Guest blog: 3 perspectives of Fatherhood from a ruptured disk diagnosis and a career in fitness.
After rupturing his L5-S1 disk more than 8 years ago, today’s guest blogger, William Richards, was told that surgery and pain meds were the only option for a "pain-free" life. He made a choice as a fitness professional to relentlessly pursue the truth as to whether or not exercise could truly be the secret to getting relief. After 10+ years of coaching in the fitness industry, William now focuses the majority of his time teaching people how to pursue their own drug- and surgery-free path to back-pain relief. Aside from coaching you can find William on the Gulf Coast of Florida, surf fishing with his two kids and wife or eating his weight in Mexican food. For more info on William and what he has going on you can check out www.fitness4backpain.com
There is nothing like being told you ruptured a lumbar disk in the prime of your training career not realizing that you’re staring down the next 8 years of chronic pain recovery (5 of those years as a new dad).
I am pumped that Michael gave me this opportunity to speak from a different platform for a change. I spend the majority of my time specializing in pain-free workout programming for those with sensitive lower backs. I will often tell my story of failure, pain and grind to long-term relief to those who have been following my work but I have never talked about what I do and have been through as a new Dad.
Today, I want to talk about three perspectives on life and fatherhood I learned from struggling with a ruptured disk diagnosis, feeding a passion for fitness and being a new Dad all at the same time.
As much as I would love to put the things of life into boxes that I can control and explain, I just can’t. What I can do and what I teach all of my own clients to do is reflect. Reflect on where you have come from and where you want to go. These things keep us grounded and focused on our WHY.
I wrestled with three specific things that all affected each other but were all very different at the same time. At the time these things seemed like mountains. What I later realized is that because of these mountains, I have gained the clarity, focus and freedom of being the best dad that I can today.
1. Show up
Raising kids is one of the greatest joys yet most difficult things I think I have ever done. It’s this balance between cherishing the toddler years, hitting milestones, getting older, attacking new challenges then looking back and missing all the milestones leading up to the one you are currently in. On top of that I am constantly worried about not making it to the things that matter to them the most. I can easily get wrapped up in planning something BIG to experience with them yet over look some of the simplest and most powerful moments I could share with them.
Having been a father now for 5+ years one thing I have learned more about is the power of consistency. Simply showing up is huge. You can look at this a lot of different ways. Being consistent with your kids emotionally, with discipline, family values, quality time, beliefs etc.
You don’t have to wait for that one BIG day at the park, beach or playground to really invest time with your kids or to do the “dad thing” with them. Life gets crazy and some aspects of parenting get forced into auto pilot or pushed off “until next time.” The mental shift that I had to take on this was that you’re not promised tomorrow or a “next time” so why not do something right now even if it seems small? Why not take a 5-minute walk with your daughter down the street and ask her about her day or spend those last few minutes in the bath being completely consumed and engaged with whatever crazy imagination adventure he/she is on?
This was a huge lesson from my back-pain recovery. I was stuck in this mindset of always having to have these big workout or rehab sessions to see the progress that I wanted. I was always caught up in extremes.
“If I just stop working out all together and do nothing but rehab exercises every day for the next few months, I will get better.”
In theory, that makes sense but that was just me trying to put my chronic pain in a box for me to control. That’s not how recovery/exercise works. I started seeing more consistent results when I simply just showed up in every aspect of my life (even the small things). I changed my habits at my desk, I spent more afternoons walking, I did LESS stretching and mobility, I focused my training around reversing the issues caused by my poor habits.
Instead of 2-hour long rehab sessions, I focused on being intentional with the little things every single day whether it was workout-related or not.
2. What was I even doing this for?
The second battle I faced was really understanding why I really wanted to workout in the first place.
Sounds crazy huh? I started training in my parents’ living room when I was 10 using the reflection off the window as my mirror. I continued this for the next 5-6 years until I could afford a gym membership, then I graduated college with an Exercise Science Degree only to find myself in my late 20’s wondering what the heck was it all for.
When I was younger, I used exercises as a way to make me feel stronger, look better and to attempt to bully proof myself. I would spend hours in the gym with my workout partner grinding these workouts out grading the quality based on my soreness (typical millennial meathead, right?).
This train wreck of a system led to injuries and what I’m sure led to my ruptured disk. When kids came into the picture I noticed I was more irritated if I didn’t get a “good workout” in. Due to lack of sleep or from the day to day of fatherhood my workouts started falling off to the point of not even training at all. I had this all or nothing mentality. If I didn’t get 1.5+ hours in at the gym then it was no use. With kids, chronic pain and an old school way of looking at training, I was screwed.
Where my breakthrough developed.
As this internal battle continued I started to experiment with my time in the gym. I would tell myself I only had 45 minutes of time to train. Get as much done as you can and when the timer goes off, you’re done. My 2-hour workouts turned into an hour, then my hour workouts turned into 30 minutes. Not only that but the chronic pain I was constantly fighting became less and less.
This shift forced me to prioritize my time in the gym. Am I the strongest I have ever been? No. Am I the fastest I have ever been? Probably not. But I am the happiest I have ever been about the health of my body, training capacity and control of what used to be my chronic back pain, YES!
The point of this is to value the time your given. If its 1 hour great. If its 30 minutes, great. Take advantage and be super present in the moment. This season with kids will come to an end and when I look back at the amount of time I accumulated in the gym chasing numbers vs intentional moments with my kids. I don’t want to have any regrets and I sure as heck want time with my kids and wife to far exceed anything else.
3. You are responsible for the environment
When I was at my worst with my back pain, spending thousands of dollars on garbage treatments, I remember questioning if exercise was even a viable tool to help the pain. I can look back and notice a big difference in the “environment” I was living in compared to the one I cultivate now.
I felt powerless when it came to my pain.
I was drowning in verbiage I was hearing from my doctor, chiro, etc. All talk was about my ruptured disk, or degenerative disks and what I would not be able to do because of all this. Throw in a season of having young kids and a job that I didn’t really care for any more and my mind was wrecked.
The environment was toxic.
Over time, the way I was able to beat my back pain came down to two things. The environment and exposure. I knew I needed to change SO much stuff about my environment (my mind, my body, habits, outlook on life etc.) and the only way to make a big change like that is graded exposure. I had to slowly expose myself to things in order to allow my body to heal (certain foundational movements, exercises and habits). This exposure over time has led me to gain and maintain freedom from pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
I take this “exposure” mentality with my kids as well. For a while exercise was just something daddy did. I would try to get the kids to do a few things here and there but I would feel myself getting frustrated after several minutes of what I thought was “fun exercise” mainly because my expectations were not kid approved. Then I started to realize that exposure to the change is just as important as actually making the change.
I started changing their environment and chose to show them the importance of exercise by them seeing daddy consistently in the gym doing it himself. Their play time moved out onto the gym floor where they would see dad moving around and “having fun”. Over time this has given me so much opportunity to introduce them to exercise but more on their own terms. I never wanted exercise to be something that dad made them do. I wanted it to be something they wanted to do because that’s the environment they were brought up in. It’s just what they know.
I am by no means the best dad in the world but I have learned a thing or two about being a dad, a husband, running a business and working full time.
It can be hard juggling it all but no matter what it is, being a dad or rehabbing a bad back.
Show up, be intentional, be consistent, and do the work even when the work doesn’t seem to be working.
Thanks for reading!
— William Richards