“It’s easy for you to be fit and healthy, you’re a personal trainer!” Erm, not so much. I often hear this statement used by my clients who believe that being fit comes easier to fitness professionals. However, let me just explain my reality and how I became a personal trainer and therapist in the first place.
In a nutshell, it all happened as a result of me trying to resolve my own injuries and imperfections, but let’s start from the beginning – my right ankle.
When I was a young boy I was (apparently) a promising goalkeeper at one of my local football clubs and had the potential for a career as a footballer. Unfortunately this dream was cut short as a result of a cycling accident. I had been riding around my neighbourhood and fell from my bike, spraining my ankle. It was pretty painful, but after a quick visit to A&E it had seemed to be on the mend, or so I thought. After two weeks in a cast the pain was unbearable. I was in tears and it felt as though the cast had been shrinking, squashing my ankle. My dad decided to take the cast off to release the pressure and then take me to the hospital. To our horror, my ankle was now yellow and had swelled to be three times the size of my other one. We went off in a panic to the hospital where the doctors took me straight into theater to operate as it transpired that my ankle had started to rot and had turned into a huge abscess. As a result I had to spend two months over the summer holidays in hospital following the removal of over a glass of rotten fluid and some fragments of my ankle bones. Along with parts of my ankle, my hopes of becoming a footballer had been taken away from me.
To this day the consequences of this accident still give me problems. My right ankle is weaker and less mobile than my left and the lack of stability of the ankle joint forces my calf muscle to compensate, causing me stiffness in my lower leg as well as knee pain.
Moving onto my shoulders… When I was 15 I developed an interest in weight training. All of my friends had started building muscles and so I too dreamt of becoming a body builder. Being a teenager it is natural to be rebellious and alas I was no different. So when the gym instructor said to start training with smaller weights we were all of the opinion that this was just a waste of time, after all, we wanted to be big and strong now! So instead we went for the maximum weights that we could lift. This approach worked very well – until a few years later. Over these initial few years my strength grew significantly and whilst I only weighed 55kg I could bench press 105kg. In hindsight I now realise that I really should have stuck with small weights as to this day if I try and perform a bench press with a significant weight my shoulders just say “no!” and I get a pain that feels like someone is trying to rip my arms off. I still enjoy weight training today, but I now train with moderate weights and have switched to functional training with kettlebells, which reduces the pains and aches in my shoulders.
Then there is my beloved left knee. During my time training at the gym I discovered my biggest passion, Karate, which I am still actively engage in both training and teaching. As young students we did not have much understanding of body mechanics and how to train smart, all we wanted to do was to train hard and nonstop. This resulted in me pulling one of my tendons (ACL) in my left knee. After consultation with a doctor he suggested I have an operation to fix it. Given my previous ankle operation experience I was less than keen with this approach and so decided to seek opinions from a variety of other doctors. I came across a sports doctor who advised me to keep walking for as long as I can on the knee as it is and to avoid the operation. That was 14 years ago. I still have problems with my knee, but I have created my own strength programme and mobility workout that helps me get along and enjoy a largely pain free walking existence. Although occasionally I take a wrong step and my knee just collapses, taking the rest of my body with it. These situations make me focus more on the postural aspects of my training.
Lower back pain, yet another issue. At a similar time to when I damaged my knee I started to experience lower back pain. Going back to the doctors again I was faced with a now familiar story – we need to operate as we have diagnosed that you have narrow nerve channels in your lower back. I was like “what?” There was no way I was going to risk my ability to walk to get rid of this pain. I would rather be in pain than bed bound. After many visits to different doctors it turned out that there was a simple solution to my problem, which maddens me even now to think that so many doctors were so keen to operate! One of the doctors I saw simply looked at my gait and told me to invest in a good pair of shoes that will stabilise my ankle and hold me upright. Et voilà! After buying a decent pair of shoes my lower back pain eased off.
Finally there is my upper back problems. Being an experienced martial artist I decided to broaden my skillset and joined a Wrestling club, which I still visit whenever I can. Wrestling is full of acrobatics, which is awesome when it goes right… However, with me being confident that I was invincible and could perform any stunt I decided to prematurely try to perform a back flip without assistance. I had been warned that I might get hurt as I was too inexperienced, but I knew better so I tried anyway. I failed big time! I landed on my head and it felt like my spine had been crunched and was falling apart. When I got up I had troubles with breathing, lifting my arms up and moving my head. It felt like I had been interrogated by a medieval inquisition. Surely someone had just put a metal band around my chest with two spikes pointing at me and had started to tighten it! Another visit to the doctors, but following an x-ray that did not show up anything I was told to rest for a few days, take some pain killers and all will be fine. Well, all was not fine and I spent seven years in pain whilst doctors told me to get used to it as there was nothing wrong with me. Nothing wrong? I could barely move my arms above the height of my shoulders, how could this be normal? I had lost hope that I would ever have this issue fixed, but by chance I met a martial artist, who is now a close friend, who used his Chinese massage therapy on me and within a week the pain was gone. I was so grateful and so intrigued by his methods that I decided to become a Therapist and to help others like me who are being told to just get used to the pain.
All of these injuries and experiences have led me down the path of becoming a Personal Trainer and Therapist, not in the search for riches, but in a search for self-help. Through my experience I feel driven to help others and can empathise with what my clients are going through. It is not always easy to find a fix. My battle with my own body has been ongoing for more than 30 years now and along the way I have tried a range of conventional and nonconventional methods and am able to appreciate what has and has not worked for me.
It is easy to assume that people who are currently fit are able to achieve/maintain this state easily, but you never know what their story is. It is very difficult for me to keep motivated to do workouts and mobility drills and present a cheerful character at all times, but whenever I slack and slow down my body starts to fall apart. That is quite a good motivator for me to continue to study and complete my workouts.
Best wishes from a self-fixing Personal Trainer and Therapist.