL;DR: Breast implants made me change my focus and my mindset, allowed me the time to learn about my body and focus on new goals. I love my body more than I ever have as a cumulative effect of the surgery and all of the learning and changes I’ve made as a result. Get fitted for a bra.
Update: I wrote a 1 year post-surgery reflection, to follow up on this post and finish up discussing recovery, my return to benching, and life since surgery, which you can find here.