Parkinson's Can't Hold you Back
Just Another Day at Elev8 Wellness
Parkinson's is a disorder typically associated with Lewy Body formation on the substantia nigra in the brain. It affects muscle control, movement and balance among other abilities. According to most experts in the field, it is an impossibly degenerative disease.
This client, Jeff, came to me shortly after his diagnosis about six years ago. At that time, he was in crippling pain on his right side, through the neck, trapezius, shoulder and arm. His right side was the primary showcase of his Parkinson's. He had a number of other telltale signs; but his main concern was with doing his best to slow the progression of the disease.
Within about a month we had ameliorated the pain and a lot of the right side rigidity. Through Active Isolated Stretching, some muscle activation techniques and various movement work I've learned over some 40,000 hours of experience in the field, I was able to help him accomplish something that no therapist had been able to do with him. Since then I've witnessed him move through speed, agility and quickness drills like a high school athlete on his best days.
Parkinson's has such an affinity for severe muscle imbalance side to side; and I generally think structural lifts and overall conditioning with the lower body and core which are focused on good movement are the most important factors in helping clients of all kinds, especially those with movement disorders. Thus bench press places very low in what would be considered important or functional. That notwithstanding, Jeff's control had so IMPROVED (a supposed impossibility with this disease), that just for the hell of it I joked with him in July 2015 that we ought to go after a 200lb bench press. He looked at me like I was insane.
His response was warranted, especially given that the first attempt was solely with the bar (45lbs) and he was tremoring slightly and rocking all over the place. However, ever so gradually, his control and strength improved, like it has with anything else on which we put our focus. In September he was stuck at 150lbs for most of the month. That weight was just not budging. We tried a variety of program alterations and he broke through that plateau. As you can see here in this video, he now smoothly, controlledly and easily reps out 155lbs.
What you don't see here is the prior set: 200lbs. Jeff did what was an insane notion less than a year ago. And he got the 200lbs about a week before his birthday, his 60th birthday. That had become one of his short term goals; and he just knocked it out of the park. It's a feat he had never completed even as a young man. And he's just beaming because of it.
By no means am I alone in the fitness world, performing mini-miracles in the face of allegedly incontrovertible disease pathology. To the contrary, many of my colleagues over the last 12 years in this industry have become increasingly knowledgable about how to progress the seemingly fixed, how to reverse the deterioration, how to soldier forward despite overwhelming challenges. There are many great stories like this. And at Elev8 Wellness, it's just another day.
"Can't" is only an imaginary idea.
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Never What It Seems
Nothing is ever as it might first seem. So allow yourself to take a chance and mold the world to how you would have it be. Think of how you imagined your life a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, before you directed yourself to where you are. Did it all turn out the way you thought it would back then? Think back to what you thought it would be like to go through the various rites of passage before you went through them. Your fitness and wellness journey is no different, and will be no different in the future. Serendipity steps in. You learn more. You take the reigns or give them to others. And, truth be told, it can end up being so much better than you expected.
I'll give just two illustrations of seemingly impossible circumstances where the outcome was nothing like what one likely expects. In doing so, I want the reader to consider his/her own seemingly impossible roadblocks (not just in your fitness goals, but whatever struggle you may be having in life). However, reconsider them. If these two examples show you anything, it's that you too can get past your roadblocks to something unimaginably wonderful.
The picture above is of one of my clients who is the team lead for the American Men's Greco-Roman wrestling team on her trip to Iran for the 2014 World Cup. When she returned she regaled me with a hundred stories about how repeatedly pleasantly surprised she was at her interactions in Iran, and how the Iranians were repeatedly pleasantly surprised at the interactions with her. In a nutshell, each party underestimated the respectfulness, gentility, humility, piety and cultural sensitivity that would come from the other. And it resulted in her having a "media darling" week in the country of Iran.
As I listened to her debrief throughout the week, it kept occurring to me that her Persian expedition was not too dissimilar from a fitness journey. That is, with a little bit of guts and taking a chance, beautiful impossible things happen. Almost every part of her trip was historic, in that a woman had never been in various buildings and forums where she went. And "knowing" what she thought she did beforehand, she could've easily just forewent the tour, stood this one out, played it safe and stayed home. The Iranian government could've easily declined entry and the various concessions they had to make to accommodate her. Instead, both boldly proceeded and people's worlds changed.
Prior to my client's return, two weeks ago, I myself was overseas; and my son was standing on a canon outside the mansion once home to Laskarina Bouboulina (whose statue is next to him). Born in 1771 Bouboulina was the only woman in recorded world history to be named a full admiral until 2013. She had no female role model after whom to model herself. She could've easily said, "this is how things seem to be" and accepted her plight. But instead she challenged every imagined imposition in her path, amassing a furtive arsenal on the island of Spetsos, chartering the construction of one of the largest ships at the time, bribing Turkish officials to look the other way, and launching a series of offensives against the Ottoman Empire to ultimately play a pivotal role in the Independence of Greece. She was born to be just another Greek woman (in fact, she was born in a prison), quietly oppressed by the Turks; but she imagined and created something so much greater. Even when she had acquired a large estate, she was not content to stand back and enjoy retirement. Rather, she personally attended to brutal battles at the ripe old age of 50, which is REALLY saying something for a woman in the early 1800s.
