physically disabledUncategorized

Going to the gym as a physically disabled person

My right leg is roughly three centimetres shorter than the left one, my spine is curbed the wrong way and my right femur head is missing.

Numerous doctors have said that I would never move or walk, but I still go to the gym five days a week, cycle six days a week and swim once a week.

The red lines are an improvisation for how my right hip looks (although in reality is a bit worse). I will, at some point, upload an actual X-ray.

A bit about how I got fucked up…

Just days after I was born, like with most babies, various vaccines were being administered into my body. In my case however the needle through which the serums were injected was not clean – it was rusted.

Oups!

This accident turned into a serious infection that literally ate the right femur head, put me into a comma (during which the oxygen flow to the incubator was cut, causing intracranial bleeding) and eventually had me in a gyps cast for months.

I don’t remember much but I heard it wasn’t fun.

The doctors that oversaw my case agreed unanimously that the above mix of healthcare issues was fatal or pretty close to it.

Fast forward eighteen years from then, to 2010 and almost everything the doctors predicted turned out wrong. According to them, I wasn’t supposed to walk, let alone to do any sport – lol. That year I started going to the gym and have been doing so ever since.

Below I want to share with you my approach to fitness, the challenges I’ve encountered and how I’ve been overcoming them. Hopefully, this will provide the encouragement some of you may need to start or continue your fitness journey.

Key exercises that I can never do

There are a number of important exercises that I cannot perform. These include:

  • Running (for more than a few minutes)
  • Jogging (for more than a few minutes)
  • Skipping the rope (for more than a few minutes)
  • Walking (over 2 hours)
  • Climbing (mountains or stairs for longer than 30 minutes)
  • Standing calf raises
  • Leg presses
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifting (any type of deadlift)
  • Squatting (any type of squat)

Every other exercise, be it performed standing up or laying on a bench, has been negatively impacted by the physical disabilities mentioned above.

For example, I have a hard time stabilising my body when doing bicep barbell curls or when doing chest presses on the bench or when lifting the weight during a military shoulder press – I cannot push my bodyweight into the ground through both my feet; my right foot, specifically the right heel, is always numb and unreliable to carry more weight on it.

When I put too much pressure on my right leg, it starts to shake (like a vibrator). When that happens I either drop the weight or change the exercise.

I also have to wear 3 cm insoles in every Converse (the only gym shoes I can wear), which makes it feel like lifting on soft heels.

I cannot fully rotate to the right because my spine, hip and underdeveloped sciatic muscle on the right side doesn’t allow me to.

These issues also affect how many hanging leg raises I can do at once – my lower abdominals do not get tired after 15 repetitions, but my right-side sciatic muscle does. Similarly, when I swim, my right leg gets tired faster than the other one.

All of this means lower intensity and more sets, resulting in longer time in the gym or in the pool.

These are some of the barriers. There are others, all very annoying – but not insurmountable.

Working around the barriers

Because I cannot do two of the most important compound movements for building muscle and strength – deadlifting and squatting – I have to make sure that everything else that I do is to the best of my abilities that day.

When training legs, which would be the obvious body part that would be harder to exercise given my physical condition, I focus on doing as many exercises, with correct form as I can. These include:

  • Leg extensions (between 100 – 120 repetitions, or 10 – 12 sets of ten)
  • Leg curls (between 50 – 60 repetitions, or 5- 6 of ten)
  • Sitting calf raises (100 repetitions, or 10 sets of ten)
  • Adductors, but with very limited range (30 repetitions, or 3 sets of ten)
  • Cycling (45-60 minutes)
  • Stretching (10 minutes)

This is the best workout rotation that works for my legs, lower back and spine. Is not perfect – obviously – but it is a way of working around the barriers because I get as close as possible of a full leg workout. I will talk about my training routine in more details in future blogs.

Finding a way to work with your body instead of against it has also meant overcoming psychological barriers.

One that has been a personal challenge for me is to accept that there is a limit of how much muscle and how much strength I can develop, a limit that is far below the one imposed by nature.

I realised that it is very easy to make and believe excuses. We can justify anything that we do. Sitting idle on the bed instead of putting my body in motion to release stress, clear my mind and recharge can be easily justified. But then you’d miss on this top-notch blog.

Sport as meditation

My “why” for going to the gym, swimming and cycling is not primarily related to looking a certain way or pleasing an aesthetic standard of beauty – these are on the list, for sure, but not as the top three.

Firstly, I do sports because, for me, it is akin to meditation.

You probably heard that in the gym you shouldn’t just move weights. Instead, you should focus on the correct muscles when performing a particular exercise. There is a deeper level to this focus.

After I managed to get my mind inside the muscle and execute the full-range of a specific contraction, I detach myself from the surroundings and enter my own world – all the goals that I have, big and small, I visualise them throughout my workout.

Secondly, I do sports because they instil discipline. Commitment to short-term and long-term goals can be sustained only if we are disciplined to follow through with our plans and ideas.

We need to put action behind our words, otherwise, no matter how full of emotion they are, without actions backing them, words are lies.

This mindset can help you in all sorts of ventures in life, not just in the gym. It requires discipline to build a career, to develop a skill set, to become a better person.

Finally, doing sports ensures a certain lifestyle. Once you get into a routine to exercise daily, your body and mind change – it’s easier to eat right, sleep well and think clearly.

Physical exercise brings balance into our lives.

Sometimes, our visions won’t come true, our plans won’t go as intended, and our goals may be pushed into the future for an unknown period of time.

The gym and sports in general help me keep going even when there is nothing to keep going for. It provides something to do while waiting patiently for the Universe to open up another door.

Nutrition

For the past ten years, I’ve tried all the big diets out there – from fasting for 12 to 24 hours to eating multiple small meals a day, and most of the combinations in between.

For me, what is important is to stay lean and functional. I am 80 kgs, 183 centimetres and oscillate between 10-13% bodyfat for most of the year.

There will be weeks when I dip below 10% or go higher than 13%, but I always come back within this range. It’s where I feel the best: I can focus on my writing, perform well in the gym, swim in weekends and do cardio 5 – 6 times a week.

In terms of what I actually eat, I found that my body deals well with low carbohydrate intake, reasonably high protein an adequate fats. Carbs in the morning, after exercise, and then throughout the day, three to four meals of high protein and adequate fats. I keep my protein sources as lean as possible as I typically have avocado, nuts or organic, full fat, yogurt with them.

However, what I eat changes with the season. In summer months, I eat a lot more vegetables than in winter, for example.

The key for me is to listen to what my body needs – cravings, if used properly, can indicate if your body is missing an important element, such as a vitamin.

To illustrate this: when I crave oranges, my body tells me that it either misses vitamin C, so I get some lemons instead (lower sugar), or I want my room to smell like Christmas. It is usually the former.

I do not go by exact measurements. I used to, and it was a good learning curve, but now I know the quantities that would be enough for my body to stay the way it is just by looking at the food in front of me. It iss not scientific, but it works for me.

However you approach nutrition, make sure that it works for you.

It’s all about harmony

In the end, doing sports is about harmony.

My body reflects my mind and heart.

To calm my emotions and thoughts and understand where I am going in life, I need to meditate, and sports are a great way to do that.  

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