A Weightlifters Guide to Fitness during Medical Education

26 Apr 2023

By Sophie Hockran

Two years into medical school, and I have learned a lot, as expected. Many who have come before me know the feeling of learning so much information that your brain may explode. Being the first physician in my family, I was truly not prepared for this amount of information. I thought I was prepared, but it is hard to know before doing it. I think I need to make it clear that I am not just talking about the information from lectures, labs, and clinics. It is the hidden curriculum. Moving away from home, handling interpersonal relationships, finances, research, leadership, volunteering–the many arms of being a medical student and surgical hopeful, all create a unique set of challenges. The most important thing that I have learned is to hold onto the things that bring me joy.

Coming from a collegiate track and field career, I have leaned heavily into health and fitness. I started a journey in Olympic Weightlifting the exact week I start medical school. I didn’t have an exact reason why, there was just something about it that felt right in the moment. Many called me crazy and questioned if I would be able to keep up with the rigors of medical school while continuing to train my body at a high level. Two years later, it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Throughout the countless hours of studying, training, researching, and more, I have grounded myself in my physical fitness. In doing so, I want to give advice to any incoming or current surgical hopeful who is looking to do the same. I have made a list of the five keys things I wish I knew before starting a new fitness journey while in medical school:

1. Trust your body

Medicine is a demanding field. We learn meticulously about the human body. Every inch of anatomy is studied in order to broaden our understanding of its function and purpose. Much of the time, this can come at the expense of our own mental and physical health. This can be a challenging thing to tackle when starting a new fitness journey. As we pursue this career, there is an unwritten expectation to push hard, study longer, and to just keep going. This can do one of two things: either transfer onto every other aspect of our lives or the complete opposite. When looking to start a fitness journey, it is important to recognize where you fall on that spectrum. 

If you are someone who likes to live all aspects in the push-harder mentality, a vital consideration to make in your fitness journey is to listen to your body. Take a moment to pause and listen to cues on when you need rest. It is an important piece that can be hard to swallow, and sometimes it is important to stray away from the plan to allow yourself time to recover. 

For those that may lean further away from that push-harder mentality in your life outside of medicine, it’s just as important to take this in as a factor. If you are considering a fitness journey, there is likely a reason. Medicine consumes a great deal of time and energy, so the thought of an additional outlet is not something to take lightly. Pursue that feeling, and don’t be afraid to add this to your commitments. Health and fitness can be as much of an outlet as you let it be, and it’s a different journey for each and every one of us!

2. Be flexible

Medicine can be unpredictable no matter the specialty, but that unpredictability heightens in surgical fields. Many people look at fitness as a large time-consuming entity that lies in front of them. Those thoughts are completely understandable.  The way many dive into health and fitness, and how it is portrayed on social media it can be made out to seem like an entire additional career. When it comes to a personal plan for health and fitness, it doesn’t need to be made to fit the mold. In medical education, your weeks are constantly changing and every day can look a little different. Make sure to find a healthy relationship with a changing schedule and a changing program. Some weeks, it can look like four perfectly scheduled workouts and others can be two ten-minute walks after work while still wearing your scrubs. The most important aspect is you did what you needed and sometimes what you needed is not the plan you had written at the beginning of the week. 

3. Fuel your mind and your body

Up until this point in this list, it has all been about scheduling. Figuring out when to work out, when to rest, etc. Along with a fitness journey comes a new relationship with food and fitness. As students, you learn about the demands your body has when it comes to energy. As you begin to transform the way you spend that energy, those demands increase. Medical education is fast-moving and can cause lapses in time to properly fuel yourself. When starting this journey, make sure you come up with a plan not only to continue to fuel your mind with all the information, but also to fuel your body as that is an important piece to your educational and physical journey.  

4. Get creative

There will be days, that we know all too well, you’re stuck in a lab, class, or a rotation every day, all day for the whole week or weeks, and there is simply no time to stick to your fitness plan. Some weeks, it can be just a rest day and that may be what your body is asking for but in others, your body just wants to move. This is when creativity shines. Find times in your day to do something active. Find new and low-commitment ways to continue to move your body even outside of the gym. Whether it’s a ten-minute yoga flow on youtube or a walk around your town listening to a systems lecture, all exercise is good exercise. 

5. Give yourself grace

The single most important thing I have learned from being on this journey is to give myself grace. Medical education is difficult, time-consuming, and draining. For me committing to a sport like weightlifting also came with long training sessions, aches, pains, and post-meet expectations. It is beyond important that I remind myself that what I am doing is difficult. I simply can’t be at my best every time I walk into the gym. If you are looking to start a journey into fitness while in medical school or residency, remember to give yourself grace. What you are doing is a difficult thing and adding a fitness journey is supposed to be fun, stress relieving, and a chance to better yourself even further.


Sophie Hockran grew up in the small town of Andover, Ohio. She completed her Bachelors in Neuroscience at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. During that time she competed as a track and field thrower. She is a currently a second year medical student at Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina. She competes with the national weightlifting team 1Kilo and is capitilizing on that stress relief during her board prep. She has served as a member of the AWS IG Subcommittee for the last year. She is passionate about pursuing a career in general surgery with specific interests in global surgery. She also has interests in health policy and advocacy.

You can find her on IG and twitter: @shockran99 

4 Replies to “A Weightlifters Guide to Fitness during Medical Education”

  1. Wow Sophie you continue to amaze me with your insight. Excellent article. You are on an amazing journey. Love and Respect to you .
    GMA Fran

  2. What an incredible piece! Definitely applicable to everyone at all stages of their surgical training. Thank you for your wonderful insight and advice!

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