As a preface to those readers not actively involved in exercise please stick with me because the lessons I’m going to share can apply to any area of life. Please don’t write me off if you’re not into working out. There’s potential value in my message for everyone.
September 29, 2014 was just another Monday morning at the gym with the day’s goal to train back, shoulders, traps, and biceps. I hit back and shoulders first super-setting three different variations of chins with various shoulder presses. Then I transitioned to traps and biceps. The completion of the workout would be another good day “in the books”. You see, I have training journals that go back to my early days in college…over 25 years ago.
When I walked into the gym that morning, I never would have guessed that I would walk out with a life changing injury. In February of 2010, it was the meniscus in my left knee that tore resulting in arthroscopic surgery. That morning it would be the long head of my left bicep that gave way.
It happened on the first rep of my first set of standing dumbbell curls…an exercise I’ve done literally thousands of times. As I initiated my first rep, I felt a snap and watched in horror as my left bicep pulled out of my shoulder knotting up into a little ball down towards my elbow. The dumbbells instantly dropped from my hands into the floor and I grabbed my left arm in SHOCK…wondering “what have I done?”
Outside of my commitment to my Faith and Family, my devotion to fitness has been the most dominant and consistent passion in my life since age 15. I competed in one bodybuilding contest as a teenager and while I’ve never competed again, I’ve never stopped serious training on average 4-6 days a week. The “iron bug” bit me hard as a teenager and I’ve never let it go.
The following are the lessons that I learned that apply both in the gym and life in general. My goal with this post can be best summed up by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
In the weeks leading up to my injury, I had been experiencing pain and stiffness in my upper back and neck. While I didn’t back off on any particular exercise, chin ups in particular caused a good bit of discomfort. My neck was freezing up at night to the point of not being able to find a comfortable position to sleep. Despite the pain, I never missed a workout due to my stubborn and sometimes obsessive persistent nature.
Has life ever given you warning signals that you need to make some changes? Take a different path? It could be a family situation or your job. It could be a potential health risk that you choose to ignore rather than having it checked out. Most people opt for the path of least resistance especially when confronted with a potentially negative situation.
Would it have killed me to take a few days off, see my chiropractor, get a massage, and give my body a break? The answer would be a resounding NO. However I opted to plow through pain which resulted in an injury that will be with me for life.
In my experience, when you’re facing a trial, the sooner you deal with it, the better. Acknowledge that there is a problem, accept responsibility for your actions, and then focus all your energy on the solution. Taking positive action towards a solution is always the best way to go. Putting off taking action seems to always make things worse.
Attention to Details:
Some of the most beneficial things in life are the easiest to do. Ever heard of an apple a day, investing your money before paying your bills, taking your vitamins, flossing your teeth, eating a healthy diet, and getting exercise daily? They are all easy to do and unfortunately they’re easy not to do. The key is the think with a long-term perspective.
Skipping any of the above items in a day will go unnoticed. Skip them for a period of years can cause colossal disaster. The late great Jim Rohn used to teach not to be faked out by the lack of consequences of a failure to exhibit discipline in any area for the moment. The moment may not cost you but the culmination of moments over time can break you.
So where am I going with this? I have changed jobs a few times of the years and NEVER bought COBRA or any other type of temporary insurance to bridge the gap until my new insurance kicked in. And it’s never been a problem until 9/29/2014 when I tore my bicep.
I had just started a new job on 9/2 and my insurance would not kick in for another 60 days.
Financially without insurance, a doctor’s office visit wouldn’t have been bad, a MRI would have stung, and a full-blown surgery would have been VERY COSTLY. My first thought was to wait out the time for my insurance to kick in and then deal with my injury. In the mean time, after reading extensively online and getting some personal counsel from a friend who happens to be a doctor, I felt OK about waiting a couple of months before moving forward with medical help.
The take home point is twofold. By all means protect yourself and your family financially. In my careless efforts to not spend a few hundred extra bucks on temporary insurance, I left myself vulnerable and ultimately cost myself for a lifetime. If I would have used a long-term perspective when evaluating my insurance coverage, it would have been a simple decision to purchase a temporary policy for just in case emergencies.
The bigger lesson is to always think with a long-term perspective before making important decisions. This shift in thinking may cause you to make different decisions in the present that may save you years of grief down the road.
