For the first 8 years of my career in fitness, I had the pleasure of working in a cardiac rehab program. Of all my work in the field, this was probably the most rewarding. While helping someone etch out a six pack is kind of cool, it doesn’t really compare to helping a victim of a major heart event get back on their feet. The journey from day 1 of the program when a patient is terrified to step foot on a treadmill to day 36 when they are lifting weights, walking at a high incline, riding the bike, and doing it with intensity, is incredibly inspiring. I miss that.
Fast forward to today and thanks to the lovely staff I used to work with, from time to time, I get a referral from cardiac rehab for a patient who wants some added instruction in the next phase of their rehabilitation. Most times this winds up being a couple sessions just to get them comfortable with a new gym to help them continue exercise on their own. The extra effort from the cardiac rehab staff speaks to their level of care. On one occasion however, I met someone different. I met someone who had more legit medical excuses to bag exercise all together and turn into a pile of shit than anyone I had worked with before. But that was not this guy’s outlook.
When I met Bruce and reviewed his health history, it looked like it was going to be a Herculean challenge. He had a great attitude, and it was obvious he was sincere about his recovery, but the obstacles he was up against were fierce. Bruce suffered from a heart attack in Feb 2015 and underwent a quadruple bypass. As if that wasn’t enough he had heart attacks again in May and June of that same year that required stents in 3 of the 4 bypasses. The 4th graft was totally occluded and couldn’t be stented. His cardiologist referred him to cardiac rehab in July and Bruce finished the program later that year. Bruce and I met shortly thereafter.
In addition to Bruce’s cardiovascular disease, during our consultation I noticed Bruce had a hearing device above his ears that I was unfamiliar with. Bruce explained that he was diagnosed with a condition called Meniere’s disease in 1997. Meniere’s disease attacks the inner ear and can manifest with symptoms of vertigo, tinnitus, and deafness. Bruce’s symptoms were wildly unpredictable early on and would frequently result in debilitating bouts of vertigo at random. Today, Bruce has cochlear implants which provide bionic hearing to both ears and helps keep his vertigo in check. While Bruce can hear, verbal communication with him can be difficult especially in a noisy environment like a gym. It also affects his proprioception and balance to a degree. Like I said, he had excuses galore but had no intentions of giving in to his predicament. I wasn’t sure where to begin. How was I going to help him with his confidence, his heart health, his inner ear issue? All with limited communication.
In developing a game plan, I knew the best route was a simple one, get him as strong as possible. He had completed 36 sessions of cardiac rehab and made some quality improvements to his cardiovascular health without any issues, so I knew I could start to push him in other ways. Bruce was committed to doing cardio on his own in addition to our sessions, so we could focus primarily on his strength. Considering his inner ear problem, it made sense that he could stand to benefit from a strong and sturdy pair of legs to assist in his balance. If he increased strength, the activities of daily living would require less cardiac output and improve quality of life in general.
This is all fine and dandy but if you don’t have a client that buys in and puts in the work your game plan means nothing. That was not a problem for Bruce. Saying he puts in 100% effort into every exercise I give him would be selling him short. Squats, deadlift variations, leg presses, sled drags, rows and presses are the norm in our sessions and he puts every muscle fiber he has into every one of them. Along the way, we have experienced some obstacles to work around and have had to adjust training intensity to account for them, but Bruce DOES NOT back down, ever. While my job usually entails trying to find ways to get clients to push harder, I came up with tricks to lower intensity to ensure he gets the proper recovery. As a trainer, this is refreshing. No complaints, no excuses, no cancellations, no bullshit. This is rare.
Currently, Bruce can trap bar deadlift 225lbs and barbell back squat 160lbs at a bodyweight of 160lbs. He leg presses 425lbs for sets of 12-15 and can perform a perfect 12-15 push-ups. At the age of 66 and considering his health history, I couldn’t be prouder of his progress. Bruce continues to lead an active lifestyle outside of the gym as well. In addition to woodworking and shooting trap, Bruce also enjoys hiking with his wife in various parts of the country.
Working with him has been an inspiration for me. His story shows that regardless of your circumstances, your attitude can dictate a more positive outcome. In this business, we hear all kinds of excuses from people who are simply just too lazy to put in the work. If examples like Bruce can’t move the needle and get them off their ass, I don’t know what will!