“Well, I stand up next to a mountain I chop it down with the edge of my hand.” –Jimi

It was the first week of August and I just discovered that my shoulder injury was what I suspected…..bad….really bad. My wife met me at the doctor’s office in a city approximately an hour from where we live and after enduring several tests that revealed just how messed up I really was; they informed me that an MRI was necessary to be sure of the diagnosis. The trouble was that I would have to wait a week to find out the extent of my problem.  Ever the connoisseur of fine food, my better half suggested that I drown my sorrow in some greasy grub at the nearby Steak “n” Shake. In a fog, I accepted her offer because my God if I can’t lift then I may as well clog my arteries and embark on a slow, steady, and painless downward spiral.

The week before my visit to the ole sawbones, I was perusing a local newspaper and turned to the sports section. A picture with a caption caught my eye and I intently read about a man that I had grown up with in my hometown. Actually, this man was the father of a classmate who I played several sports alongside throughout grade school and high school. The caption did not offer good news. It essentially said that the man I will refer to as Ken B. was unable to play in the county amateur golf tournament because he had cancer. It was the first time in decades that he would not take to the links and participate in an activity that he both enjoyed and excelled at. The news was gloomy, but what stood out to me was that in the picture Ken was anything but down. A huge smile covered his face as he congratulated the winner.  Ken always was an optimist and the glass is half full kinda guy. He coached against me in youth baseball, but yet he cheered for me when I did well. He also was the father in the stands that served as the surrogate supporter for those in need of a personal back patter. I immediately felt compelled to send him a card after learning of the bad hand he had been dealt.

I had not seen or spoken to Ken B. for probably 15 years or so. I told him what I needed to in the card and I thought that would be the end of it. However, as I sat in my booth at Steak “n” Shake I momentarily peered up from slurping the last drops of chili and noticed a man and his wife walking in. I gazed at my wife with a somewhat astonished look and said, “That’s the guy I just sent the card to.” Clearly, I recognized him but he did not reciprocate. I waved, but his cautious return gesture indicated his greeting was one of manners and not friendship. My wife prodded me to go to his table and chat, but I felt uncomfortable.

Finally, when the time came for me to pay I sauntered up to the counter and slowly turned around to tell my wife that it was time to blow this joint. My unique gait apparently gave me away and I turned around to find Ken with his hand extended and a grin a mile long. Greetings were exchanged and wallets were opened to show off kids and grandkids. He sincerely thanked me for the card and his appreciation was appreciated by me.

I went to a Catholic school growing up, but I am anything but religious. However, when I conversed with Ken B. a weird calmness and contentedness overwhelmed me. The fear and anxiety associated with my injury promptly subsided. In my presence was a guy who had cancer invading his body and wreaking havoc throughout including his brain. What right do I have to complain or feel sorry for myself? I was griping over lunch that I had to suffer through a whole week waiting for my MRI and this man was waiting to see if his treatment was working so he could possibly live to see his grandchildren grow up. The eternal force had issued me a wake up call.

This past week on December 13th Ken B. lost his battle with the Big C. My sister gave me the call and although I was up and still awake I did not have the guts to pick up the phone, but rather I listened to her message and silently wondered what kind of Merry Christmas this family was going to have without their beloved patriarch. I am still rehabbing from my injury and strive to get back to where I once was, but the passing of Ken again reminded me of what is truly important in life and that things are never as bad as they seem.

Just as Sammy Hagar said there is only one way to rock, I believe there is only one way to lift, namely hard and heavy and balls to the wall. Many apparently believe that simply because I have chosen not to compete that I have somehow given up lifting or that my passion has waned. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Luckily, at the same time Ken was reintroduced into my life I became acquainted with Michael Hope whose last name says it all. This person willingly gave his time and expertise to aid me in my road to recovery. Most importantly he understood what I was experiencing and was empathetic toward my situation without being patronizing. He offered advice and insight that eased my mind and was realistic from the standpoint of what my future goals and expectations should be. Michael is simply one of the most generous people I have run across and I am grateful for what he has done for me.

To backtrack, I sustained an injury while participating in a bench press meet in Nashville on July 30th of this year. I was attempting a 725 press and had it right at lock-out when I felt an excruciating pain in my right shoulder. I immediately knew I had an injury and the subsequent swelling confirmed my belief. It was later discovered that I had an intra-substance tear of my supraspinatus along with cartilage damage in the mid-glenoid. This was compounded by existing problems such as degenerative spurring and cysts on the humeral head. My goal was to avoid surgery while striving to get back to my pre-competition levels.

Michael Hope was recommended to me and I linked up with him as soon as I could. He got me started on my rehab protocol pronto. Initially I did the following:

Weeks 1 and 2

  • Side lying bad shoulder up external rotation - 3 sets of 15-20 reps with a very light dumbbell.
  • Internal rotation with a mini-band- 3 sets of 20 reps
  • Light dumbbell curls- 3 sets of 15 using 20-35 lb
  • Lots of stretching, especially for the posterior capsule
  • I did this 3-4 times per week.

