Sometimes situations come our way unexpectedly. People come into our lives in unforeseen ways, then those relationships might change. This week the news came that the trainer I’ve been working with is moving on. He has decided to change his career, leaving the gym in just a few weeks. Ian has been studying to get into real estate and will leap into the industry full time. Our time working together changed many things about my life. It wasn’t simply exercising in ways Ian instructed. The friendship challenged views of cerebral palsy which had been ingrained for years. He looked upon our work together from an inspirational standpoint. There didn’t appear to be any reason to work me differently than others. Cerebral palsy seemed to mean we might be required to slow things down, but not take a different path. We began by working out in ways unfamiliar to my experience. But, over the last two and a half years, the path Ian took me down has become clearer. Most everything with cerebral palsy is more difficult and exercise is no different. One of the largest hurdles Ian might have been facing was mental. My ability to believe, even with cerebral palsy, improving movements could be executed.
Our process seemed to begin slowly. Not only did my perceptions need work, adding strength was going to be gradual. The interesting thing was, never did our work outs cause feelings of weakness. We began by using very little weight or no weight at all. The movements felt simple to start, but were building muscles not previously strengthened. Most of us seemingly walk into the gym and work on movements we are familiar with. Those exercises might include the bench-press or squats. Maybe we move onto working with dumbbells by curling or performing a shoulder-press. Cerebral palsy might have forced us to work differently. Beginning our journey by breaking down movements into their simple form. We performed our first deadlift by lifting a 35-pound kettlebell. The squatting motion was introduced using no weight at all. Our first shoulder-press was done with a green band and push-ups were done using an elevated platform for support. Those are just a few examples of the simplicity with which we had to start. But, luckily neither of us were of the mind to give up.
The gym had always provided a similar experience. Cerebral palsy made it challenging to truly get stronger, but endurance was one point of strength. Working for longer periods of time with less weight kept me working out. So, people from past experiences had often worked with me on endurance exercise. Having me improve on things that came more simply to my body. However, from the beginning it was clear Ian wasn’t going to settle for just working on things I did well. He seemed to believe my body was much more capable than it was being given credit for. With the correct strategy for training from the outset, muscular strength wouldn’t be out of reach. The caveat would be taking a slow and deliberate approach. His education in exercise science gave him the tools to understand more than just training. Ian had come out of college, starting down the path of becoming a physical therapist. It gave him the passion for helping people rehab injuries and my cerebral palsy was prime for improvement.
We seemed to work from the physical therapy point of view to begin. Working out with less weight maintained our focus on refining movement. It placed our focus on specific movements before strength. The first session we spent was taken up with learning new ways to stretch. Increasing flexibility turned into our primary focus for months. Cerebral palsy was limiting my ability to simply move. Before moving into squatting and deadlifting with bars, my hip flexibility needed improvement. One of exercises since beginning with Ian has been lunging. The lunge seems essential in opening hip mobility and for almost three years, lunging has been part of most weeks. Another hip mobility exercise that has been a staple to our routines are step-ups. My step-ups began onto a small platform and have increased in height over time. We have added weight to both the step-up and lunge as hip mobility and stability improves. However, it didn’t happen overnight, taking months for my form to warrant moving into squatting and deadlifting with weight. The small tedious steps we began with eventually lead to strength, balance, and power that I didn’t think possible.
As our work progressed my thought process inside the gym needed to change. It didn’t seem possible for me to get stronger. Each time more weight was added to the movement it caused apprehension. Many times, it was difficult to believe I could lift the weight being given. My question to Ian became comical in asking if he was sure it could be done. With cerebral palsy, there has always been fear of injury. Lifting weight beyond capability can cause injury, which could end up setting our training back. Who would be able to predict the time it could take to recover from injury. That fear of getting hurt due to weakness has always caused caution. However, Ian understood more about my capability than he was given credit. He has never set up something that couldn’t be handled. As our work together continued, I began slowly trusting him as the trainer. He believed in my ability and knew when to push me further. Ian’s favorite thing to say when I looked at something questioning myself was, “there’s only one way to find out.” It challenged me to not only try, but have some faith in his ability. That ability as a trainer turned out to be exceptional.
The relationship between client and trainer is an important one. Ian and I seemed to click from the beginning, having more things in common than expected. I remember being apprehensive about starting over with a new trainer. The previous trainer had been working with me for seven years. But, that partnership didn’t seem to be moving me to the next level. Taking the step into a new direction was risky and my primary concern was over someone understanding cerebral palsy. Luckily, Ian had education and years of experience around weight rooms to give him experience. He let me know during our first conversation that he had knowledge about cerebral palsy. It began providing confidence inside me that we would move in a positive direction. Over the time, we’ve worked together, Ian has only gained my trust with each passing workout. His belief in our capability as a team has given me belief that my battle with cerebral palsy could be improved. There have been workouts where I didn’t feel good, or flat out didn’t want to be at the gym. But, the bigger part of me didn’t want to let him down, or us down as a team taking on this disability. Our friendship has truly been built slowly around our trust and belief in each other. We really couldn’t have accomplished all we have without one another.
Looking through the numbers since beginning our work together tells our story. Even with the feeling of being stronger, the actual numbers help signify our accomplishment. Every workout has gone up significantly since Ian and I started. Our deadlifting is probably the best illustration of gains during our three years. After looking at the records kept by Ian during each training session there has been much progress. In the beginning deadlifting was done with a 35-pound kettlebell supported by a box. The kettlebell was set on this box because I didn’t have the hip flexibility to lift it from the ground. Today we use a trap bar to do deadlifting. During our workout, the other day we reached a new personal best. At 220 pounds I was able to lift the trap bar three times. In almost three years of work, my ability to deadlift has gone up almost 200 pounds. When I walked in the gym three years ago, a deadlift was something I had seen done. But, it never seemed like a movement I could execute. Everything Ian has worked with me on has produced significant gains. It has been a slow process, but cerebral palsy hasn’t stopped us from building strength. Throughout the years, he has convinced me that CP doesn’t have to win. It just goes to show, if you have patience and diligence, most things can be improved.
Ian had me believing anything was possible from our first meeting. As he increased the difficulty, making me question my ability, he gained my trust. Each time I thought something wasn’t possible, it turned out to be possible. Ian believed I could get stronger even with cerebral palsy holding me back. Working with me seemed to be an exciting opportunity and Ian never backed off the goal of more strength. Each time we went to work the goal was to lift heavy things. That was the question he would ask most days before we began. First how was I feeling, then am I ready to lift heavy things. Because, he felt, CP or not, that’s what we do in the gym. As my training days with Ian come to a close in the next month, I’ll be placed under the tutelage of one of his buddies. My trust in Ian allows me to feel he is leaving me in good hands. I wish Ian the best as he moves into real estate and will always be thankful for his presence in my life. He looked beyond my disability to someone more capable than I thought. Ian didn’t care that I had cerebral palsy, it wasn’t going to stop us, we lifted heavy things.