Rehab, Physical Training & Diet: A Personal Testimony
I thought it might be useful to put down some experiences, thoughts, mistakes and realizations that I have been through in the last couple of years. We all need to work harder to gain and maintain our tactical readiness and I hope that these experiences of mine will help you, even if the exact circumstances are not mirrored.
I had spinal fusion surgery in August 2016 (lower back L5 / S1). This was as a result of a parachute landing fall. As an active person and tactical trainer, this was almost show stopping. I had expected to be in a three-month to fusion / recovery situation and had planned for additional coverage for classes running during that period. If anyone recalls at the time, I was there with a walking stick and I flew Chris in from WA to run classes with Scott. For whatever reason, I was not ultimately declared fused until 1.5 years later. I went through a long period restricted to lifting 5lbs only, then I went to 20lbs. I could walk, but for a number of months was wearing a very restrictive surgical back brace. Thus, my core and abs were totally shot. The long recovery time almost destroyed the business, if you knew the amount of lifting and physical work that is involved in the preparation and conduct of each class. As time progressed, I had Tommy and John come out and literally lift targets for me at class. That was a hard one, having to stand by and watch people lift things for me!
The result of this was that my physical fitness, my core and lifting ability, were destroyed through restrictions and inactivity. For his own reasons, the surgeon refused to have me do any physical therapy. I understood his reason for the spine to fuse i.e. leave it alone to fuse, but I am only now reaping the repercussions of never having done any kind of physical therapy even after the spine was declared fused. Be aware that the live fire demo Max Talk videos that I have made recently, were done after the spine was fused, but still while I was in poor shape, overweight, and lacking in proper fitness training.
As time went on and restrictions began to be lifted, I was allowed to do more. Although the spine was heading towards being fully fused, the purpose was not to move it too much or to do anything to pull out or disrupt the hardware in my back. It is amazing what will affect your lower back. Usually anything that has any sort of moment arm out from the body, will send that pain right down to the surgery site.
I started by walking, then progressing to the stepper. Bizarrely, the recovery from the back has been overlaid with a knee injury that came on while walking DOWN hills at the VTC in my plate carrier and battle belt with the SF teams. I have no rhyme or reason for that, other than it just came on after years of abuse running down mountains with rucks on. When I was cleared to 20lbs, I started to do exercises that I figured would not affect my back. So, hanging pull-ups and dips etc. Whether they did or did not affect the back, they did not cause pain, and the hardware remains in place with no pull-outs from the screws. But it took me 1.5 years to fuse, not the three moths the surgeon told me, so go figure.
Once I was cleared, I hit the gym with a vengeance. But not in the right way. I was still nervous of my back (see above about no physical therapy) so I was self-restricted to the machines in the gym, no free weights or cables. I never trained legs, other than on the stepper. I only recently started to do crunches after realizing that my abs were totally shot. And they were: totally shot. I was basically doing two types of weight session: heavy push day and heavy pull day, but secure on the machines so not involving any kind of balance or core stability work. This was usually on a Monday and Tuesday. On the days I have class, I usually head up to the VTC on Wednesday, so that cuts out any gym work for the rest of the week. But when home for the week, I had nothing to do but go back on Thursday and Friday and repeat the same training, which meant I was hitting push and pull heavy twice in one week, which meant over-training.
Recently, I have found a hard realization but also a solution for the future. I have been to two sessions now with personal trainers at a gym running sessions called ‘explosive performance.’ What this effectively is is rehab/ flexibility/ strength / core work all rolled into one. It is basically athlete training / injury prevention. I trained the first two sessions and between them was following the exercises they gave me. I first approached the trainer after seeing the sessions happening in the gym and seeking advice about how to get back into leg training and rehab the knee. They do nothing specifically for the knee, but everything around it, which is healing the knee. What I mean by that, is that I was absolutely humiliated, rolling around on the green area in the gym, realizing that my core and legs were shot. This is from the same guy who walked with ease from the team cabin all the way up to the ridge wearing my full belt and plate carrier with ease at CLC a couple of weeks ago, to join the squad at the ORP. Or so I thought.
