Fitness Success Stories
Former Royal Marine Commando Battles Brain Hemorrhage—with Exercise
Eight Month Update Below
I am writing to you today from my home in the North of England.
Clarence, you first caught my attention in the early 1980’s; You were writing your column in “Muscle and Fitness”--about the time of Arnold’s comeback at the Olympia and Stallone getting bigger and more ripped in every film he made--interestingly, you note that Sly Stallone was one of the first to order “Ripped”…!
Early 80’s I was serving as a Royal Marine Commando and, like many of my colleagues, I lived for my physical. We would cover serious distances over rough terrain and at a “forced” pace carrying a lot of weight. We practiced rope-climbing and rope-assault techniques carrying weight. We ran loaded-up, swam loaded-up, circuit trained loaded-up and in our spare time we hit the weights in the gym. You get the idea; our levels of cardiovascular and muscle endurance were impressive--and being young and that fit I guess you could say that we almost felt indestructible..!
I was certainly very lean, carrying what I would call a good amount of “working/useable” muscle--but not so big--as that wouldn’t have worked with the job. I had discovered Len Schwartz’s “Heavyhands” about this time too and bought my first pair.
I left the forces in 1984 and spent a great Spring back-packing up the West Coast of the United States--I started from the weight pen on Venice Beach--never did make it to Albuquerque though..!
I’m 58 now and I’ve never stopped training. I even had my gym in a cabin in the woods during ten years as a Carpenter in rural France.
* * *
On 1st October 2018 I had just driven my pickup truck to where I was building an oak-framed garage for a client. I was having a coffee and discussing the work plan for the next few days with my colleague when… BANG!... from nowhere and with no warning I suffered a substantial brain hemorrhage. All Change…!
I had trained on the Sunday, the day before, and felt nothing unusual. Anyway, there followed a number of difficult weeks, including various medical procedures, but to cut the story short I was back training (though carefully and sensibly) within two months. Interestingly, my medical consultancy team could only give me very vague advice on how to progress my rehabilitation once I had left hospital and so I was more-or-less left to plot my own way forward.
Now, this is where you come back in Mr Bass..!
I immediately set a goal. To be in all-round better shape than before my little crisis and from there to push-on and be better than I have been during the last 15 years (my time as a husband and father).
I wanted only positive and motivational input..! I had remembered you and your outlook on life from all those years ago--and looked you up..! I bought “Lean for Life” and “Challenge Yourself” and I can report that I read them both from end to end in a couple of days. They present fascinating information for me for this reason: Unlike you, I certainly hadn’t pulled together all of the scientific research to back up my instinct about the best way to train. However, I had come to broadly the same conclusions through “feel” over the years; I felt at my best mixing resistance training with cardiovascular training and a clean (though not fanatical) eating habit.
And so I continue today. I have my home gym--which I am particularly thankful for now--I always preferred to use my own facility. I have the “Tornado” Air Bike and the “Apollo Pro II” Water Rower (four-limb workouts are so much better aren’t they?), free weights and the “Finnlo” Bio Force Extreme (which I find very kind to my joints as I get a bit older).
I have relied heavily on my air-bike, rower and resistance bands during my rehab to this point.
now train Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday; aerobic work every time
and a split routine with my bands targeting all muscle groups twice a
week. I intend to ease back onto the Finnlo and the free weights
gradually when it feels right.
This photo was taken by my wife a few days ago.
These two months back in the gym have worked a little magic. I weaned myself off all medication very quickly. I am in control of my rehab.
I own it!
I’m positive always. I can see and feel the benefit of my training. I am convinced that my active lifestyle over many years enabled me to take my recent experience in my stride and that continuing to challenge myself now and into the future is the ONLY way forward. I have a solid foundation from which to re-build.
My consultancy team is impressed at how well and how quickly I have recovered from a deep and “substantial” brain hemorrhage (and seizure) and, all things being well, my risk of a repeat performance is only slightly higher than if I had never had one.
I quote you Clarence: “Thoughtful exercise is without doubt the best medicine.”
Thank you so much for making the effort to pull all of this information together for the benefit of all of us and may you long continue to do so.
Commando Going Strong Again
Tim Gorrill looking lean and ready for action in his new garage gym
Hey Clarence and Hey Carol:
About eight months after you kindly ran my success story on your SS page.
I’m back. With an update!
