This copy is for your personal non-commercial use only. To order presentation-ready copies of Toronto Star content for distribution to colleagues, clients or customers, or inquire about permissions/licensing, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com
As a personal trainer/medical exercise specialist, I regularly work with clients who fall into more than one category with needs that demand completely different approaches over time.
Currently, I’m working with a client like that. Her name is Penny O’Neill and I’ve known her for about 15 years. When we first met, she was attending my 5:30 a.m. outdoor Adventure Boot Camp. As the “boot camp” name implies, it was a hard-core workout that included all kinds of intense training modalities like hill running, weight training, skipping and “Battle Rope” workouts.
When I shut the boot camp down after eight years, I hadn’t heard from Penny until this past year. She had been following me on social media and thought that I might be able to help her get back into shape. Like many people, the COVID lockdown measures had an impact on her exercise program.
As a result, she became sedentary and didn’t feel accountable to anyone. Penny had also had a hip replacement since I last worked with her, her knees were hurting from years of playing soccer, she had shoulder pain that was keeping her up at night and also carpal tunnel syndrome in both of her hands. In other words, Penny was dealing with a lot of physical challenges that were not helped by becoming less active.
Although she told me about her pain and discomfort and how she wasn’t sleeping through the night, the thing that was really bothering Penny was that she was losing her ability to participate in a variety of sports and activities that she loved.
As mentioned above, she was a long-time soccer player, but, she also practices “agility” training with her dog; obstacle course racing for dogs where the owners run alongside the different obstacles to keep their pets engaged.
More recently, Penny has started playing Pickleball and found that she really enjoys it and would like to become a more proficient player. Additionally, she is an avid traveller who loves active vacations that involve hiking and exploring terrain that can be somewhat challenging.
For clients like Penny, it’s important to make a list of priorities when getting started. Many people “freeze” when dealing with their injuries and/or chronic conditions as they simply don’t know where or how to get started and I wanted Penny to have some focus for the first phase or her re-entry to fitness training.
The hierarchy of needs that we developed for her is as follows:
1- Develop a progressive exercise routine to help minimize shoulder pain at night to help with sleep.
2- Strengthen the muscles of the back of the body to help develop better posture while building more core stability.
3- Increase lower body stability and strength; specifically around the knees and hips.
4- Incorporate movements into the fitness routines to simulate specific activities and sports. An example of this would be to lunge and reach as one might do in a game of Pickleball.
In the eight months that we’ve now been working together (virtually once per week with homework assignments) Penny has been able to consistently work toward her different goals.
Her first significant achievement was after the first month when she reported that she was waking up less at night and that she was having less overall pain and, specifically, less shoulder pain.
We had incorporated stretching and strengthening moves for her rotator cuffs and upper back into her routine which seemed to be working. After the first few weeks, we also added exercises that targeted her hips and legs and began developing more aggressive, circuit style workouts to mimic the demands of the game of Pickleball.
As Penny’s workouts became more challenging there were a few set backs where she experienced flare-ups, but, she never stopped training and we simply adjusted our approach to allow for more recovery before moving forward again.
As I reviewed my notes for this article, there were times where she told me of having “no pain at all” and other times when specific joints “hurt.” The fact that she has continued in a progressive way without stopping speaks to the value of consistency for long-term improvement.
Even though Penny does have times where her pain and discomfort return, she is always able to adjust and to enjoy the added strength and endurance that have come from the last 8 months of workouts.
At the end of 2022, Penny travelled to Taiwan to visit her son who was living and working there. The trip involved a direct 15-1/2 hour flight (plus two additional hours on the tarmac) and included touring by foot up mountains and across challenging, uneven terrain.
In preparation, we designed a plan for her to do on the flight to stay limber and pain-free as an adjunct to her regular sessions and when she arrived, she was happy to be able to tour the exotic country without any trouble while enjoying a great family visit.
Copyright owned or licensed by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or distribution of this content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited and/or its licensors. To order copies of Toronto Star articles, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com