It sounds like the beginning of a game we played as kids at recess. But, as the training sessions with Bernard have progressed, these three areas have been a focus. With Bernard’s son having been in physical therapy recently, he has picked up a few things. As his son goes through the process of development with CP, Bernard pays close attention to the doctors. The exciting thing about being his client has been the knowledge he has accumulated. Bernard has been integrating physical therapy concepts into our workouts. He continues gaining ideas to help with all the clients he works with, making things more interesting. I’ve been learning things about cerebral palsy during each session. We not only focus on the health of these three joints, but also focus on using cables and dumbbells during our workouts. In attempting to turn our focus away from using machines, we seem to increase free movement. It’s designed to help stability in any situation, but especially in unstable places, like going on a hike. Uneven ground can be challenging to navigate. One of his goals as we began our work, was building my strength and balance to hike without trouble. This increased balance will also help with my game of golf, which has always been a focus. So, after a few weeks, our process and goals have been taking shape.
Flexibility has also been challenging with cerebral palsy stiffening my body. It has often been difficult to understand why things feel better, when they do. During those times of relief from the tension of cerebral palsy, my brain has always been trying to understand how it’s happening. Through the years playing golf has often resulted in my body feeling better, therefore improving my emotional state. Consistent running has also proven itself to help loosen my body and help ease the mind. Well, in discussing the human body with Bernard, the relief found in these activities began making sense. It becomes important in someone with cerebral palsy to keep the hips, knees, and shoulders moving as freely as possible. The most crucial of those three joints has been the hips. If the hips are being kept loose and flexible, the flexibility of the other two joints becomes easier. In thinking about the golf swing, the movement requires flexibility through your hips. The swing requires the hips to rotate and create the base of a golfer’s swing. This movement stretches the hips and keeps them loose, which only improves cerebral palsy rigidity.
Another activity that has seemed to help my flexibility has been running. Spending time on the treadmill each week does more than loosen hip movement. The running also requires balance on the rotating belt of a treadmill. The surface of the treadmill is elevated slightly and away I go. With the effort required to run, the endurance isn’t there for me to run far, only between half a mile and a mile each time. But, as the running continues, hopefully the strength and balance will build to run further. Running seems to help loosen more than simply my hips. The exercise also helps flexibility in my knees and requires focus on my shoulders, trying to keep them square. It also feels as if running helps emotional stress unlike other forms of exercise. The exhaustion seems to clear the mind, while the difficulty leaves a strong feeling of accomplishment. It was something that seemed important to help increase the flexibility and balance in my body.
When beginning to work with a trainer about ten years ago, I would have never dreamed of getting onto a treadmill, even to walk. The uncontrolled spinning of the surface seemed way too daunting for my lack of balance. However, after spending years gaining balance through strength, the treadmill became less fear inducing. Working on one began with walking, then walking while holding weight, then finally I began jogging. It gave me a sense of freedom from cerebral palsy upon realizing running on the treadmill was possible. That freedom possibly coming from the thought of how much running could help improve my disability. As the running progressed, things with my body showed improvement. Running has been a great way of helping weight loss, which removes extra stress placed on my joints. My balance also improves with the requirement of thinking about foot placement and keeping my legs moving independently. The motion helps keep my hips, knees, and shoulders from becoming too rigid. It also keeps me in shape and accomplishing something I couldn’t do before beginning working out.
Along with playing golf and running, we continue adding things to help flexibility. One of the ideas the new trainer has are agility drills. Bernard sets up small hurdles for me, calling it the Pete obstacle course. It didn’t dawn on me until recently how valuable these hurdles will become for balance and flexibility. Each day of working on this obstacle course, Bernard changes the distance between each hurdle. As the weeks pass by, he brings them closer and closer together. The first time moving through the hurdles required simply walking over them. They were spaced about two feet apart, according to Bernard’s two feet. He wanted me to gain the timing of lifting the opposite hand of the leg I was moving and work through the hurdles with smooth movements. Once those two things were accomplished, it was time to move over them with a light jog. Then he had me move through the hurdles laterally, one foot over, then the next, bringing my feet together between each hurdle. After that was achieved, it was on to adding speed while moving laterally. Each time we work on these hurdles they are placed closer together, adding to the challenge. This obstacle course helps cerebral palsy improve with the movement it requires.
As the obstacle course becomes more challenging, the body begins improvement. Being able to navigate hurdles forward and from the side, requires different things. Something that cerebral palsy has often made difficult has been space relations. Cerebral palsy seems to hinder understanding of my body relating to space. So, reaching for an object, being required to step onto a specific spot, or balance my body into a specific location, all cause trouble. The work on the hurdles helps improve each of these tasks. We refer to it as turning on all the lights in the brain when working my body from multiple angles. As walking through the course begins feeling natural, we speed up the pace. While adding quickness to our pace, the body has to respond more quickly. The timing and foot placement become more complex when they need to happen faster. It also places further pressure on making sure my body position holds steady to maintain balance. All these challenges inside the gym make life outside the gym easier to live. It can seem to be more of a test with cerebral palsy to control body movements in space. These hurdles help improve the control over my body by requiring it to make quick, purposeful movements.
All the work we do usually results in one thing, feeling better. The pleasant surprise has been the depth of knowledge Bernard has gathered. His son seems to have heightened his curiosity about cerebral palsy and how to help people with the disability. Bernard’s knowledge will also only help his son as he navigates the challenges cerebral palsy presents. For me, it’s helping me understand and make sense of things I didn’t before. The knowledge from Bernard also helps me realize those things to concentrate on, allowing my life to become easier. Our conversation about my hips, knees, and shoulders brought things into perspective. My passion over some of the activities in my life began making sense. They were exercising and loosening those most important areas. The most important being my hips to help even the most basic exercise of walking, which can cause difficulty at times. So, with this new knowledge my focus becomes firmer working those activities. Continuing to play golf has been easy, but running can become discouraging. However, with this knowledge it seems important to keep trying. No matter what the challenge, it’s important to find the tools to improve, and keep trying.