I thought it might be interesting for your readers to hear about my experiences on the road back to strength over the last few months.
I’d have great satisfaction if any of the following content were to prove helpful or motivational for anyone who might find themself in a similar place.
The quick recap is that a year ago I suffered a severe (“considerable” to quote my consultant) subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) which is a life-threatening bleed on the brain (I believe about 40% of SAH’s prove fatal). My previous SS explained a little about my background, my life-long love for physical training, the immediate circumstances of my SAH and the beginning of my recovery.
At that stage I described relying heavily on my air bike, water rower and resistance bands for my initial efforts at getting back into some sort of exercise routine-and stated my intention to ease back onto the free weights as soon as it felt right to do so.
I can happily report that having thoughtfully (thoughtful exercise is without doubt the best medicine) eased my way back into the weight room, I am at last going strong again!
At first I was very careful. I trained with limited weight and intensity, and very gradually increased those variables. (I wanted to control any rise in blood pressure.) I still stop short of “momentary muscular failure” by one or two reps and probably always will.
It feels like a sensible compromise.
As a part of my self-motivation programme I decided to re-build and re-equip my home gym during the early summer. I can now claim to be the proud owner of a classic “garage gym”.
My gym includes the following commercial-standard equipment:
Water rower, air-assault bike, Olympic barbells and plates, hex-dumbbells, high/low pulley, fold-away squat & press rack, multi-gym, landmine station, blocks, power press, adjustable bench, ab bench and many accessories.
The gym is properly insulated and air conditioned for comfortable use all-year-round and has a great sound system too. (My wife Emily makes better use of that than I do!)
Emily and I have four children between the ages of 8 and 14 and they all like to train with Dad--Henry, the eldest, is really starting to get into working out--so that is great news and something we can really enjoy doing together.
My routine? Although I do chop and change exercises and routines every few weeks, I prefer the big free-weight compound movements. So I squat, bench press, deadlift, pull-down, shoulder press and so on. I supplement these foundation exercises with (a few) single joint movements, which I add or remove as I see fit.
I always begin with a thorough four-limb warm-up on the attack-bike or the water-rower and use this as a lead-in to a short but quite intense aerobic element before I use the weights. I finish by cooling down with stretches for the muscle groups worked and any tight or troublesome areas. Nothing complicated. Just good, basic stuff.
I train three times per week on alternate days and walk every day with my dog “Milo.”
I'm pleased to report that my level of performance is about where it was ten years ago.
If you had told me last year that this is where I would be with it all today, I’d have been well-chuffed!
I have been able to regain the strength and rebuild the muscle down my right side. SAH is in effect a type of stroke and muscle weakness/atrophy is a common consequence.
* * *
I’d like to say something about another vital element to this success story.
I remained conscious throughout the SAH. Some of the experience is a bit vague although I remember clearly that it was quite unpleasant. I also remember being very angry. I remember thinking: Was I going to let-down my family?
Not finishing the boys’ loft-conversion. Not taking the girls riding. Not going swimming together on Saturday mornings. No country walks. Not being able to provide properly. Perhaps not even being there for them.
While I lost some physical strength, I did not lose my mental strength. It's important to understand that the motivation to fight back came from my family! I wanted to fulfil what I considered to be my “life-contract” with them.
One BIG RULE in life is to “marry a good woman.” I was fortunate to be able to do that. Emily (and close and extended family with their amazing support) has been the difference for me over the last year.
* * *
About 30 years ago, I qualified and set up a personal training business: Fitness Prescription. I ran this enterprise alongside my carpentry company to add variety and interest to my routine. To use my time wisely during my recovery, I again studied anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, nutrition…all the subjects required to re-qualify as a personal trainer.
It is interesting to note that nearly all the information presented in the study literature of any PT course here in the UK is rooted well and truly in US research--and the related publications from such organisations as your National Strength and Conditioning Association. Despite the intervening years and advancement in sports science, the good, solid basics still apply. The tomes I acquired 30+ years ago are even now of great factual value!
Today, I am enthusiastically following my desire to become more involved in spreading the word about the extensive benefits of health and strength for every citizen, especially for those who are getting a little older and those who have neglected to look after themselves quite as thoughtfully as they should.
One thing is for sure: I’m “selling” something I believe in, something which has given me a solid foundation and a set of personal values from which I’ve been able to build, or re-set to, throughout my adult life!
