So you know in advance, this post is not all rainbows and puppies. Quite the opposite.
Understand this. It’s long. It needs to be. And it won’t be the cheeriest thing you read all day. I’m going to have to leave the sunshine and rainbows to My Little Pony for one day.
If you’ve ever had a period where you’ve been frustrated and miserable, it might just help though.
Today I got an email from one of my clients. She’s been a member of our fitness family for a long time. If you’ve been reading and applying the strategies on this blog for a while, you’ll know last year I suffered a serious back injury that put me out of action as far as serious training goes for several months.
If you haven’t you can read about it here:
Long story short, she injured herself snowboarding a while back, and has spent a year working around the injury while being bounced around the NHS physios getting nothing achieved in terms of rehabilitation.
It’s a common story. I’ve been there myself. In fact when I originally injured my back through my own youth and naivety (read: stupidity) it took a sum total of 7 years of being bounced around the ‘system’, seeing no less than 8 physios until I was sent to a physio who actually did anything of value.
She’s now getting proper physio and we can finally get her on the mend, but to get to that point, it’s got so bad she’s been told she can’t do anything for a while to get back to a point where she can start rehabilitating properly.
For most people this would be great news. “Hey, I get to sit down all day! I’ve got a note and everything!”
What you have to understand about this lady though is that she’s amazing.
She doesn’t sit around and watch TV. She’s run 3 or 4 (that’s right, enough of them that I can’t even remember the exact number!) marathons, one of which she did on about 5 days notice having not run more than 3 miles in training.
Complete rest will be driving her insane.
This sentence followed a particularly despairing paragraph:
“…I’m bored!! Seems everything I find interesting is not possible. I do not know what to do with my time…..What the hell did you do when you had back problems?”
Now, all the stuff I’m about to write about, along with the photos, should by rights never see the light of day.
As a trainer, we have to have a seemingly bullet proof exterior. It’s very important we look the part, and are borderline hyperactive with our abundance of energy.
Nothing can take us down, and we can take anything on.
So by pulling down the curtain here, I’m probably going to lose a bucket load of readers, and likely potential clients too.
But that’s OK.
I’m going to take that chance and put myself out there to show her, and anyone else in a similar situation, you’re not alone.
Plus sometimes it’s good to just give convention a good hard kick in the knackers.
So going back to the question, “What the hell did you do when you had back problems?”
I don’t mind saying, I have a great game face! When I’m training people, I’m there to do a job. Any of my own personal shit is unimportant and needs to be left at home. My clients DESERVE 200%, and that’s what I give them. So I was happy, as far as the outside world new.
Really, I was miserable.
I won’t go as far as to say depressed, because I have a few people in my life who are very close to me that suffer from actual clinical depression. The kind that debilitates you and you can’t just “Snap out of” by thinking positive. And I’m thankful every day that I don’t have to deal with that.
So, I’m not going to insult them by saying I was depressed. I’m going to stick with miserable.
What comes with that state of mind is a, “What’s the point” attitude which builds up and over time only gets worse.
- What’s the point of working out? I can’t load through my spine, I can’t lift any big weights…
- What’s the point of eating right? I’m not working out anyway…
- What’s the point of…? To be honest, once you reach a certain stage, you can fill anything into that blank!
And it goes on.
So as I wasn’t working out, I ate.
I ate for boredom. I ate for comfort. I ate crap for convenience.
I got chubbier. On top of that, I have the kind of genetics where I can drop muscle mass like a stone if I don’t work out properly. Literally, I can drop about 10lbs of lean mass in a month just through disuse.
So when you chuck in not being able to lift any significant weight, what do you get?
A chubby belly with skinny arms and legs.
This, of course, again perpetuated the despondency, so created a cycle.
Here’s one of those pictures that should never have seen the light of day! (I apologise in advance…)
As a trainer, I don’t like to post pictures like this for obvious reasons, but this is what happens when I can’t train for any period of time and the bad voices get the better of me.
Deep breath, and here goes:
As it happens though, I’m incredibly lucky in my career. On any given day I’ll come into contact with around 40-50 members of my fitness family either in Bootcamp or Personal Training sessions, and I’ll spend the whole day seeing them pouring blood, sweat, and tears into improving themselves.
