Monday 23 July 2018

Operation Rebuild Part 1

On my May 14th, my world got thrown upside down. I was finishing off a grueling leg day with farmers walks on my driveway. The last set started well as I headed off down my driveway with 570lbs in my hands. It was a struggle, but things were looking good. If I had hair and a tan, I would have felt like the alpha male stud of the neighborhood. As I crossed the threshold from our driveway into the garage, my left toe hit a cement lip and stopped dead in its tracks. The momentum of moving weights shot my knee forward and ripped apart my patella ligament as I crumpled to the ground. 

Note: This blog is about you – not me. I have and will continue to write about stuff to help you be awesome and reach your training goals. However, I thought that sharing my story may help you. I hope that you will never have an injury like this, but if you do, hopefully, this will help and inspire you or someone you know with an injury. 

As I crashed to the ground, I didn’t know exactly what happened. All I knew was that I was in pain and my knee was completely nonfunctional. A few moments later my wife, kids and a few neighbors who heard the crash arrived to see what had happened. My wife called the ambulance and I was on my way to the hospital. 

The hospital experience was interesting. When you live in my world, high-performance training seems normal. As I stepped out of my world, I quickly realized how non-normal it was. I had to repeat my story to several nurses and doctors – none of whom knew what a farmer’s walk is. “Now, what exactly were you doing?” “You were lifting how much weight?”

The x-ray and a quick examination from the doctor revealed that I had completely torn my Patella ligament (also referred to as tendon – it is the one that connects your kneecap to your shinbone). When I saw the x-ray later, it made sense as I noticed that my kneecap was up where my quad should be. The next day I was in for surgery. 

Phase 1 - Rest
After surgery, it was time for recovery. The surgery was on Tuesday. On Saturday, my wife and I left for our first vacation in 10 years – a cruise with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. While this timing was less than ideal, the week off was super-helpful for rest and recovery.

Phase 2 – Train Around
To let things heal after surgery, I reluctantly took a full week of training. Then, I slipped in a few upper body workouts with the machines on the cruise ship. I hate machines. 

At home, I gradually resumed more intense training. At first, it was very awkward even moving around so I did many seated and lying exercises. In addition, while I normally do a lot of alternating sets for upper body (e.g. press, rest, pull, rest, next set of press), I did a push/pull routine so I could stay in one spot between sets. One day I would do all pushing exercises and the next all pulling exercises. 

I did a lot more seated and lying exercises than I normally do to work around the leg. One of my big challenges with training at home was doing chin-ups. As a tall guy living in a house with normal-height ceilings, I have to have my knees bent to over 90 degrees to be able to do chin-ups or pull-ups. This presented a problem when I was unable to bend my knee. I was also unable to lift my leg at that point. I tried doing pull-ups with my feet up on a bench and this worked okay. However, this was quite easy, and I love chin-ups so I had to get creative. I found I was able to suspend my injured leg in one of my gymnastics rings. 

Row variations where also limited. In addition to prone DB Rows, I did a lot of inverted rows. Here is a close-grip neutral row with a dumbbell for added weight. 

At week three, I introduced leg training. I had two objectives here: first was to train my healthy leg hard. I wanted to re-build lost muscle from the layoff and help to stimulate the injured side. Research shows that when you train one side of your body, there is a bit of a crossover effect to the other side. I wanted to do what I could to minimize quad atrophy on my left side. 

At home with no machines, and one leg stuck straight in a brace, I had limited options. I did single leg squats and again used my ring technique to hold up my injured leg. 

I also did some single leg deadlifts with my good leg – because I love deadlifts. 

For my injured leg, I knew I couldn’t bend my knee, but I could still train my calves. I started with bodyweight calf raises and gradually added weight. I also came up with a way to train my glute and hamstring doing single straight leg hip lift with my foot suspended from a gymnastics ring. This has proved to be an effective posterior chain exercise and I have made some good progress on in since filming this video.

Lessons I’ve Learned and Re-Learned 
Anytime something bad happens to you, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this and how can I grow from this?” I also kept asking God, “What do you want to teach me through this?” Here are some of the things I have learned/re-learned thus far…

Don’t let hard times blind you from seeing and counting your blessings
When something bad happens, it is easy to get tunnel vision on the problem. In doing so, you miss truly appreciating all the amazing things that are happening. 
  • The ambulance took me to a different hospital – this resulted in getting medical attention faster
  • I was able to talk to an orthopedic surgeon that night and he was able to slip me in for surgery the next day
  • There were no complications from the surgery 
  • I was able to get on a cruise ship 4 days after surgery and did not have to miss a wonderful, super-rest-full vacation
  • I have an incredible wife, father, and mother who were super helpful and supportive
  • I got had tons of people wish me well many who prayed for me

Ask, “What can I do?”
When you go from fully functional to unable to use a leg, life changes in a hurry. You quickly realize that all sorts of everyday things you took for granted now seem like an impossibility. I tried not to tell myself, “You can’t do that.” When you think like that, your mind accepts the limitation as final. Instead, I made it a habit of asking myself, “How can I do that?” Your mind sees this question as a “to-do” item and gets to work on a solution. I started asking this question for all of my daily tasks (you should have seen the technique I came up with for cutting the grass with one leg) and with my training (as I gave examples above). It became a fun game for me.

Let others help
I’m often guilty of not asking for help. Sometimes it is shyness, fear of rejection or just plain pride. When something like this happens, you realize how important it is to have others help and to not be afraid to ask for help. I’ve still got a long way to go on this one.

Train around an injury
As a strength coach, this is something that I’m a huge believer of. I would always tell my athletes that we could train around anything but a concussion. No, that’s not totally true, but it is a good principle. My first priority is not to re-injury or delay healing of the injured knee. However, my second priority was to train around the injury the best I could. I didn’t want the mind or the body of a patient. I wanted to be in the best shape I could be and do what I could. 

Since this was my first real training injury, I got to experience first-hand what an injury does to you mentally. It was so fun during intense sets to forget for a moment about the injury. This was also helpful in preventing the depression that can often come with an injury like this. 

Appreciate the little things
When life is good, it is so easy to take the little things for granted. With the surgery and then being unable to stand without my brace, I had to sponge bath for about 4 weeks. You would not believe how much I appreciate being able to shower again! It took me 8 weeks to be able to go for a walk with my family (something we enjoyed doing on a daily basis). Remember to always be thankful for the little things in life.  

Who are you without (fill in the blank)
We often place our identity in our careers, relationships, possessions, skills or even our fit bodies. This injury reminded me that I could lose any of these things at any time. If I did, what is left? Who am I without the things that I often find my identity and self-worth from? For me, the answer was a son of God. I encourage you to wrestle with this question. 

Now what? 
So, where do I go from here? I’m out of the knee brace now. When I first got it off, I could barely bend my knee. In addition, my left quad seems to have disappeared. 

If someone finds a left quad, please let me know because I've lost mine!

Now starts the journey of regaining mobility and re-build my leg size and strength. I will continue to write about other training topics, but from time to time, I’ll update you on my progress. To be continued…


  1. Great honest and raw post Andrew. However, I think your wife and kids could have mowed the grass.

  2. Thanks Shane! I have an old-school reel mower (the kind you have to push to make the wheels turn). It is too hard for them. I enjoyed the challenge and was desperate for something physical to do. However, I looked so ridiculous that I had two different neighbors come up to me and offer to cut my grass for free.