Monday, March 21, 2016

My Post Transplant Fitness Progression

It took near seven months of hard work to get my Transplant Team's approval to start working on a pull up and use weights, progressing as I saw fit.   I had to prove to the team that I would scale my workouts safely and continue to protect my chest.

Looking back through my log, I see that my first physical effort after being released from the hospital following my transplant was taking a shower.  This was the first time I had taken a shower without having to bring my oxygen tube with me in ages.  I wrote that "It kicked my rear".  I remember that shower well, I had to sit down for a bit after before drying off, then had to rest again before getting dressed.  It was awesome.

Three days later I was in pulmonary rehab, working on balance and endurance with a recumbent bike and treadmill.   After about a month of pulm rehab, a physical therapist did a strength and function test on me.  There were a couple of muscle groups that didn't hardly work at all.  I was approved to add some body weight exercises and some exercises with light weight resistance bands at home.  The bands I use are made by Black Mountain Products and they are a high quality product at a very good price.

I also was able to start walking outside after the first month post-transplant.  The Team wanted me to walk 10% more each day.

Three months post-transplant I was doing arms, legs and abs workouts using the resistance bands as approved by my Team.  I was also walking and using a recumbent bike at home.  There were rainy days where I got all my steps in from the living to the bed room, but I got them in.

Five months in I was able to begin working on push ups and most body weight exercises.  I started with a modified version of the Nerd Fitness Beginner Body Weight Workout.   I did the push ups from the kitchen counter and had to hold onto the counter to do squats.

During all this time, the Team and physical therapist monitored my progress and approved each progression in my exercise program.  This is important.  Always involve your medical team as you progress your exercise routine post transplant.  You really can injure yourself if you try an exercise that your body is not ready for.

I was finally approved to start working on achieving a pull up and given the go ahead to work with weights at my own pace.  I had proven to the team that I was careful and would only progress as my body was ready.

I needed an exercise routine that helped me gain strength and endurance, tone my muscles, and be something that I enjoyed.  That's when I found Pavel's Kettlebell Simple and Sinister (S&S).  I cannot recommend this book, and program, enough.  Basic movements, minimal equipment, safe for my transplant site, and fun.  S&S focuses on two basic movements, the Kettlebell Swing and the Turkish Get Up.

I started working with kettlebells very slowly.  I read and reread the book, then practiced each stage of the progressions to achieve a kettlebell swing and a TGU until I had them down pat.  I did my first two handed KB swing on 7/25/15.  I did five swings with a 20 lb kettlebell.  My first weighted TGU was three days later and it was with 15 lbs.  By the end of December I was one hand swinging 24 kg's, two hand swinging 32 kg's, and doing 16 kg TGU's.  

Swinging kettlebells helped me to achieve this:

Yep, that's me with my grandson nine months after my bilateral lung transplant, climbing rock walls. 

I have never been someone that you would consider 'fit'.  After the Navy I gained a ton of weight, up to 289 lbs at my heaviest and 251 lbs when I was told I was too heavy to be considered for a lung transplant.  How I lost the weight and qualified for the transplant is fodder for another post, I just mention it to highlight just how special my getting fit, and being able to climb rock walls really is.

How did I progress the kettlebell weights without hurting myself?  First, I progressed at a slower pace, and with smaller jumps, than recommended by Pavel.  I really had to take care of my chest.  Next, when I started to get to the heavier weights, I searched out a trainer to help me.  I turned to StrongFirst to search out a kettlebell instructor and found Kris Moulton (@MoultonKB ), a SFG certified kettlebell instructor.  Kris works with me via video form checks, and in person, to ensure that I have good form for all of my exercises.  Kris is the one who showed me that I could swing a 32 kg 'bell.  

I started a job in January that wore me out.  Each day included 15k steps, lots of squats, and moving/lifting heavy things.  I laid off the kettlebells until my body got used to the new work, and it never did.  I ended up in the hospital and lost a good bit of strength and weight.  I am now in the recovery mode.

My recovery workout includes 5 goblet squats, 5 halos, 1 prying goblet squat, 5 kettlebell military presses, and 10 one hand kb swings.  I am currently doing 3 sets, and working my way to 5 sets, of this workout.  Once I get to 5 sets of this workout, I'll restart Simple and Sinister.

The "Simple" goal is to do 100 one-arm swings in sets of 10 in five minutes with a 32 kg KB, rest one minute, then do 5 TGU's per arm in sets of one in 10 minutes with the same 32 kg KB. Achieving this goal by my birthday in November will be my present to me this year.

If you are going through the transplant process, or have already had a transplant, you can look forward to a healthy and fit life.  Work with your Team, find something that you enjoy doing, find good people to do it with, set goals, and push yourself to achieve those goals.  Live your new life to its fullest.

I'll break down each phase of my fitness progression in future posts, until then...

Say hello to my Little Friends:


  1. While I did come along for the progress, it was much better reading it here. Wow, John. You have loads of determination and I bet your team is extra proud of you. I know I am.

  2. Two summers ago, I worked with a great gal from Hollywood, Rachel Nichols.
    Rachel did some TT workouts while filming a movie up here in Toronto.

    That's about it for me in terms of training Hollywood actors or
    actresses in person, but recently I was asked, "Imagine you're
    working with a major film star who has eight weeks to lose 30
    pounds of fat and build some muscle in preparation for the lead
    role in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. What do you do with them?"

    Here's my answer...

    I would have control over every single thing that they eat. That's
    the biggest ticket to success here. No booze, no excess sugar, and
    just giving them enough reward to stick with the program.

    If this "star" is a typical overweight, sedentary individual, we'll have
    no problem getting rid of 20 pounds of fat through nutrition.

    As for exercise, we need to be consistent, and stick with our intensity
    principles. We would do 3 hard workouts per week using strength
    training followed by interval training with the program being centered
    around basic movement patterns done with free weights.

    Everything is done in supersets in the workout to get more done in
    less time. For example, we might do a squat supersetted with a
    pressing exercise. I also like to pair free weight exercises and
    bodyweight exercises in supersets, for example, a dumbbell split
    squat paired with a decline pushup.

    We'll do 3 superset pairs, each for 1-3 sets, and stick to 8
    repetitions per set. Then we'll finish the workout with 6 hard
    intervals of 30-60 seconds (with 60-120 seconds rest between each).
    This way, we are in and out of the gym in 45 minutes.

    On "off days", we'd still get at least 30 minutes, if not 60
    minutes, of low-intensity exercise. But it wouldn't just be slow
    cardio. Instead, we'd focus on low-intensity bodyweight training.
    For example, if the actor can do a maximum of 25 bodyweight squats,
    15 pushups, and 5 chinups, we would use easier versions of those
    exercises in circuits.

    Here's a sample 6 exercise bodyweight circuit that we'd do at least
    3 times, doing 10 reps per exercise.

    Wall Squat
    Kneeling Pushup
    Beginner Inverted Bodyweight Row
    Stability Ball Leg Curl
    Mountain Climber

    After that, we might cross train with a variety of cardio exercises
    to avoid overuse injuries that occur when you repeatedly do the
    same activity and nothing else.

    So that's pretty much it. If he (or she) sticks to their nutrition,
    we're as good as gold and the actor will be ready just in time.

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    "Craig's workouts were fun and challenging - I didn't dread going to the
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