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Coping With Crohn’s Disease

Client: Ryan

Personal Trainer: Tony Cress, owner, Tony Cress Personal Training

Location: Las Vegas

About Crohn’s disease. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. People with Crohn’s experience mild to severe symptoms that include fever, abdominal pain, fatigue and more. The disease is also associated with loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.

At 130 pounds and 19% body fat, Ryan, a Crohn’s disease patient, was frail, sick and tired. He knew it was time to get help. “Ryan first approached me when I was taking on new clients for a 2-month challenge,” recalls Tony Cress, owner of Las Vegas–based Tony Cress Personal Training. “He thought it was finally time to take control of his health for the first time in his life.”

Eager to learn. Cress had never worked with someone with Crohn’s disease. “I wasn’t exactly sure what it was when Ryan came to me, but I love a challenge, so throughout our sessions he would educate me on what I needed to look out for and plan around.” For instance, individuals with Crohn’s can become sick unexpectedly. “You must plan for that and have water, a garbage can and a restroom nearby,” Cress learned. “It sounds like a joke, but unfortunately accidents are prevalent with Crohn’s patients.” He also learned that fatigue is common and can limit optimal execution of a training session.

In conjunction with Ryan’s guidance, Cress regularly visited online forums and other Internet-based learning sites to make sure he fully understood the disease.

Nutrition 101. Upon initial consultation, Cress knew immediately that Ryan was suffering. “There was very little muscle mass on his body, and by just looking at him I could tell he wasn’t getting the nutrition he needed to function normally,” Cress says. Ryan seemed well-informed about nutrition; however, he had a penchant for less healthy processed foods, Cress adds. While quality nutrition is important for everyone, someone with Crohn’s can experience painful flare-ups and significant fatigue as a result of eating poorly.

After obtaining a doctor’s clearance for exercise, Cress decided the initial focus should be on improving his client’s dietary habits, supplemented by a moderate-intensity resistance training plan.

Muscle up. Ryan’s primary goals were to increase his muscle mass and gain a bit more control over his disease. Cress was also concerned about bone density, as individuals with Crohn’s tend to be at greater risk for developing osteoporosis. Before designing a training protocol, Cress needed to understand how Ryan would respond to certain movements like push-ups, lunges and mild plyometrics.

As the sessions progressed, Cress moved Ryan from a body weight–only training protocol to resistance and plyometric training supersets. “For example, we’d do 10 repetitions of a dumbbell bench press followed by a set of plyometric push-ups. Our goal was to complete six supersets per workout.” To keep his client engaged, Cress encouraged Ryan to choose one exercise for each superset. Cress was also careful to schedule structured water breaks to avoid potential flare-ups.

In health. Ryan progressed well, but like most clients he experienced slip-ups along the way. “Every few weeks we would have a setback when Ryan’s nutrition wasn’t on point,” Cress says. “It was easy to tell because he would lack energy for the workouts or would cancel altogether because his Crohn’s disease was flaring up too much.” Since the issues seemed to be related to nutrition, Cress insisted that Ryan work hard to maintain a balanced diet.

Eventually, their efforts paid off. Over the course of 7 months, Ryan added 30 pounds of muscle to his frame and dropped his body fat to 7%. The two are currently working together to maintain Ryan’s good health and to add even more muscle. Ryan has also become a spokesperson to friends and family on the benefits of quality nutrition and exercise. “Ryan took his health into his own hands by coming to me,” Cress adds. “He has become one of the most motivated clients I’ve ever had.”

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