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How Strength Training Transformed This Man’s Life

5 months ago, when I first met Neil Shaffer, 58, I was warned he had: "10 bad disks in neck and low back area, 2 knee replacement surgeries, and partial paralysis in the lower leg". He hoped I can help him. Neil’s injuries and subsequent surgeries occurred over time through ‘wear and tear’, even though he was active & was regularly walking and using the elliptical machine at the gym. His lower back was causing discomfort and pain, he was constantly feeling stiffness in his knees, and generally couldn’t move the way he wanted to. “I want to be able to play on the ground with my granddaughter, take a nice long walk, and do normal everyday things pain–free,” Neil explained.

I told Neil that I'll do my best to help him, and that he has to ‘work with me’, give me constant feedback, and be 'present' when we train together. I emphasized that working together is going to be a process but he can make major improvements if he stays consistent and puts in the effort. Our goal was clear: we needed to get him stronger since stronger people move better. Specifically, we wanted to increase his hip and ankle mobility (range of motion of a joint), increase core and knee stability, and increase his muscle mass in his core and lower body musculature. Neil was committed to working with me twice a week. Throughout the months, he learned how to create tension in his muscles, and learned proper form of all the big compound exercises. From initially not being able to squat or lunge at all, Neil was squatting, lunging, hip hinging, bridging, and hip thrusting regularly. Neil was also doing core stabilization(strength) work, like the bird dog & dead bug exercises, and RKC planks. Additionally, he was using a foam roller and performing dynamic mobility and muscle activation drills 3—4 times a week.

Fast forward to today, 5 months later, Neil is able to do what he was previously couldn't :

1.Neil is able to jog. 2.Neil is able to walk long distances with zero discomfort. 3.Neil is able to walk up the steps quickly and with ease. 4.Neil is able to play with his granddaughter, pain-free.

So what has changed in the past 5 months? Neil increased his muscle mass. He got stronger and more powerful, and gave his absolute best in every workout session. We made sure to slowly progress in all aspects of training in accordance with Neil's feedback. He has been putting in the work and it is clearly shown; and I’m extremely proud of him and feel fortunate to be a part of his journey.

Some final thoughts: People often tend to think all they need is a trainer who can ‘show them what to do', and then they can go independently on their own and execute the exercise program. However, in reality, this false understanding of a trainer’s role in educating and safely progressing an individual couldn’t be any further from the truth. A trainer monitors, regresses and progresses their client according to the client’s feedback and performance so that the client can safely and effectively reach their desired goals. A trainer’s role is also to provide support, encouragement, and troubleshoot when needed. Thus, if you live with pain and discomfort, don’t you give up. Seek a professional’s help (do your research in advance), and commit to your success. You will be amazed at how you can, too, with the right guidance, change your life for the better.

Neil and I at the Jewish Community Center where we trained together

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