I’ll hear about and see their successes, big and small.
- Losing 2 stone and finally buying new workout gear
- Being told in amazement how toned they are by the person doing their spray tan
- Walking up a hill that used to be a real struggle like they’re standing on an escalator
- Shaving 5 minutes off their Half Marathon PB
- Being 3 months off of the fags
- Weighing what they haven’t weighed since they were a teenager
- Getting back into their wedding dress 25 years later
- Having to take 3 inches off of the wedding dress they’re going to be wearing less than a month from now…
I’ll hear at least 20 personal victories every single day, and ultimately, the positivity around me and that I was reflecting back to them on the surface won out. We’re such a tight-knit community that even if you’re not outwardly asking for help, you can’t help but be lifted and carried in that kind of environment. The energy and support in the studio is amazing.
And the fact is, just by seeing this every day, by the time I could train seriously again, I was chomping at the bit!
So over the months leading up, while I was battling my personal demons, I was working with my physio Matt from Physical Revolution, Worthing Physiotherapy and Sports Performance Specialists, to not only rehabilitate, but I was also using that time to re-learn my body from scratch.
Over the wasted time that I was bounced around the NHS, put on pain killer after muscle relaxant, I saw several physios.
Matt didn’t make me do un-weighted Knee Extensions (straightening and bending my leg) then send me on my way and discharge me after two or three weeks of no improvement like most of the other guys. He thoroughly looked into what was causing the initial pain, worked on the necessary manipulations, and then we trained together for months to work on all the underlying muscle imbalances that were causing my back problems.
No screwing about. This was proper, in depth, physio.
If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you’ll also know I don’t just highly recommend Matt, after working with him on my own back problems for several months, I staked my career on how good he is and joined Physical Revolution in opening our Body Transformation and Physiotherapy studio.
As I said, I had to re-learn my body from scratch. I couldn’t/can’t train in the way I used to.
- There’s no more slinging multiples of my bodyweight on my back and bashing out some squats.
- There’s no more loading up the barbell with what seems like the equivalent of a small hatchback and inching it up my thighs while cranking the AC/DC direct into my brain.
My training’s very different now. But I’m a big believer in focusing on what you CAN do, not what you can’t, so that’s what I do.
I do still crank the AC/DC though… (I can’t Deadlift, I’m not dead!)
I’ve ditched most of the excess wobbly stuff now, and although I do still have some work to do until I meet the standards I’ve set for myself, I’m now training regularly again, eating cleanly, and (assuming no unexpected plateaus) sticking to my plan for another 6 months to make sure I DO get there.
And since working with Matt, for the first time in what’s over 10 years now (told you I was young and stupid when I did it…) I’ve had no occasions where I’ve felt anything in my back that’s made me wince, whine, or wonder.
Here’s a pic of me now, much leaner and happier.
Sorry about the “Selfie” there, by the way. I know I’m not 12 and this isn’t MySpace, but given I wrote this last minute, I had no-one to take the pic for me! So needs must.
Most of the time, as a trainer, we do “Live the dream”, for lack of a better phrase. And by that I mean we keep ourselves at the peak of health, and as a result, are generally incredibly up-beat and have more energy than the Duracell bunny on Prozac.
And again, I don’t mind saying that because we work frickin’ hard to feel awesome, and we reap the rewards of that!
So this is an open letter for my amazing client who’s currently going through the same thing. She’s finally got off the NHS roundabout as well and is working with Matt to get back on track.
Yes, you’ll probably eat all kinds of crap you wouldn’t normally to try to make yourself feel better.
Yes, you’ll be bored out of your skull at times – particularly in the early stages.
Yes, you’ll be more frustrated than Gordon Ramsey on live TV before the watershed.
But if you’re patient, just keep putting one foot in front of the other (even if to do that right now it means putting no feet anywhere!) you’ll get to the end, get back in shape – and when you do you’ll appreciate it more than ever.
Don’t hide away. You might not be able to work out right now, but your fitness family will still be where you can always find us for support, mood boosting, shenanigans, and hilarity whether you’re working out or not.
I leave you with these two words of ultimate wisdom… Rock on.