Patience & Persistence:
“I understand that God did not put in me the ability to always make right decisions. He did, however, put in me the ability to make a decision and then make it right.”
My decision to forgo insurance was an epic fail. Moving forward, the only option was to make the best of it. My injury occurred on a Monday. I took Tuesday off from the gym because I was still in emotional shock for what I had done. Wednesday I was back in the gym with my total focus on getting in a training effect. My left bicep was torn, however in my mind, 75% of my body still worked.
For the first few weeks, I didn’t do anything with my left arm, but I never missed a workout and essentially trained my legs in total and the right side of my upper body.
Call it obsessed, but I felt better for getting in my workouts both physically and emotionally rather than using my injury as an excuse not to train.
After a few weeks, I tried some simple exercises with my left arm using as little as 5 lbs. I guess it looked pretty strange for me to be doing my upper body work with 5 lbs in my left and up to 80 lbs or so in my right. No worries, I didn’t care what anyone thought…I was making progress.
Oddly enough, while I was able to do some back, shoulder and direct bicep work with the lighter weights, I couldn’t do any pressing for chest. Where my bicep tore out of my left shoulder was still very painful even with the lightest weights. So what did I do? Push ups…and lots of them…eventually with a weighted vest.
For October, November, and December, the ONLY chest exercise I could do was weighted push ups. It was exciting on the one hand because I was able to train my chest and yet they got a little old given the lack of variation. I was pushing very hard loading up my vest to just over 80 lbs.
The take home point is making the best of what you can do. Another favorite of mine from Andy Andrews is:
“When faced with a decision, many people say they are waiting for God. But I understand, in most cases, God is waiting for me!”
God can’t steer a parked ship. We must take action before He can step in and bless and guide our efforts. So I made the decision to focus on what I could do and not get bogged down with what I couldn’t do.
For what it’s worth, I was able to start doing chest presses with dumbbells in mid January 2015…almost 4 months after my injury. Second only to the excitement of doing chins for the first time in early February, you have never seen a guy so happy to perform a simple exercise.
Often in life when faced with challenging circumstances, you can get so bogged down with your thinking that you experience paralysis by analysis. Instead of focusing on the all the things you can’t do, figure out what you can do and take action. The simple act of moving forward can open new doors of opportunity and thought and energy that may in fact overcome all the obstacles you’re facing.
Procrastination & Responsibility:
As I’m writing this post, it’s been almost 11 months since my injury. You may be wondering what happened with going to the doctor. Well I did and the answer was surprisingly negative. He said you’ve waited so long, I can’t guarantee that I can fix your arm. For the positive, he was very favorable about how well I had healed. He said the choice is yours but it really will be a 50/50 procedure.
My forced procrastination that was mostly brought about by not having insurance put me in a situation where it didn’t seem worth the risk and expense of having the surgery. My strength was returning with each workout and aesthetically, the injury actually enhanced my “peak” from the front view and added a little extra “character” to the back view of my arm.
While my delay in going to see the doctor was mostly driven by not having insurance, it was still my choice. I could have bitten the financial bullet and had surgery but I chose to wait. Unfortunately the consequences of my actions were not what I was expecting.
For the positive, I’m stronger overall today in every respect than before my injury. Emotionally I know I’m stronger and my tolerance for being patient is far greater. My left arm will always look a little “different” and will be a constant reminder of the sequence of events surrounding my injury.
Now almost one year later, there are two other lessons they may be to me the most important of all. My injury reminded me how fragile life can be. We are so desensitized to the tragedy we see daily as promoted by the media, that it sometimes takes a hit to a close friend, family member, or our self to remind us of how fragile life really is.
The second lesson for me was a reminder that the Lord gives us all Spiritual Gifts and natural strengths and we are called to be good stewards with these blessings from above. One of my favorite stories from the Bible is The Parable of the Talents, where the one servant had his talent taken away because he was not fruitful. God has given me the ability to serve through a variety of means including my skills as a fitness professional.
I believe my injury was a wake up call to action that I need to be doing more to help people with the gifts I’ve blessed with. Life is a vapor and our friends and family are really the most important thing. Everything else will pass away, but we can spend an eternity with the people we love…and so we are called to serve them.