I realized after a few short stretches and basic exercises on the mats that my hamstrings, core etc were just rubble. There is hope though, because I can already feel myself getting better and coming back. But in all my career I have never actually done this sort of training. This is scientific athlete training, not running over mountains with rucks! The thing about it is though, it makes you feel absolutely humiliated and destroys you in the moment, but it feels amazing. I have already started to break out my normal weights routine into the cable area, still not so much the free weights, but adding cable exercises that use the core as well as the push / pull. Thing is, there is something about this that just activates you, and makes you feel amazing. Maybe just the endorphin rush! So it is hard to describe the benefits, but I cannot recommend it enough.
Yesterday, he had me doing ‘Turkish get-ups’ as one exercise with the kettle bell. Basically from laying on your back holding the kettle-bell up in the air, to standing, and back down, all while holding the weight above you. By the third set he had me at 26 lbs. He told me that the male standard is 56 lbs. Oops. Many goals to get to!
Why might this be relevant to you? I have no idea who you are reading this, but I urge to you take a good look at your overall fitness and flexibility / core strength. You may, like me, be a little overweight and think you are doing fine, but the chances are, you may well not be, and you could benefit from this type of program. You don’t even need to spend money on a personal trainer, there are books about core / bodyweight type exercises. You can also get advice and tips from JohnnyMac on the MVT Forum (which is free to join), who often writes about this type exercise, and until now, even I had no idea where he was really coming from. This is really going to help in a real way to injury-proof your body and make you a better, more resilient and more effective tactical athlete.
This is where the fighting begins. Diets are like religion or politics and everybody has one and all the data and examples to back it up. I had put on a significant gut after my time without proper exercising and I have been working on it for several months now and the gut is dwindling.
What have I been doing?
Absolutely no special diet at all. All I do is restrict carbs and eat normally. I don’t eat the processed crap and don’t drink sodas. I took to getting unsweet tea anywhere where I might have got a soda / diet soda before. If I end up getting fast food with the kids, I’ll just eat a burger, unsweet tea, and leave the fries alone. Wendy’s Baconator? I’ve eaten a few of those on the way home from the gym, great stuff!
It is really just about moderation and not eating the portions / processed sugary crap that is pushed on us nowadays. When I started the diet I was really cutting the carbs and even pushing a little towards ‘keto’ etc, but never fully there as my diet is not organized enough for that. But that left me drained, especially after doing training, and does not give you enough to recover. I was going through exhaustion crashes. Bottom line is you need to cut deep into the carbs to get the diet going, but then you need to ease off and just keep it reasonable.
My opinion is that you need carbs, as well as protein and fat, to be healthy. You need more for higher activity levels. Check an arctic ration calorie content for that! Please don’t come a me with random stuff such as Inuits or cannibals or whatever. I am a western white male, this is how I roll! What I actually do day to day is eat breakfast lunch and dinner in moderation, with a protein shake mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Cut down on the beer / alcohol.
I used to cut the carbs pretty hard, so for example would eat scrambled eggs for breakfast with no bread. Recently, I have added a nice piece of whole wheat toast back into the equation. I feel better. I might have gone to Chik-fil-a for lunch and literally just eaten chicken. Now I will get a chicken burger with bun and eat that. I feel better and I am not putting weight back on. I will eat the recommended fist-sized portion of rice or carbs with dinner. I am not putting weight on and I feel better.
I personally think a lot of the diets out there are not sensible and probably not safe. I think the primary benefit of these diets is lifestyle change so that when people go on them, they are in effect cutting calories and probably also making a conscious decision to do exercise. And then they are amazed that they lose weight and will be utterly religious in their defense of the specific diet. If it works for you, fine, but be careful in the long run. Keto? Not sold. Also seen plenty of research where it is not healthy / safe, but I’m sure you have your counter-research and that guy who can run all day for seven days at a time eating nothing but a cube of lard…..! Vegan / vegetarian? Get the hell out of here! Carnivore? Yummy, but not sold. And anyway, how spoiled is the very idea of a first-world ‘steak at every meal’ carnivore diet, and how sustainable is that? What about a survival situation? How often did cavemen eat meat? Maybe once a month when they could catch it!
The main thing is that you will not lose weight with exercise alone, you have to work the diet. The way to work the diet involves a little self-control, but it does not have to be torture. Just watch what you are putting down your neck, and restrict the calories appropriate to your workload.
I hope these notes are helpful to you, and I wish you well on your journey towards being the best tactical protector, the best Warrior Citizen, you can be.