November 1, 2019
Staying Active During Life’s Curveballs
I’ve been active in endurance sports, like biking, running, and hiking, all my adult life. Importantly, I’m found activities I enjoy and challenges that inspire me. It’s vital to stay active as we age. As we’ve seen repeatedly on Clarence’s site (and from his own example), the “inevitable” declines with aging are in large part due to inactivity. The best way to keep moving is to find something you enjoy and do well.
Then I got arthritis in my hip at age 49, in 2002, and stopped running and concentrated more on biking. Around this time I also discovered Clarence’s site and got motivated to take up strength training with a garage gym I set up. I also learned about doing shorter, higher intensity challenges rather than long ones like marathons. I thought this was a great idea to get myself to train hard but not be tempted to overdo volume. So I started participating in the Bay Area Senior Games cycling time trial (5K), which takes about 10 hard minutes. I also competed virtually against local cycling hill climbing challenges using Strava GPS, again choosing ones that take 10 minutes or less. There are a lot of talented cyclists in my age group locally to inspire me to improve.
By 2012, my arthritis had progressed to needing a hip replacement. Fortunately I had read about Clarence’s experience with the anterior approach to surgery, and found a great surgeon who did it that way. My right hip was replaced in May 2012, and rehab was amazingly fast: walking briskly and stationary cycling within a couple of weeks, full activity within a month. I did my PT exercises diligently. You lose some strength in your glutes and abductors during the long period when your hip movement is impaired prior to surgery, and diligent work is required to get the strength back with exercises like the clamshell. The exercises may not be fun but are important. My surgeon told me that lots of his patients don’t bother with PT and never get a proper gait back! Why go to all the trouble to get your hip replaced and then not do what's necessary to walk normally?
My x-ray showed the left hip was not far behind the right, so I got it replaced in September of 2012. I was 59. Again, rehab went very well. I enjoyed several good years of high level activity, which helped prepare me for the next curveball.
Heart Surgery and Rehab
The first hint something was wrong came on more challenging bike rides or hikes; I was getting badly out of breath after several minutes. It turned out I had moderate “aortic stenosis.” The heart valve leading into my aorta wasn't opening enough. After a few months it got worse, and I found that I had atrial fibrillation (afib), a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm, when exercising intensely (a common side effect of aortic stenosis). I’d also progressed to severe stenosis, confirmed by an angiogram. It was time to get the valve replaced. I found another great surgeon for this procedure. He recommended the “Cox Maze” procedure to assure the afib would not come back. The surgery required cutting my sternum in half.
It is very important to go into major surgery like this (and the hip replacements) as fit as possible to make a good outcome more likely. One cardiac surgeon commented that “the ones who can walk a mile a day will do fine. It’s the inactive ones I worry about.” That’s not setting the fitness bar too high, but unfortunately many people don’t even clear that hurdle.
In August 2017, my doc got the complex procedure done in just over 90 minutes. The outcome was superb. The pathology report showed that I had a congenital condition, a bicuspid aortic valve, which had caused my stenosis.
Rehab took a few months because of inflammation around my heart caused by the trauma of the surgery (a common side effect). Just going up stairs got me severely out of breath. But I was able to walk fine on the flat, though slowly at first, and ramped up my walks to more than 40 minutes over the next 6 weeks. I kept a positive attitude and chipped away at improving.
I saw my surgeon for a follow-up at one month post-op. He said I now had a normal heart beat (no afib), and cleared me to go as hard as I wanted with cardio. Hurray! He also recommended starting cardiac rehab soon. So I went to a great nearby rehab facility for 30 sessions. My heart rate was constantly monitored for arrhythmias by an amazing staff of nurses and PTs. I routinely ran my heart rate up to as much as 140 and we never saw arrhythmia in any of the sessions, a real confidence booster.
There was an interesting contrast at the rehab place among the patients. Some, like me, were chomping at the bit to get back to being fit, and if anything the PTs had to rein us in. Others seemed to find it a chore and were skating by with the minimum effort; the therapists had to prod them to try a little harder. And 2/3 of cardiac surgery patients don’t even bother to do rehab. It’s vital to do rehab and stay active to assure a good outcome (and maybe avoid future surgeries). Again, the key is to find what you enjoy and will want to keep doing.
