Unexpected Benefits of Strength Training

By Melissa Delancey

Mellisa headshotI have worked as a personal trainer in New York City for a decade now, and have trained clients from all walks of life and with all kinds of different challenges. Many years ago, for instance, I worked with a petite woman in her early forties who had to undergo a very dangerous and traumatic surgery, in which she had multiple fibroids removed (two of which were the size of human skulls). About a week after the surgery she called me, her voice sounding very weak, and she told me that during the surgery, she had almost died because of complications. She also said that afterwards, she was so tired that she didn’t think she would ever make it out of bed again. They had cut open her stomach and she had hardly any access to her central core or abdominal muscles. But months of strength training with me–steady rounds of squats and leg presses–had made her legs and hips strong, and that allowed her to actually move again. She was thankful for the workouts she’d done at the gym, and thinks it might have saved her life. Of course, as her personal trainer, I was moved by her story, and I felt proud. Sometimes, while half the world is obsessing over how to erase the oddly formed half-inch of jiggle from their inner thighs, it’s good to remember that there are other reasons why it’s important to hit the gym! My client’s inspiring story, however, wasn’t one I thought I’d ever personally relate to.

Until three weeks ago.

That’s when I broke my foot. I was shocked! Since the day I started working out, I’ve been charmed with very few aches and pains. Doctors performed surgery, and I’ve had to avoid putting any weight on it since. They tell me that I should expect to be on crutches for about 6-7 weeks. This would be difficult for anybody; as somebody whose entire life revolves around staying active and strong, I can tell you it really sucks. I’m still training at Nimble Fitness in Union Square, and then hopping along to various neighborhoods to make sure I see all my clients. And I’m grateful I’m able to do it. (Although hopping down subway steps, and across puddles, and through revolving doors admittedly gets tiresome after awhile.) However, I’ve realized that with every single hop I take—thousands a day!–I am lucky that I’ve taken care of my body before this. Because it means that this ordeal isn’t nearly as difficult as it could be.

I had my doubts during the first few days on crutches. My arms were constantly sore, but I still had the strength to push my body high enough to prevent the crutches from jamming into my armpits, which is extraordinarily unpleasant. After the initial shock to my triceps and shoulders, my wrists and forearms needed to catch up, and they were sore a few days later.

Then there’s the whole one leg balance thing. I have always done single leg training by myself and with my clients. It’s challenging, but it helps to deal with a lot of muscular imbalances, while also working your hips and ankles in a way that helps prevent injury. I’m able to stand and wait for the subway for 5-10 minutes on one leg now. I’m also able to shower on one leg. This is really hard and a little scary; it also takes me double the time to shower, but if I weren’t as strong as I am, it would take me a lot longer. Or I’d be more tempted to just give up showering completely for a couple of months…but my friends probably wouldn’t appreciate that!

crutched footI also can’t overlook the importance of core strength. After a few days on crutches, I had a bunch of little tweaks in my back. With no history of back pain, I was still unevenly loaded, worrying more about navigating than about my posture. So, I started thinking about engaging my core if I had to pick something up and using my glutes to help raise my non-standing leg so I’m not collapsing into my hip joint. I thought about all the crazy planks I have done in my life, and I made sure to stabilize everything in good alignment. I’ve also added in a few mindful stretches, and my back is holding strong. My core strength has been a saving grace for keeping the rest of me uninjured during this crazy time. Right now? I’m feeling like a rockstar on crutches!

I’m a runner, which probably contributed to my fracture–the doctors aren’t quite positive. But I am sure that my history of running and cardio is helping get me through this process. My heart and lungs are strong, and hopping up those subway steps doesn’t wind me. Crutching my way down the streets in 80-degree heat does leave me pouring with sweat, but at least I’m not out of breath. It’s really nice to be able to keep my cool and recover quickly, while not gasping for breath on these very inelegant crutches.

I hope that nobody reading this story finds themselves on crutches at any point in their lives. Still, I wanted to share my story, because you really never know when you won’t have access to your entire body or when you’ll be at a physical disadvantage. Life comes at you on its own terms, not on yours, and I can say firsthand that being strong and fit has made a tremendous difference in my ability to handle this situation.