In June of 2012 I ran a 5k after training with my learn to run group from the gym I worked at. I performed okay considering everything, took 3rd in my age group and placed 39th out of 215 people overall. I ran a 4:30/km pace for the race, which was not a PB but decent.
Four weeks later I couldn’t run for three minutes. No one has ever been able to explain what happened but my suspicion is that during a swimming race with my wife I had a mild heart attack because it knocked me for a loop for a couple of days. Then the next week I got on a treadmill and couldn’t run. Nauseous, pressure in my chest, pounding, etc.
Once I got my echocardiogram and stress test it finally got figured out. I had not only a faulty heart valve (which I had my whole life and didn’t know it) but something called a dilated aortic root. Not completely severe requiring open heart surgery, but enough to affect things. In case you’re wondering what that is, it’s a swelling at the base of my aorta, the largest artery coming from the heart. If the swelling ruptures, then I’m dead. In minutes. Gone.
So what did that mean? No working out. No increased blood pressure. No exertion. Too risky, they said.
Imagine all the things you love suddenly getting ripped away from you. All the things you do that make you feel strong and accomplished. What you do for a living.
For months I tried to grasp it and had a really hard time. Workouts fell away. No idea what I could do to help myself. I felt weak and like a loser for not being able to practice what I preached. I’d try to lift weights and have to stop after ten minutes, even mild stuff. I could walk, but jogging for more than 5 minutes made me feel awful.
And I was scared. I had a little girl on the way and now I have another. I didn’t want to leave my family alone because I was too prideful to let go of the fact I wasn’t an athlete any more. I was scared of dying. So I stopped living.
Then I found out I could walk. That was a start. Got into race walking and did a ½ marathon walking in 2:45. 18 months ago. I remember I was very emotional at the start line. I was actually wearing a holter monitor at the time just in case anything happened. I never thought I’d be able to do that again but I was okay. And maybe, just maybe that meant I could do more.
So maybe if I can do that, I can start to jog. So I did. Started with 3 minutes jog, one walk. Like a beginner. Built up, one minute at a time. 6 minutes jog, two walk. 7 minutes jog, two walk. Every step I was paranoid about what might happen. I had to tell my wife exactly where I was going in case I didn’t come back. I had to work out at my studio only if someone else was there so if I collapsed they might be able to do something. But at least I was still working.
About a year ago I finally went to a respirologist who finally decided to red line my heart and see what happened in the hospital where I was safe. My VO2 max was still above 40 and I could push 195 watts on an ergometer (for about 20 seconds). After two years of not exerting myself. And I was good – tired, but good. That gave me hope. I got on the bike at my gym religiously, building up from 20 minutes bit by bit to 45 and then starting to push power numbers. Still afraid to run, plus it was winter anyway so I wasn’t about to start. Got to 245 watts for 20 minutes, or 3.0W/kg – not bad for someone my age who hadnt worked out hard for two years.
Why am I telling you all this?
Today I ran 6k. Continuous. For the first time in three years. The final 2k was uphill. And it felt fucking amazing. When I stopped at the top of my street and walked home there were tears in my eyes and I was pumping my fist. You know why? I never thought I’d be able to do that again. And this is from a guy who has run two marathons and over a dozen half marathons.
Three. Years. Imagine someone telling you it would take that long to be able to feel strong again. To feel like you were an athlete again.
I’m going to declare right here on my blog that I have entered a 5k race in September, and you know what? I’m going to beat that time I set three years ago. I’m not just going to beat it, I’m going to crush it.
How did this happen? Careful progression. Not taking my body for granted. Listening to it and backing off when I have to. But never, ever, ever stopping. Can’t do that? Find something else you can do. Not progressing? Change things up. Try. Try. Try. And try again. Just don’t stop.
Like one of my favourite motivational speeches says, life is this game of inches.
And I know, if I’m going to have any life anymore, it is because I’m still willing to fight, and die for that inch. Because that’s what living is. And I know when I add up all those inches, that’s going to make the difference between winning and losing. Between living and dying.
Fuck you heart disease. Fuck you faulty valve. Fuck you doctors who told me I can’t.
Nothing can beat you unless you let it.
So what are you going to do?
I’ll see you in September.
Over the years, one of my clients’ frequent struggles with weight loss is the concept of a number on a scale. Unfortunately in our society we have been taught that this number means something, when really it is a function of gravity (when you come right down to it). While there are some considerations that need to be taken when you’re dealing with obese people, for those who are within a healthy body weight range the idea of how much they weigh can still be an obsession, and not a healthy one.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard “I just need to lose another five pounds.” No you don’t – you need to get into a smaller pant size or you want to look better at the beach. Or there’s another fundamental reason that you want to be thinner, smaller or have visible abdominals. I want to be more attractive. I want to have people pay more attention to me. Or, on the flipside they want to stop the negative thoughts they have running through their heads constantly about themselves..