Nothing is as it seems to begin with. And that's because you make things what they are. Holding back from a full commitment to your fitness is just like holding back from the rest of life. You think you know what it's like, so you shoot yourself in the foot before you take a step, and now you dare not put it forward because it could get hurt worse.
Yes, it requires doing what maybe no one including yourself thought possible. But you know what? EVERYTHING EVER DONE once seemed like it couldn't be.
"Panting, breathing heavily, after a series of well-coordinated plyometric exercises" you might think uniquely describes some recent incarnation of Crossfit or P90x. I was actually talking about a workout that I was run through by seasoned trainers back in 2004. Unfortunately, "new to you" has become the new innovation. But even the most cutting edge of exercise principles aren't just old, they're archaic.
The foundations of exercise science were laid in prehistory and haven't changed since. There are a finite number of joints in the body; and so there are a finite number of movements it can do. In reference to progression, matters are equally straight-forward. Taking a block of time, increasing the demand in a systematic manner within that time, and all in order to produce a desired performance or physiological output is what's known as periodization. It works on a principle of progressive overload within a prescribed timetable. No matter what late night infomercials or clever web advertisements tell you, it's not new.
Russian strength coaches created complicated, intellectually rigorous and highly effective sports periodization for Olympic athletes more than 50 years ago. In fact, the ideas of homeostasis and adaptation in the context of athletic domain come directly in fully refined format to us from the late 19th century. Thank you, Walter Bradford Cannon, and (later) Hans Selye.
So what's the commotion all about when a new craze hits the scene? I can't tell actually. Every ancient society with a military had codified, effective exercise periodization AND an equally demanding and stratospherically potent mind-training. They needed the fastest, most powerful, most agile, most enduring force of human beings possible. Why wouldn't they?
I'm not trying to take anything away from anybody so much as put our modern practices in their proper historical context. Does anyone really believe that ANY gym is producing athletes who could go toe to toe with the AVERAGE Spartan hoplite?
From the perspective of strength training, progressive overload has been around about as long as we can tell in written history. The sixth century BC figure, Milo of Croton, was allegedly capable of picking up a grown bull on his shoulders because, since childhood, he had daily lifted a baby calf, it ever growing bigger while he was ever growing stronger.
Even after removing storytelling embellishment, it doesn't appear that our highest performing athletes have broken any ground that someone else didn't break thousands of years ago.
From the perspective of endurance training, all modern feats are a joke. Ultra-marathon, you say? Cute. The Native American Raramuri would run 200 miles through deadly canyon terrain, barefoot, without a break, and without someone handing them a goo packet or Gatorade every few miles.
Ironman or Tough Mudder? Read Xenophon's Anabasis. Over ten thousand Greek infantrymen traveled over 2000 miles on foot, over frozen mountain ranges, AFTER running out of food, with the added weight of supplies and arms, while being constantly hounded by a bloodthirsty army ten times larger.
MMA? Just a rehash of the ancient Pankration. Ever hear of the Colosseum, gladiators or Greco-roman wrestling? Almost three millennia ago there were commentaries detailing the intricacies of one school's technique on a heel hook or arm bar versus another. Frankly, just think about the name "martial arts." Their eastern forms long ago created what people are just now doing in Pilates, Barre and Yoga. If the Indus Script is ever agreeably deciphered, we may find that certain poses or breathing techniques in vogue now at your local studio date to 2600 BC. Rest assured that even before that Egyptian Pharaohs were learning what stance dealt the most powerful blow to an assassin without risking injury to oneself.
So what's the breakthrough? I don't know. In every other time and place, incredible physical feats were accomplished by the everyman. So our parle of fitness to the everyman isn't a breakthrough either. We do seem to have gotten a better hold on injury prevention, perhaps. Although, one wouldn't know this from reading any of the thousands of posts on Insanity Workout Injury forums.
And thus, the matter stands settled. Any movement that the human body can do has been done. I mean, really, each muscle group has only ever done what it has always done. Nearly every manner of progress has already been devised. Slap whatever label on it you like. As you try to create the impression that you just today innovated what the ancients long since invented, those who read this know the truth.
There does seem to be something somewhat new. I hesitate to say it, but it appears completely novel: you can grow stronger as you grow older. For the most part, all of the incredible feats of old were largely done by the young. In the modern era there are young feats being done by the old. In fact, our concepts of what constitute "age" are having to be rethought. A recent study showed that even 90 year olds will IMPROVE, not just maintain, when executing strength training.
You see, simply put, there are two types of muscle fibers. Type I is for endurance. It is trained by and responsible for long bouts of low level exertion. This is why "older" people can generally manage to stand or walk for relatively long periods of time if they haven't become completely sedentary. Type II is responsible for everything else: strength, power, speed and balance. It is trained most safely by strength. This is why "older" people might spontaneously lose their footing even if they're relatively active but don't do strength training.
And we now know that Type II muscle fibers aren't predetermined to deteriorate as the years go by, but only if they're left unchallenged. So challenge them. That means "heavy" resistance.
Strength: that is the measure of value for any new fitness fad. Not newness. There's nothing new under the sun anyway. Forget about who is endorsing it or whether or not it's an inventive technique from researchers at the such-and-such Institute. Does it challenge Type II muscle fibers, safely, effectively, with some sensible form of periodization? If so, then it could give you a shot at reversing aging. And if old can become young, that would actually be new.