What does a one-legged man do at the gym? Anything he wants.
Five months post leg amputation and I am in the best state of mind and physical shape that I have been in for a very long time. I have achieved this through vigorous exercise that has built muscle, improved my balance, given me confidence in my physical abilities, given me an incredible sense of pride and a healthy state of mind. My time and efforts in the gym have made the challenges of daily life as an amputee significantly easier. It has not only given my body the strength necessary, but it also has trained my body to compensate for the missing leg. I am a one-legged machine and there is no stopping me.
A few weeks ago I showed up for my weekly training session with my trainer. Sitting on the floor inserting my foot into the cradle of the TRX Trainer, my eye is diverted to a low platform used for box jumps. So I say to Holly my trainer, “Someday I want to do a box jump.” Honestly, as a one-legged man I didn’t really know if it would be possible; after all, just standing balanced on one leg has challenged me many times. Holly is one of the most positive individuals I have ever known. She never allows me slack due to having one leg and she has pushed and supported me physically from my first training session. So of course, Holly responds, “Let’s try one now.” Within minutes I am doing a box jump. One successful box jump later and Holly’s planned pyramid workout turned into an hour of box jumping. The more I jumped, the more adrenaline I had and the higher I wanted the box.
Mastering a box jump with two legs is tough, but with only one leg is quite a feat. Did I really think I would actually even do one box jump? No, not at all, but once I was standing in front of that platform I knew I wasn’t leaving that gym without accomplishing at least one small box jump. That first box jump changed how I perceive myself and my physical abilities, not only as an amputee but as a person.
A month shy of fifty years old and after becoming an amputee, I finally realize I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to. At that moment all I wanted was to leap up onto that platform and I wasn’t accepting I couldn’t do it.
Jumping up onto that platform didn’t happen overnight. I am not suggesting that everyone grabs a box, leaps on it and they are physically and mentally forever changed. I have worked extremely hard from the hours after I awoke from surgery to get to that box jump. It started with forcing myself up onto my crutches the very next morning, putting hours of work each day into beating the phantom pain, forcing myself to do things independently when I desperately wanted them done for me, to never taking the easy way out at the gym.
It wasn’t the box jump, it was the power that exercise and pushing my physical limits has that made the difference.
We all know that exercise is associated with weight loss and better physical health. The problem is just knowing that isn’t going to necessarily get us to the gym. The best motivator comes from the psychological benefits physical activity has.
The following is a list of psychological benefits that regular exercise can produce.
Pride in physical accomplishments
Increased satisfaction with oneself
Improved body image
Increased feelings of energy
Improved confidence in physical abilities
Decreased symptoms of depression
This list is from the Association For Applied Sport Psychology website. http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/resource-center/health-fitness- resources/psychological-benefits-of-exercise/
When we spend a large portion of our days sitting, all the benefits on that list are lost. We become lazy, fatigued and our daily functions become strenuous. This can then cause unhappiness and poor health. For me pushing myself physically has made my daily life so much better and has given me every single one of those psychological benefits on that list. That’s what keeps me exercising, the incredible way I feel from the results. If I am having a crappy day or feeling down, I head for the gym and put myself through a strenuous workout. I leave the gym with sweat pouring off me, my heart rate elevated and exhausted, but at the same time I feel exhilarated and like a new man. You most certainly don’t need to be an amputee to benefit from exercise. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your physical capabilities are, the beauty of exercise is it can be adapted to any age, disability or physical condition. What matters is that you find what works for you and get out and start.
Here is how it works.
To realize the psychological benefits is going to take some work. You need to do sustained exercise a minim of three times a week. Your exercise regime should start slow at your physical level and build to where you are doing high-intensity workouts. High-intensity will depend on your current physical being; it is anything that causes rapid breathing and an increase in heart rate. If you don’t have an increase in heart rate and you don’t feel the pain, you are not getting the benefit and not seeing or feeling positive results. If your body feels like you worked it hard the next day then you are reaping the rewards.
You will also need to choose a physical goal to achieve. Once again, depending on where you are physically the goal can start out small. It could be mastering a sit-ups, running a quarter mile on the treadmill, holding a plank for 20 seconds or a small box jump. What is important is that you work to meet the goal and then challenge yourself to a new, more difficult goal.
The following four things that happen with regular sustained vigorous exercising will get you hooked.
- Exercises builds muscle strength, boosts endurance and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. By adding regular physical activity into your daily routine you will make your daily living much easier.
- Our bodies have something called endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that reduce pain and affect our mood. Physical activity stimulates these chemicals and can make you happier and more relaxed.
- Exercise is an antidepressant. Research has shown that exercise can stimulate the growth of neurons in the brain that depression damages. Doing sustained vigorous exercises three times a week can actually work as effectively as taking antidepressants.
- You need to feel the high. High-intensity exercise can leave you on a natural high better than any drug you could ever take. If you are willing to push yourself in a high-intensity workout or push the limits to accomplish higher physical goals, you will leave the gym feeling amazing. It is then that you start to feel euphoric and exercise becomes addictive.
The box jump gave me the high, which then gave me the physical confidence to push even harder. That weekend, on the ski slopes, I pushed myself from the intermediate trials to the expert trails. In the gym I pushed myself to a higher box and more challenging tasks. In my daily life I pushed to continue to become completely independent with one leg. The more I push in the gym, the less challenged my life as a leg amputee becomes.
My body has become a one-legged machine, one without limits. It didn’t start with the box jump. It began the morning after the amputation and with smaller goals that built as I felt the natural high in successfully meeting each goal. The high came from refusing the wheelchair and mastering walking independently down the halls of the hospital on my crutches. The next high came from reaping the benefits of the sustained physical work that allowed me to beat the phantom pain. Then the high came from giving my all at the gym and not only mastering TRX with one leg, but becoming a qualified TRX trainer. Another high came from mastering skiing on one leg when it seemed too exhausting and too painful to do. The box jump was just the defining moment when I realized that I am capable of doing anything I want.
No matter your age, disability, weight or current physical ability, give up the excuses and find a way to start. The best way to begin is to find a good trainer. Your trainer needs to be able to push your limits safely. If your trainer isn’t challenging you, they aren’t doing their job. As Holly says, “If you don’t have a love-hate relationship with your trainer, it’s all wrong”!!
You too can feel the exercise high. No excuses – go find the box-jump in you!
Before starting any exercise program check with your doctor first.
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