The weight on the scale actually has little to do with it. When I’m judging fitness competitors, do you think weight has anything to do with it? One person who is the same height could weigh ten pounds more – and actually look a lot better. I have many friends who are high level performance athletes who don’t think twice about what a scale says – it’s all about how they can do the things they need to do in order to win a race or lift what they need to lift. Runners aren’t classified by weight, they are classified by speed. Fitness models and bikini girls are based on height. Even different clothing manufacturers have different sizes based on demand – you can be a size 4 in one store and a size 8 in another.
Your body changes day to day and month to month. This is a good thing, and it is based on how you move, what you put into it and even how much stress you allow yourself to experience. The good news is that these are all things you can affect easily if you simply make a decision to do so.
So my main point to people who obsess about a number on a scale is simply this: do you walk around with that tattooed on your forehead? Of course, the answer is no. And even if you did, do you really think that the people who care about you would judge you based on that number? I can only imagine a horrible society where if you drifted into the upper range of BMI you would be labelled with a red flag and your coworkers, friends and family would shun you because you are a horrible person. Some people seem to think this is going to happen to them.
This just doesn’t happen. Fundamentally, the only person that really cares about how much you weigh – is you. And you’re insecure about it because at some point in your life you decided that words from someone else or a number on a scale meant more than feeling good about yourself. Or you think that by dropping that number you’re going to look better to yourself and other people. Here’s a news flash – they don’t care. Or at least they shouldn’t, and if they do then you’re probably hanging out with the wrong people.
Your conversation with yourself about that is usually based on what you have been told by other people, some of whom are too stupid to realize that when you were a kid or an adult or they were supposed to care about you they were actually beating you down. I have a very blunt way of dealing with that: forget them. You should always be trying to improve, but in my opinion it should be for your own reasons, not one that another person gave you.
Too much today we focus on what other people think, and in a book by Dale Carnegie I read many years ago he summed it up best: Why are you letting other people decide how you are going to feel? Let’s be happy with who we are and what we have before we allow any type of words (which mean nothing) to affect our daily lives and how we feel about ourselves.
Let’s focus on the right things:
Feeling better every day.
Performing better every day.
Maybe looking better (for yourself, not someone else).
Come from a place of support for yourself.
Every day try to make yourself and the world around you a little bit better.
If you feel like it, take a picture of your scale weight and post it on your forehead for the world to see. Maybe we will start a trend so people will figure out how silly it is that they are defining themselves by a number.
I thought I’d share this story as a way to show people what real dedication can get you. I’ve had the privilege over he past eight months to work with a woman who had the ultimate motivation towards getting healthy and losing weight and wanted to see if it might inspire others like it inspired me.
Now, before I begin I realize that motivation is often a struggle for a lot of people. I often cite the scene in the movie Fight Club where a man holds a gun to another man’s head and tells him to go follow his dream or he’s going to shoot him. Motivation is the ultimate struggle for many of us when it comes to changing your lifestyle, but when you have no choice but to do something then it is pretty hard not to. This is where my client Nadia comes in.
Nadia’s mother had liver disease and needed a new liver because hers was failing. Unfortunately a transplant from someone else wasn’t likely to happen any time soon, so Nadia decided to get checked and found out she was a match. The only problem was that she was 60 pounds overweight and also had a fatty liver. So in order to save her mothers’ life, she had to lose a significant amount of weight and also get extremely healthy. The problem was that it basically needed to happen as soon as possible. Her mother’s life was at stake.
So Nadia got to work. She got my name through a referral from one of my successful clients. When she contacted me I was honestly a bit overwhelmed only because she had a very short timeline and a very big goal to reach. I was also very honored to have the chance to help her. We got to work immediately and she flew into changing her lifestyles completely. She was in the gym dedicated 5 days a week following a strict program and completely overhauled her eating habits. We put her on a carbohydrate cycling protocol, something I wouldn’t normally do with a client because it is aggressive, but this was ordinary circumstances. And the pounds and inches started to come off.
In terms of exercise, part of the problem was her losing weight and inches, but also maintaining strength for a potential surgery. We worked through a couple of phases of training from introductory strength and moving into heavier lifting, then changing into higher intensity once her joints had the strength and integrity to handle it. Her nutrition stayed spot on and the pounds came off steadily.
To make a long story short, within eight months Nadia was down 60 pounds and many many inches. In fact, the first time I did her waist measurements I was astounded only because it was down over 10 inches just in that one area alone.
Nadia busted her ass – literally. She worked incredibly hard and suffered through a lot of stress. In short, she was a complete rock star and did exactly what it took in order to get to where she needed to be. She had setbacks and pushed through them, even doing her last six weeks on bariatric shakes totaling 900 calories a day because her liver fat needed to come down faster in order to be healthy. In my fifteen years I have rarely seen this type of dedication towards a goal, and the result was obvious.
Nadia and her mother had their surgery (successfully) a couple of weeks ago and she is now recovering. She will be out of commission for a couple of months and then is looking forward to getting into maintaining her new body and hopefully doing some really cool things that she might not have been able to previously. We’re going to work on maintaining her strength and then setting new goals for her new body. She has told me that she never wants to go back to the way she was before and the good thing is, she doesn’t have to. Nobody does as long as they stay consistent.
