Disclaimer: I am not in any way involved with any of the programs mentioned nor do I sell them, benefit financially or in any other way from talking about my experience with them.
So, yes, I am an MS patient and I went through an extreme workout program with amazing results. So can you, no matter what your fitness level is.
I strongly believe that a fitness program that works on all aspects of your fitness (such as strength, balance, flexibility, co-ordination, breathing and cardio) can only be beneficial for you. No matter if you are someone with an impairment or if you are very fit to start with. The added help with nutrition and explanations about it to make it a really complete program is just the sugar on top. Specially since it directly works against the most frustrating aspects an MS patient has to deal with.
Who told MS patients they are not supposed to work out anyway? Who says you can’t do an extreme program? There are 70 year old people doing P90X, people that were over 300 pounds. Obviously people come in all shapes and sizes and with all different kind of conditions. So what makes it hard for an MS patient to try to exercise?
- lack of Energy and MS fatigue
- general muscle weakness
- stress levels can trigger a relapse
- specific impairments in movements
- balance problems
Guess what, all of those I was struggling with myself. The worst being balance, weakness in my arms and legs and MS fatigue and chronic pain in my bladder. Now lets take a look at the average guy interested in fitness:
- they are quite often complaining about low energy and lack thereof
- a lot of people ask for help with specific problems such as knee and back issues, having to recover from an accident or operation, have conditions such as IBS or other hard to cure illnesses.
- Lots of people have to stick to specific diets or are allergic to certain foods
- People are notoriously inflexible and even quite fit people hardly ever focus on flexibility or do Yoga
Now lets compare:
Both groups will have to modify and be careful about their workouts and nutrition. An MS patient has to be specifically careful to not overdo any kind of exercise to not trigger a relapse due to stress. That is the most important difference between the two groups and both are facing the task to adjust any kind of program accordingly.
People with herniated discs, general back problems, knee problems, shoulder problems, all of them have to modify their exercise routine accordingly, much like MS patients.
Which brings me back to my initial point: You can use any program even something extreme and adjust it to your level and needs. Specially with a program which is very complete and incorporates every single aspect that is helpful for an MS patient. Moderation and listening to your body is the key. If you are in doubt ask your specialist for help and modifications.
Start slow and very carefully. I started with 1kg and 1.5kg weights. Start where you have to and rather too light then too extreme. You can take all the time in the world to work up from there. No one is pushing you and you know what’s comfortable for you and what feels ok. Forget about goals other’s have or what you think the goal of a specific program is. You set your own goals, for yourself.
Now lets talk about these specific issues again and how I tried to tackle them.
Lack of Energy and MS fatigue
I had a huge struggle with these. I felt exhausted, tired, depressed and unmotivated. On top it felt likemy head was stuffed with cotton. My eating habits were really bad and most probably directly linked to the things mentioned before. I didn’t feel like getting up a few minutes earlier to fix breakfast, specially not since I wasn’t hungry. I ate lunch and maybe something for dinner, that was pretty much it. No wonder that on top of my fatigue I also was lacking the base energy to do the simplest tasks because my eating was severely lacking and thus my whole system was slowed down. Not only did I not eat enough I was also lacking a lot of the important nutrients. I wasn’t aware of all of this until I read the nutrition guide that came with one of the programs I bought.
Changing my eating habits and switching to eating 5 times per day was the most important factor to improve my Energy.
General muscle weakness
I had to ask my boyfriend more often then not to open bottles and cans for me. Walking up stairs was very taxing and the thought of playing tennis was demotivating because I didn’t want to risk of feeling how much I lost control over my body.Yet, I started to do muscle training according to the plan. Working all muscles groups alternating throughout the week. First with very light weights but it didn’t take long until we had to go buy some new dumbbells. And I will have to do it again once I am done with my current cardio program.
Stress levels can trigger a relapse
This is a tough one and specially for MS patients the most important one. Moderate yourself and start really, really slow – rather do too little then too much.
I didn’t know how far I could go or if I could do it at all when I started. You know your body best – listen to it, carefully.
Additionally, try to reduces all additional stress as much as you can. A relaxed environment is really helpful. Make your workouts and health the most important part in your life (next to your family of course). Don’t plan your workouts around your everyday life and try to squeeze it in somewhere. Organize your day around your workouts and look at them as “me time”.
Specific impairments in movements
Modify, modify, modify. There is no real difference to someone who has knee issues or someone who has an impairment because of MS. Even if you are in a wheel-chair. You can still work on your upper body strength as Cammie very nicely demonstrates in her youtube videos.
For example, I noticed my knee problems during starting to work out. I substituted exercises which seemed to aggravate the problems with others that seemed to work the same muscle areas but in a different way.
I wasn’t able to do some of the exercises at all, so I just waited and worked on other aspects and strength until I felt ready enough to give it at least a try.
When I started I did most of the push-ups on my knees and stopped whenever I felt I couldn’t go further. I listened to my body and in turn I learned more about it then I did ever before. This dedication really pays off. I can’t remember when I had to switch to my knees for push-ups. A pull-up without a chair was something completely out of the question when I started (even with chair it was tough) and now I can do three unassisted pull-ups (with much struggling on the third one). I can only do unassisted ones in reverse chin-ups. Any other variations is still totally out of the question but who cares. 🙂
Yoga was the most important contributor to how my balance and flexibility improved. It was also the hardest to go through because it was really frustrating at first. However, the harder a workout seems to be the clearer it is that you lack in exact that area and the more you will benefit from trying to push through it. It’s with going through the hardest tasks that we come out with the most improvements.
Even though I don’t have that much problems with heat (surprisingly enough), I am using a cooling fan to blow at me during exercising. Working out in an environment that is comfortable for you temperature wise is really important.
I am not bumping into the side of doorways anymore and I can walk down a stair without any problems or fear of losing my balance. My feet don’t drop any more while walking and I can open bottles and cans on my own again and I am probably fitter then your average “healthy” person out there.
Just know, if I can, you can. If you are someone with an illness or impairment you just really need to take it slow and work your way up very carefully. But it’s possible. I know it is. Honestly, right now I have to look at my MRIs showing my old lesions and pictures from the hospital and also pull out my lumbar puncture results to make sure the diagnosis was not just a freak accident (even though the tri-weekly injections remind me mercilessly).
This will be the first upcoming MRI test where I go because it is time to check and not because I have symptoms that make it necessary to take one.