Week 3- (these exercises were added to the above)

  • ½ push-ups
  • Movements in the quadruped position- got on my hands and knees and moved in various directions
  • Floor presses – done with 20 lb. dumbbells, using a palms facing grip.
  • Back exercises such as rowing – this was done fairly heavy
  • Kettlebells such as crazy 8’s/ leg passes- later on I could do kettlebell swings with only with my good shoulder.
  • All the sets and reps on these exercises were based on how I was feeling and what I could tolerate.

Week 4 – (these exercises were added)

  • Dumbbell presses off a Swiss ball- I used 20 -35 lbs dumbbells, using a palms facing grip.
  • Farmer’s walk- I did these simply because I just bought them and wanted to use them.
  • Shrugs
  • Hanging from pull-up bar/ later pull-ups
  • Stretching of the posterior/partner resistance on eccentric portion of movement
  • All the sets and reps on these exercises were based on how I was feeling and what I could tolerate.

I basically stuck with this series of exercises for two months. Around the magical six week healing mark as Michael Hope calls it, my progression insanely improved. I went from using 35 lb. d-bells for sets of 15 off a Swiss ball to 80’s for a set of twenty. I knew better but I could not control myself when it came to choosing my weight progression. “Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man and though my mind could think I still was a mad man.” I remember e-mailing Jim Wendler of Elite Fitness after week 9 and informing him that I had done the 95’s for 20 off the ball and was shooting for 120’s for 20 the next week. He simply responded that I should take small, steady steps. His advice was heeded and it probably saved me from going backwards or worse yet getting re-injured. Michael Hope stresses the same thing. It is sound advice in situations such as mine to repeat the same workouts for a few weeks before progressing. Oddly, my rowing did not suffer at all. Essentially, I could do my regular back workouts as soon as my rehab began. I was astonished by this, but Michael told me from the get go that I could row as much as I wanted. He was right as usual.

Recent Workout

Warm-up - Rode exercise bike for 10 minutes, shoulder warm-up using the Grappler as well as various exercises for my rotators

Max effort exercise- Reverse cambered bar press (this bar shortens movement similar to a 3 board, but w/o the board.  It can also be used for allowing a greater range of motion, too.)

  • 95x10
  • 135x10
  • 225x3
  • 275x3
  • 315x3
  • 365x1
  • 405x1
  • 430x1
  • 430x10

(Since my injury, this is the sort of progression that I use.  My rep work is equitable to my pre-injury level, but my single (max) lifts are not up to par.)

Football bar off a Swiss ball with a neutral grip

  • 135x10
  • 185x10
  • 235x10
  • 285x10
  • Strip set- 285, 235, 185, 135 x5 reps- total= 20 reps

Triceps extensions with football bar off Swiss ball

3 sets (These leave a mark if done properly.)

Push-ups with chains

(Chain is draped over the lifter’s back)

I used 130 lbs. of chain.  Did 10 reps then immediately did a rep with a 5 second hold at the top- tried for 5 additional reps- total= 15 reps per set

I performed 2 sets of this exericse

Multiple sets on the Icarian row using various grips

Pull-ups in power rack rotating 4 different grips

V-handle, wide, under, palms facing

Used cards to determine the number of reps- draw an 8 of spades then do 8 reps- face cards all equal 10 reps. Usually we draw a minimum of 10 cards per lifter.

Observations regarding rehab

  • Stretching is vital to improve range of motion (ROM)
  • Partner resistance significantly helped my progress
  • When rehabbing full ROM on movements needs to be the focus as soon as this is   possible
  • Tempo reps worked well for my regular bench
  • Eccentric only movements were of benefit (lowering weight in the bench press)

Honestly, I still have pain when benching to this day especially when I wrap my thumb while pressing with a bar. I assume my discomfort stems from the fact that I did not tear my rotator muscle at the tendon, but rather it was intramuscular. This could not be surgically repaired because as the ortho said, “it would be like trying to sew two pieces of wet toilet paper together.” The result is scar tissue and I suspect this causes the clicking and catching feeling I deal with while lifting.  I generally bench thumbless now. I experience little to no pain when pressing d-bells utilizing a palms facing grip. Yes, I have now graduated to the 120’s with no difficulties. I am on par with my pre-injury weights when pressing my steel log and when using the football bar. Both of these allow me to use a palms facing grip. Push-ups are also an exercise where I believe I am back to where I used to be. Overall, I would guess that by regular bench max efforts are 90% of my old PR’s. As of now, I can live with that.

Good Lifting!

“He who fights monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”-Nietzsche