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One Last Ski Season

Fighting for quality of life.

At age 64, George, a retired registered nurse anesthetist, was at a crossroads, physically. Severe knee arthritis pain—he rated his pain a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1–10—threatened to derail an upcoming ski trip and diminish his quality of life in retirement. Hoping to postpone the inevitable and make the most of what might be a final run at the slopes, he decided to stop into a local fitness facility for guidance.

“I was looking for a way to strengthen my leg muscles for a planned 2-week ski vacation,” George explains. “I had been considering surgery for total knee replacement on both knees in the future. I am an ex–ski instructor and I still like to race. I knew that surgery would drastically reduce my level of performance, and I wanted one more season of serious fun.”

Defying roadblocks.

Susan Schubel-Newmyer, owner of fitness4smartpeople, first observed George as he wandered through the fitness facility, seemingly lost. “I approached him to see if there was something I could help with,” she recalls.

The two chatted about George’s goals and limitations; both individuals were skeptical. Schubel-Newmyer remembers thinking that the goal was impossible—George’s trip was only 2 months away. George was worried about investing precious time on an inexperienced personal trainer. However, as the conversation progressed, Schubel-Newmyer grew convinced that George’s request was not as impossible as it seemed, and George realized that he was speaking with an extremely knowledgeable and professional personal trainer. The two agreed on an 8-week program starting the very next day.

Taking a scientific approach.

Assessment protocols are a key part of Schubel-Newmyer’s toolbox. When working with a new client, she picks and chooses the protocols that best fit each scenario. In George’s case, she focused on a submaximal field test to establish an aerobic baseline and precise heart training zones. She later used a heart rate monitor to ensure that training remained within the ideal range. Having dealt with cardiovascular and respiratory systems in his career, George appreciated this scientific approach.

Schubel-Newmyer also considered George’s level of flexibility and his use of aids and supports, such as braces and footwear. She noted tightness in his hamstrings and range-of-motion deficits in his hips.

Tailoring the training.

When working with clients—especially those on a very tight timeline—Schubel-Newmyer prefers to use periodization templates. “Having a focus point and a means to get there are instrumental in transitioning from a ‘workout-of-the-day’ approach to a results-driven, transformational approach,” explains the trainer.

While clients’ templates might be similar, Schubel-Newmyer always makes sure the details are unique.

For example, George’s template included cycling work with resistance and various low-body movements to improve leg strength. This dovetailed with a secondary goal of completing a 100-mile bike ride. The program also integrated yoga poses to improve flexibility and core strength.

“We also utilized the step with risers for basic stepping, lateral stepping and thrusts,” Schubel-Newmyer adds. “We really were treating the whole body and using a variety of exercises, depending on where we were in the process.”

Defying the odds.

“During our 18 months of training (16 months longer than the original contract’s timeline), George has transformed the way he looks, feels and thinks,” says Schubel-Newmyer. “His knee pain is almost nonexistent; although we haven’t cured arthritis, we have bought him time. His activity level has increased, and he is able to enjoy cycling hard, skiing, backpacking and snowshoeing.”

George accomplished his secondary goal by finishing the Michigan Mountain Mayhem century ride for the second time.

“This year my time was shorter, my average heart rate was much lower, and my rating of perceived exertion, after being on the bike for 6 hours and 36 minutes, was minimal,” he says.

“He has lost almost 20 pounds,” adds Schubel-Newmyer. “His cardiovascular health is excellent, and he has a very, very low risk for a cardiovascular incident. His physician told him, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but I want your body!’”

And that ski vacation? It was a complete success, she adds.

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