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Getting a leg up on limitations

Ok, you’re at the gym. Today is the day you will start your exercise program. Your doctor told you to lose 50 pounds, so you’re here. But when you make your way up the stairs you notice your knee hurts, an old high school injury that occasionally flares up. You also notice you’re out of breath, because the last time you strapped on your running shoes President Bush was still in office. This is too much to handle, you tell yourself as you do an about-face and head down the stairs. But wait! Turn around! I have a solution.


As a personal trainer, I have encountered this situation and many more. Knowing when to start working out after an injury, surgery or a period of inactivity is difficult. It doesn’t have to be, however. With your determination and some professional expertise, you can overcome your limitations and take that important first step.


Let me share with you the stories of two people (names changed, of course) I’ve worked with who have overcome their physical limitations. You will gain inspiration and motivation from them.


Mark, 63, came to me five weeks after his left leg was amputated below his knee. His right shoulder hurt. He was at least 40 pounds overweight. He was wheelchair bound, yet he still had goals. He wanted to strengthen the left leg for his prosthetic limb. He wanted to lose those 40 pounds. He wanted to take that first step.


Where to start? Training was hard for Mark. He was in constant pain, and he had a hard time getting out of his wheelchair. He preserved, however. We worked on hiss’s hips by using a resistance band, exercised his upper body by using gym machines and weighted medicine balls, and trained his core through him sitting on stability balls and bosu balls. We worked around his limitations, and each step of his workout took him closer to his goals.


Mary-Ann, 43, was busy working mother of two who wanted to return to her former activity levels. She was a former high school athlete, however, and both her knee caps kept dislocating. Her paletta tendon (tendon that connects the quadriceps to the knee cap) was in the wrong place. She had surgery on one and rehab on the other. Her limitations?   High impact activities like running, jumping and aerobics were out. In were low impact activities like kettlebell swings, spin bike, and the elliptical.


To prevent further dislocations, Mary Ann strengthened her quadriceps, which act as knee shock absorbers and her hamstrings which are the main knee stabilizers. We supplemented this with balance and core training.  So far, she’s had no reoccurrences and is well on her way to regaining the activity level she sought.


What did these two people have that let them be successful? I call it DP2.


  1. Determination

Both of these clients refused to allow their limitations to keep them from achieving their desired outcomes.

  1. Perseverance

Both did the physical work required, despite the pain.


  1. Dedication

Both set aside time in their busy lives to train, staying focused on their goals.


  1. Professional Expertise

Both trusted me, their trainer, to know how to work around their limitations.


Along with finding your own DP2, there are other factors to consider when coming back from injury, according to Patrick Doyle, D.C., of Koala Health and Wellness in Dallas. “Flexibility is always the first step and should be continued even after full performance is returned to the area. 10 -15 minutes of stretching is a good rule of thumb,” Dr Doyle says. He recommends “specific stretches for the injured area as shown by a rehab doctor or personal trainer.”


The pace of strength training should be given serious consideration, according to Dr Doyle. “Building strength to pre-injury status should be performed in increments. Start with 3-5 sets of 15-20 repetitions, then progress by reducing sets as strength and range of motion returns to normal, working the injured area 3 times per week.’’


Are you ready to start getting a leg up on your limitations? Don’t let your uncertainty of what to do keep you from beginning. With all the endless fitness magazines, exercise programs, gimmicks, and TV programs like The Biggest Loser telling you how it’s done, it can be overwhelming. If you don’t have a rehab doctor, find a personal trainer who can help you decide what you need to do. You don’t have to make a long-term commitment, but you will benefit from a knowledgeable trainer.


Wait, I can hear you now. I don’t really have a limitation, unless you count laziness. I just can’t seem to get started working out. That’s okay. If you are just starting out after a period of inactivity, the trick is to keep it simple. Over complicating exercise is setting yourself up for failure.


Enter Ron Jones*, who gives us The Lean Berets 30 x 30 no excuses challenge. Described in the 2011 publication the (FIT) Formula, his rules are simple:


  1. 30 Minutes per day minimum – This can also be done in smaller increments. For example 10 minutes 3 times a day will work.


  1. 30 consecutive days – It takes 21 days to start forming new behaviors, and one full month can set your new behaviors into action.  Since there is no minimum requirement for pace or intensity, no day off is necessary. After all, do you need a day off after a casual walk?


  1. No excuses – There are many great workouts and types of fitness equipment (you know, like the treadmill you use as a clothes horse) but most people don’t use them on a regular basis. So, walk the dog, go dancing or play with your children. What if your knee hurts?Grab a couple of canned vegetables and do bicep curls and shoulder presses. What if your shoulder hurts? Go for a walk. Eliminate the excuses and move.
  2. No minimum pace requirements – Jones wants you to forget about sets, reps or target heart rate. The mental aspect is more important than the physical at the beginning. Keep it simple and keep yourself moving.


  1. Have a dedicated time for exercise – House and yard work doesn’t count.This is 30 minutes dedicated to exercise. Jones says this leads to a higher level of mental commitment. “You force yourself to step up, reach for a higher goal and take away your own excuses,” he says.


So if your only limitation is a past filled with too many days (weeks, months, or years) of inactivity, then stating today I want you to block off 30 minutes a day for 30 days. Schedule this in your diary, iPad or Blackberry. Treat it like an important appointment that you cannot miss, so, you won’t.


What are you waiting for? Take that first step. Trust me, when you get that first leg up on your limitations, you’ll find that the rest of you will follow.


*To learn more about Ron Jones and his programs visit  or

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About Shane McLean

Shane McLean is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer in Dallas Texas. Moved here 12 years ago from Melbourne Australia. Specializing in stability core, strength and mobility programs. The four fundamentals to healthy skeletal health. Shane tailors training's to meet your strength, nutrition, injury management and mobility needs. His motto is "to improve one’s balance, strength and mobility no matter your age."

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