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A Back-Pain Solution

Starting with the basics. Personal trainer Jamal Younis first met 38-year-old Jessica in August 2014. Jessica, a former competitive collegiate swimmer, suffered from a degenerative disk disease, which had resulted in three surgeries to address the issue. Post physical therapy, she decided that in order to keep her back healthy she’d need to continue with a structured training program. She met Younis through a friend of his who was also a personal trainer.

After completing several assessments to determine Jessica’s functional strength, Younis decided to start with the basics— mitigating any issues that might stem from her back problems. “I suggested that we restore stability and mobility through the kinetic chain,” the trainer recalls. He specifically emphasized imbalances in strength and flexibility in Jessica’s trunk while improving full-body strength.

“In the first few sessions I was very careful with movements and external load. We did a lot of squats—first body weight, then with dumbbells. Later I added dumbbell dead lifts.” Younis also incorporated foam rolling to enhance mobility and release tension, and he insisted that most of Jessica’s training take place in the standing position. “I believe that correct core strengthening doesn’t happen on the floor,” he says.

Safeguarding success. Despite Jessica’s competitive background and interest in physical fitness, Younis was careful to ensure that his client remained safe. He explains that he was “quite conservative” when introducing new exercises or increasing external load. Younis adds that he typically avoided exercises that involved trunk rotation or forward flexion.

Another tactic Younis employed to keep his client safe was to fully involve her in the entire process instead of simply telling her what to do. He taught her about her body and the reasons behind all of the training. “I like to work with people like Jessica who are interested in the human body,” he says. “ I like to educate people about getting stronger— especially if they have physical issues.”

Going with the flow. Like most people, Jessica had a personal life with numerous roadblocks that created hiccups in her training schedule. She juggled training with her career as a preschool language teacher, her toddler, and the respiratory illnesses that commonly afflict foreigners living in Asia, says Younis.

Since Jessica was by no means unmotivated, the trainer developed at-home workouts and connected with her through a training app so that she could reference video exercise demonstrations. The app enabled her to “train when she had time and energy on the days we didn’t meet, and I monitored her progress online,” Younis recalls.

Back in action. As Jessica progressed, Younis encouraged her to add a new element to her training program. “As a former fighter, I suggested using Thai boxing for comprehensive training,” Younis explains. “Thai boxing uses the whole body in all planes of motion and is diversified and fun, which helps to prevent boredom. People really enjoy learning a new skill; it’s exhausting and fun. Fun is actually one of the most important aspects for training adherence, in my opinion,” he notes. Jessica had experienced kickboxing in the past and was all in.

Currently, the two train together twice per week and continue to focus on strength improvements, pain-free living and weight loss. One session is devoted to strength training, while the other focuses on Thai boxing. “During the boxing session, we go five rounds at 3 minutes each,” Younis says. “Jessica punches and kicks the boxing pads I hold for her, and then we finish with conditioning drills.”

“My back feels good!” Jessica says about her training experience. “[Younis has] made me more comfortable and more confident.”

Younis notes that, aside from the overall improvements in her strength and back, his client has excelled outside their training sessions. Recently, for the first time ever, she beat her longtime male training partner during their weekly swimming race.

“Jessica improves every time we train,” Younis says. “I am confident that our training experience will enable her to have a pain-free back for the rest of her life.”

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