You might remember my friend Simon’s inspirational story from What Every Dad Needs To Know About Getting In Shape.
In a few short months last year he went from feeling “weak and over the hill” (his words) to exceeding the strength standards for his age group.
Even better, that improved strength translated to much more fun out on the mountain, and he was enjoying his best ski season in years.
Then it happened.
While skiing deep powder out in the backcountry, Simon hit a tree at full speed.
Fortunately, he was able to maneuver his body at the last moment, which meant his skis and feet took the full force of the impact.
That probably saved his life, but his left knee ended up being smashed into pieces that required a painful bone graft, reconstructive surgery, and a month laid up in hospital.
Even worse, the doctor then told him to avoid all weight-bearing activity on that leg for three full months.
This was serious stuff as skiing and motorcycle accidents had taken their toll on Simon’s knees over the years.
The doc was clear – he’d fixed the broken knee but Simon now had to look after it.
There wouldn’t be any more second chances.
But three full months? Simon could almost feel his hard-won strength begin to dwindle away while he sat in his wheelchair.
This wouldn’t mean starting back at square one in 12 weeks’ time.
This would be more like starting at square -50.
But Simon knew that maintaining a positive mental attitude was essential if he was going to avoid getting sucked into a downward spiral of self-pity and learned helplessness.
So, from the outset he focused on two things:
1. After coming so close to disaster, it was awesome just to be alive and bounce his daughter on his (good) knee
2. To come back stronger and in even better shape than ever
As soon as he was out of hospital, he got to work.
Just Get Started
I clearly remember the day Simon hobbled into the gym on crutches, his left leg in a brace and his face filled with apprehension.
We agreed on two simple rules:
1. Anything is better than nothing
2. Let pain be your guide
That first day he did some light bench pressing, seated dumbell presses, lat pulldowns, and a few seated dumbell curls.
It was all pretty easy stuff, but he left the gym a very different man to the one that came in an hour before.
He wasn’t passive any more, he was on the offensive.
Now that’s exactly what I expected because Simon embodies the Japanese saying 七転び八起き (nana korobi, ya oki – fall down seven times, get up eight).
Back in the 90s, he lost his successful catering business to a bush fire in his native Australia.
So did he focus on “why me?” and how unfair life was? No way.
He ended up moving to Japan and created an even more successful business in a completely different field.
And that’s exactly the kind of spirit he brought to his rehab.
Instead of thinking about how he wasn’t able to ski, ride a bike, squat, deadlift or play golf he focused on what he could do.
He didn’t complain once.
And when his doctor finally OK’d weight-bearing activity, things really started to take off.
Small Increments of Progress
Once Simon was back on his feet, we focused on partial squats using a TRX suspension trainer, making sure he hit a consistent depth by using a chair as a target.
Over a few successive workouts, we gradually lowered the target (a low bench, then a box) to progressively build up to a full range of motion.
Very soon he was able to squat to depth with the TRX (as I’m doing below).
When he was able to do that, we ditched the TRX and repeated the same process doing free-standing squats with his own bodyweight.
Within 3 weeks he was able to squat below parallel with his bodyweight.
Now that may not sound like such a big deal, but to Simon it was huge.
And we didn’t leave it there.
Next we put an empty 45-lb Olympic barbell on his back and repeated the process one more time, gradually building up the range of motion.
Within a week he was squatting to correct depth with a barbell.
At this point he’d already won.
It was now just a case of:
• Keep showing up
• Keep adding small, manageable increments of weight to the bar
This is one of the reasons why the barbell is simply the best strength building tool out there.
You can both scale the weight to the ability of the individual and also increase the load by as little as ½ lb at a time.
Both are essential for making continuous and measurable long-term progress.
So, how did Simon do?
Well, instead of a nice little graph plotting his progress, check out this photograph.
To the left, sitting in a wheelchair in hospital about to eat a bowl of something green and revolting.
To the right, just before lockout of a 225-lb deadlift (the last repetition of a set of 5).
The difference? Just 24 training sessions.
And the desire to do what most people can but few ever will.
How awesome is that?
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