After about 4 months, I was cleared to ride and hike (carefully!) outdoors, which I did on non-rehab days; I was also cleared to start strength training. My 65th birthday came in January 2018, about 5 ½ months post-op. By this time I was feeling very well and able to do all the activities I enjoy. My performance was still a bit sub-par but under the circumstances I didn’t care. I considered my recovery to be a nice birthday present and looked forward to continued improvement.
As I write this I’m about 18 months post-op, and back full steam to all my favorite activities, with no limitations. Considering the severity of the condition that had gotten fixed and how much tougher this rehab turned out to be, that’s not at all bad. Self-help works.
The main change to my training is that I now take what Clarence calls “barbell” training (also known as “polarized”) seriously. A couple of times a week I do strength training and go hard on my bike with interval training. The rest of the time I go at an easy pace, what I think of as “brisk but comfortable.” Too much training at moderate intensity can trigger afib, according to the book The Haywire Heart.
I studiously avoid the intermediate zone.
My replacement valve is a tissue valve (bovine), which can last up to 20 years. Fortunately there is a minimally invasive procedure that can be performed at that time. But the life of the replacement valve is affected by diet; a “heart healthy” diet is also “heart valve healthy.” So, I’ve cleaned up my eating by emphasizing fruits and veggies and other whole foods and eliminating processed junk, which I also learned a lot about from Clarence.
Morgan Hill, CA
* * *
Richard has an information packed website. We encourage readers to check it out:
Two Middle Aged Men
Meet the Challenges of Aging
In the Pool:
Good Morning Mr. Bass,
Today marks 10 years since I rediscovered (I had followed your columns in Muscle and Fitness in my twenties) your writings and had emailed you asking about the use of the Tabata Protocol for my Masters Swim training.
Your response that day and article suggestions from your website led to a complete revamping of my training, eating, fitness and health philosophy and practices. I have never been more dedicated and passionate about training than I have during the last decade. I anticipate the first of each month for new fitness articles on your website and routinely re-read sections of my copy of Great Expectations for ongoing planning and motivation.
I would like to thank you for your influence, writings and example of what a healthy active lifestyle can be for any individual at any age.
Best wishes to you and Mrs. Bass and continued success in your training for 2018.
PS: As requested, here is a photo taken this morning at swim practice.
I also noticed from reviewing all your other Success Story articles that many of your readers included workout and diet information. Here is mine if you wish to use it:
I am 54 years old, 5' 10" and weigh about 147 pounds with 6 - 7% body fat (I have been fortunate to have maintained these levels since April of 2008).
I currently train and compete year round as a Masters Swimmer. I train for 9 months of the year in an indoor pool (it is currently 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside as I write this) and for 3 months in an outdoor pool when it is warmer. I swim train 3 times per week consisting of two interval workouts of varying lengths and recoveries on a 12 week cycle and one technique swim. Sessions are short with the emphasis on quality, not quantity. I do two full body weight workouts per week focusing on compound movements and progressing to momentary failure. In addition, I add 3 short stationary cycling or run or walking sessions for recovery and enjoyment on non swimming days.
My eating plan consists of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean meats, fish and almonds or cashews. I am also partial to natural peanut butter for extra oil. I eat meals and snacks 5 times per day, watching my portions but never being restrictive (I consume about between 2500-3000 calories per day depending on my activity level) Each Sunday, I take the day off from formal training, maintain my eating plan, but treat myself to a homemade sundae for dessert at dinner.
I have been able to modify and adjust this plan over the last 10 years. It is sustainable, measurable and enjoyable. Thank you for your guidance in helping me achieve (and set new) fitness goals.
Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada
On the Mountain (Update Below)
I am just writing to say thank you.
I have been reading your work since the 1980s, and you have had a significantly beneficial impact on my health and life. This has many aspects, but for the sake of brevity I will name two.
First, you helped me disengage from the all too common cycle of over training, with the deleterious effects of injury and poor health that went with it.
Second, in more recent decades, you have helped me meet the inevitable challenges of aging with a positive mind. I attach a photo of me alpine climbing in New Zealand eleven months after having my right hip replaced (I’m fifty five in a few days). I send this not in any way to brag, but rather to emphasize that it is possible to live a full and rich life despite the inevitable process of getting older. You have been a significant figure in helping me maintain a sensibly optimistic attitude toward what I can do as the years go by.
Rob Leach, Melbourne, Australia
February 1, 2018
Back Climbing after Bad Fall
Photo Courtesy of Rob Leach
June 1, 2020
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