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May I Have This Dance?

From couch potato to headstands: Helping a Parkinson's patient get a new view of life.

client: Bert | personal trainer: Ann Heizer | location: Oceanside, California

Doctor’s orders. “Thanks for coming into my life and helping me deal with Parkinson’s disease,” says Bert, warmly sharing his respect for his trainer, Ann Heizer. “Working out with you has helped me stay positive and flexible.”

These are powerful words from Bert, a self-professed lifelong couch potato. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just after his 59th birthday, and he reached out to Heizer at the behest of his doctor, who was concerned about Bert’s unhealthy habits.

The orders were to “eat more healthfully, exercise and dance,” and Heizer jumped at the chance to guide Bert through his new journey.

Ann Heizer is an Oceanside, California–based personal trainer and the originator of Grounded XT—Cross Training the Nooks and Crannies™. When she met Bert about 3 years ago, she quickly realized that, when it came to exercise, he was like a blank slate and was ready to embrace change.

“I was thrilled to be able to make a difference. When a client is open and has no ego about your work together, not only can you get results, but you can have a lot of fun, too, without bad training habits, beliefs or expectations about working out,” she says.

From the ground up. “When I met Bert, my focus was to get him ‘inside his body’ and begin a foundation of body awareness, mindfulness and form,” Heizer says. “This was a perfect place to start, as he had no previous workout or physical experiences to reference.”

The sessions began with what Heizer describes as putting on a “Spiderman suit.” This is a mindfulness technique that is integral to her Grounded™ program, aimed at helping a client connect with each part of the body as he or she slowly pulls on the imaginary suit.

“This is a way to check off postural cues to prepare the body,” she says.

From there, they concentrated on chair work and began developing a connection between the feet and the ground. To do this, Heizer would cue Bert to vizualize placing his feet in 3 inches of melted chocolate. She encouraged him to imagine the chocolate oozing between his toes and up toward his ankles. From there, she’d offer various other visualizations and cues to improve alignment and mind-body connection up the kinetic chain.

“It’s all about awareness from the inside out,” she explains.

Creative training. Since Bert’s exercise goals were simple—he wanted to move better and be able to dance with his wife—the door was wide open for Heizer to develop a comprehensive and varied program aimed at engaging all the senses. She’d have him do exercises like pressing a foot repeatedly into the dome of a BOSU® Balance Trainer (as though he were “giving it CPR”), marching at varying tempos, and strength training with elastic bands. Sometimes she’d incorporate a Hula Hoop® to challenge manual dexterity and to minimize PD-related tremors, a JumpStart trampoline to initiate and control movement, and Lebert Equalizers® to train arm balance. She also introduced him to yoga to help him improve his flexibility and range of motion.

As Bert’s flexibility and stability progressed, he was able to take on greater challenges, says Heizer.

“We did a lot of foundational work for crow and headstand, which, broken down, are very challenging. I didn’t add resistance of any kind until I was satisfied with form and technique. Now we work with all types of resistance, along with doing flexibility and balance training.”

Dancing with the beat of life. As a result of Heizer’s training, Bert has increased his mobility and stability, does complex exercises like headstands with ease, and has taken up dancing.

“Ann’s coaching and workouts have helped me with fitness, balance and overall health,” Bert says. “Her focus on doing things that challenge me physically and mentally is terrific. We started slowly with workouts while sitting in a chair. Now we do things that I never in my life thought I would be doing.

“I’m certain that her workouts will help improve the quality of my life as my Parkinson’s progresses. In fact, my friends have been telling me that I look better, and aside from some symptoms, I do feel better!

“My wife did a lot of dancing in her youth, and I hated dancing. Now she has a bad knee, and I’m doing complex dance steps. I still have problems keeping the beat, but I’m dancing!”

Calling All Trainers

Do you have a client who has overcome the odds to achieve new heights in health and fitness? Send your story to [email protected], and you
and your client may be featured in an upcoming issue of Fitness Journal.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor, and IDEA's director of event programming.

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