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Written on May 29, 2007 at 4:41 pm, by Eric Cressey
I just started working with a highly-ranked baseball and football prospect who – at the age of 17 – has already accumulated two stress fractures in his lumbar spine. His baseball season actually ended prematurely due to aggravation of one of these fractures. Given his potential, these injuries have been a local story of interest over the past year.
This morning, when she learned that I’d be working with him, another one of my clients came out and asked me, “Can you ever feel comfortable working with someone with injuries like that? Aren’t you scared about everything that could go wrong?”
Honestly – and confidently – I came right back with “No.” And, I followed up with a paraphrased story originally introduced to me by John Maxwell in “The Difference Maker.”
In trying to teach his daughter a lesson about life, a father takes out a carrot, an egg, and a bag of ground coffee. He then proceeds to add hot water to all three.
The carrot goes from solid to weak and mushy.
The egg goes from fragile to firm.
The ground coffee changes to become something better: a hot cup of coffee.
The lesson, the father insists, is that you have to look at your problems in life as if they are the hot water. They can make you weak and mushy – and easily broken. Or, they can simply harden you – and make you more unphased by future problems. Finally, they can make you better immediately, too – whether intentionally or not (let’s not forget that penicillin was discovered as the result of a botched experiment).
So, how does this apply to our young athlete? The problems, in this instance, are injuries – both mine and those of the individuals with whom I’ve worked in the past.
I’ve dealt with numerous injuries – some from before I ever got into this industry – myself: everything from a torn rotator cuff to a lumbar disc injury. In each case, they’ve hardened me – and motivated me to learn everything I can about the specific injury, its cause, rehabilitation, and post-rehabilitation training approaches – all while striving to maintain a training effect myself.
In clients, I’ve seen problems at every single joint – and in doing so, have carved out a niche for myself in the industry as a corrective exercise guy. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not a physical therapist and what I do is a complementary approach to what they do; I work hand-in-hand with PTs and doctors.
Where I come in is with the “gray area” between healthy people and those in physical therapy – whether that means helping those with aches and pains that don’t truly qualify for physical therapy, helping reintegrate those who are just finishing up with physical therapy to more normal programming, or simply giving those in physical therapy a solid training effect in spite of their injury limitations.
Effectively, what other trainers and coaches might perceive as a problem is something I see as an opportunity to showcase my best stuff and win people over for life. So how did I get there?
First, I made my network as strong as it can be. I have dozens of people – from Dr. Stuart McGill, to Bill Hartman, to John Pallof, to Gray Cook, to Dr. Ryan Smith, to Michael Hope, to Mike Robertson, to Dr. David Tiberio (among others) – who I can call or email anytime if I need feedback on a specific condition.
Second, I read everything I can get my hands on and attend as many seminars as possible. Whether it’s Shirley Sahrmann, Florence Kendall, Dr. McGill, Robert Donatelli, or any of a number of other notables from the clinical realm, I actually enjoy reading about what others perceive as boring – mostly because I can see how it directly relates to what I’m going to do – or confirms or refutes what I’ve done in the past.
Third, I follow the mantra, “Be as aggressive as possible, but do no harm.” As Mike Boyle has said, “Does it hurt?” is a yes or no question. This common sense also comes into play in terms of knowing when to refer out when I first meet a client who is up-in-the-air on whether or not to go to physical therapy. When in doubt, refer out.
Fourth, I used experience to build my confidence. I’ve seen lumbar fractures in and Olympic bobsledder and NBA 7-footers (whose spines are, for the record, a LOT more difficult to stabilize). Comparatively speaking, why would a high school athlete’s injury be any more worrisome for me? He’s younger, and therefore more resilient – and given his training status, he’s more trainable – indicating a larger potential window of adaptation. Consider also that this athlete came to me in part because I helped one of his teammates – who went to the same doctor and wore the same back brace – with a similar problem, and also because his coach recommended me with unwavering support because of the results I’ve produced with several of his other athletes.
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, over the past few years, I’ve established assessments and training progressions for all the commonplace injuries I encounter. With a system in place, it’s much easier to just tinker with minor adjustments on the fly rather than reinvent the wheel each time a new situation arises.
It’s taken me about six years to pull my network together, read a ton of books, attend dozens of seminars, and accumulate all my assessments and progressions – and I recognize that this collection is still a work in progress and will be throughout my career.
A few weeks ago, Alwyn Cosgrove wrote that Craig Ballantyne had said that he had spent more on continuing education in the first five months of 2007 than he MADE in his first year as a trainer. Immediately, I went and checked my financials for the year and realized that I’m in the same boat – and by a lot!
The take-home message is that the guys who have expedited their development are the ones who are looking at problems (for guys like Craig and Alwyn, it’s overweight clients) as ways to make hard-boiled eggs and coffee instead of mushy carrots. They’ve helped thousands of people reach their goals and made a great living from what could have been perceived as a daunting task.
And, they’re also the ones who view continuing education purchases as investments and not expenses. Ask any of these guys if they’d pay a few hundred bucks to fast-forward their development a few years, and they’d probably be willing to pay a few thousand dollars; time and effort are precious commodities!
Accelerated development for trainers is one of the reasons Mike Robertson and I put together the Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set:
The feedback on this front has been nothing short of fantastic:
With all this in mind, regardless of your personal or professional goals, what are you doing to transform your problems into your strengths?