So I’m not writing this as a big pat on the back for myself. On the contrary, Nadia did 96% of the work on her own. She planned her meals, she did the workouts (which I designed), she went through all of the ups and downs she needed to (with the occasional support email needed). In fact, she only saw me about once every few weeks to make changes and adjustments to her programs. Only towards the end when things needed to become more supervised did she see me even once a week. You don’t need to spend a lot of time with a trainer if you’re willing to put in the work on your own, as I have said many times before.
My true point with this article is about motivation. So many people get into exercise and health without having a really clear picture of what they want. Having that picture and really, really wanting to do anything that you need to in order to make it happen virtually guarantees success. Nadia had that. So ask yourself this: if it was your mother, if it was another family member or if a doctor told you that you had to make changes, would you do it? I hope that the answer is yes. Think about that the next time that you want to skip a workout, or stop what you started, or eat another really crappy meal. What if you didn’t have the choice to give up because someone else was relying on you? Well, I can tell you that someone probably is. You.
Life always comes down to choices. You can choose to do what it takes or keep on cycling through what you have always done. All you have to do is find the motivation that Nadia and countless others have found in order to completely change how you feel, look and perform on a daily basis – not only now, but years from now.
I’m very honored to have been a part of this transformation, and I’m also hoping that by writing this it inspires more of you to get up, get going and find that part of you that will never give up. Good luck with whatever fitness journey you are undertaking and if you are ever looking for help feel free to contact me.
Years ago I had a client who had torn his rotator cuff during a simple movement. The funny thing was, he didn’t even know it until he got an MRI on the area. He had come to me with some shoulder pain and I did what I do and strengthened the area, thinking he had simple tendonitis and it resolved in a few months and he went back to regular lifting.
The “holy crap” moment came when he got the results of his MRI, and his orthopedic surgeon said that he actually had a full tear in part of his rotator cuff. What the surgeon also said was that his shoulder was so perfectly strengthened to within millimeters of the tear that his shoulder could function without a problem even though he had an injury that should have required surgery.
Over the years I’ve had many examples of this type of thing within my practice. Hip replacement? Golfing within four months. Achilles tendonitis? Took four weeks. Massive spinal trauma due to getting hit by a truck twenty years prior? Resolved issues and can perform at work and home without issue. Four herniated discs? Skating and lifting things again within six months. Powerlifter with a chronic hip issue that wouldn’t allow her past parallel? Competed in provincials several months later. I had a woman come in with a diagnosed tennis elbow she had for over a year and resolved that in 40 minutes by popping it back into place. She’s still good months later. Bodybuilders who have shoulder issues? Retrained and fine after a couple of weeks.
I actually got an email a few months ago from a client with two knees that were essentially destroyed due to lack of cartilage I worked with three years ago – who said she is still walking 20 miles a week and her knees are totally fine.
Here’s the funny thing – sometimes I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I know a lot about the body and how it responds to force and how to strengthen things really effectively. This is simply a confidence issue stemming from years of bullying and neglect at home where I had to fight to prove that I was good at anything and even then got ignored so gave up a lot.
Recently though I’ve had a bit of a mind shift. I’ve taken a look at the success I have had over the years with clients of many shapes, sizes and ability levels and realized that while sometimes I keep putting myself down, I have actually affected and helped a ton of people in a very positive way when it comes to “fixing” injuries and getting people moving without a problem again. I’ve also encountered some incredibly rare conditions that I have had the luck to be able to work on and gain experience with. My brain just seems to work in line with movement and force so that I can make logical sense of things and actually get to the root of the issue.
So what’s the point of this? I guess it is a simple statement that I’ve realized that I can embrace this skill. It is something that I was meant to do. Something I’m really good at and can help people with.
Last year in a course they asked us to generate something called a “sankalpa” which is a yoga word for a simple statement that you use to focus yourself and discover your inner being. The first thing that popped into my head after thinking about it was “I am a healer”. My other inner voice pushes that away and tells me I’m not good enough, but recently I’ve been able to shift into another way of thinking finally.
So there is is: I am a healer.
The exciting thing about it is that there are still many avenues I can explore, directions I can take and methodologies I can learn in order to increase the level of skill I already have. I’ve gone down a couple of those paths, but now it is time to make it a direct focus and really get into the practice (not that I wasn’t already). It feels good to have that type of mind shift, even though it has taken a long time.
We are all on the Earth for a reason, and as much as I tried to push it away and ignore it, this is simply my calling. I’ve known it for many years but now I’m just declaring that it is time to stop that and embrace it instead. Expect to see some changes to the practice in the near future.
Got a problem? Injury? Strange condition that you want to improve? Come at me bro. Want to feel better, move better? Tried everything and nothing seems to work? Try this. And the great thing is that it can be applied to many communities from heavy lifters who tweak something to the elderly who have been living with problems for years.
With the support of my amazing family and community and clients I know that I can make some changes that will only enhance my ability to help people and make them well physically again. And with any luck help more people that recently thought that there was no help for them. Wish me luck and of course, if you know of anyone that might need help please just let me know.