Client Success Story: Meet Ray
Exercising is good for everyone, right? Most people are probably aware of this, we often hear about how important regular physical activity is, how it can improve the quality of life. UK Chief Medical Officers list the great health benefits: sleep improvement, weight management, reduced stress levels… Physical activity can also decrease the risk of various conditions such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancer. The risk of falls, depression, joint pain, back pain can also be reduced. The benefits are clearly many, and I talk about this daily in my profession. It applies to the younger, the older, all genders, during pregnancy and after… and a great commitment to exercise can sometimes also – in extraordinary circumstances – bring about amazing stories… Let me tell you about Ray!
I first met Ray about two years ago when I became his Personal Trainer. He is a senior ex- soldier with a strong determination to keep fit and healthy. In 2009 he got seriously ill and went through brain surgery, heart surgery and cancer surgery, one after the other. I can only imagine how tough things were for him and his wife back then. The brain injury left him paralysed on the right side of his body and he found himself in a wheelchair.
Ray had to relearn how to walk and regain mobility. This was done through intensive physiotherapy, and he was also fitted with a Functional Electrical Stimulation device (FES). This triggered a tiny electric shock in the right foot when trying to walk and in the right arm when moving it, slowly teaching the brain what to do. The way Ray has described how this worked is fascinating – it took hours of daily practice for months where the brain learnt, forgot again, relearnt, forgot again and so on. Lots of small steps of progression, and with lots of setbacks along the way. But with Ray’s perseverance and wonderful support from his wife, he slowly managed to regain full functionality.
By the time I met Ray many years later in 2021 he was a long distance walker and very keen to stay active and work on strength, mobility and balance to aid his walking. He has done a number of big walks over the past few years, and I knew he had the Pilgrimage to Rome in his pipeline.
I would soon understand how Ray needed extra attention on the right side of his body. The brain injury had left him with balance, coordination and strength difficulties on the affected side. Resistance bands have been a great piece of equipment for us to use as they help improve both strength and mobility – I use these for most of my clients as they are so versatile and can really improve the quality of an exercise. To control both the tension and release part of a movement with a resistance band requires a lot of concentration. For Ray this is particularly useful as it stimulates the brain and muscle connection, and we use them in both upper and lower body exercises.
We have also focused a lot on squats. The squat has lots of benefits and strengthens the lower body; the quads, hip flexors and glutes. Hamstrings, calves, core and lower back muscles are also involved to safely complete a perfect squat. As confidence and ability has grown for Ray we have progressed to include single-leg squats, which further challenges balance, flexibility and adds more core recruitment.
Another favourite for lower body strength are lunges. These were initially quite demanding for Ray because of how they challenge the balance more. But as always he put his mind to it and worked hard every week until he nailed it.
To ensure proper form of a lunge I often use a static version, where the feet will stay in the same place until change of side. Muscles worked in lunges include quads, hamstrings and glutes. The calves keep the ankle joint stable and the core and lower back also work as stabilisers in this exercise. To progress from the static version I like the reverse lunge which is a bit more gentle on the joints and often more balance friendly than a standard forward lunge exercise.
I believe these types of exercises have been fundamental for Ray to build and maintain strength, flexibility and also confidence for his long distance walks. He has done various longer walks alongside of the sessions with me, and it is thanks to his incredible determination that he has managed to come this far. I find it near to impossible to comprehend that 14 years ago he was unable to walk at all. Ray’s story is truly amazing and gives so much inspiration.
At the end of last month (April 2023) he got on a flight to Switzerland and embarked on a 700 mile long pilgrimage to Rome. He is walking most of it on his own, his wife will be coming out to see his progress after a few weeks and he will also have a couple of friends joining for parts of the walk. He is following a 1000 year old route staying in accommodation provided by churches and monasteries along the way. He estimates it will take him around 60 days to reach Rome.
I am privileged to have met Ray and to have the chance to follow his progressions and inspirational journey. I enjoy every session with him, he works hard but always with a smile on his face and we often end up having an interesting chat. The morning workouts with Ray ensure a great start to the day also for me.
I wish him all the best with the challenge he is currently undertaking. And I am very much looking forward to continue our sessions together when he gets back from Rome in the summer.
Written By Sofia: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal