So you’re missing a limb or two, you’re not an athlete, but you still want to live an active life? Start here.
by Alexandra Boutté
I did gymnastics as a kid, but those skills were long gone by the time I lost my right leg in December 2019. Because of a prior limb-salvage surgery, I already had muscle atrophy in what remained of my quad and my right glute, so when I took my first steps on a prosthesis, I was exhausted by the time I made it to the end of the parallel bars. It took me at least eight months to learn to walk “correctly,” and my energy level remained extremely low. I thought, “This can’t be as good as it gets for me.” I knew something needed to change if I wanted to walk to the end of the block without needing to take a break.
A friend of mine, who happens to be an amazing personal trainer, offered to help. We worked together three days per week to rebuild my strength. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. Some days I didn’t want to show up. He pushed me hard, and I fell more than a handful of times while trying to master things like squats and kettlebell swings, but he never let me give up, and he was always there to catch me when I fell (literally and figuratively). After a few months I was kickboxing, something I never imagined I could do as an amputee.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend like Christian. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until recently, when his schedule got more crowded and I moved further away from him. Without him around to keep me motivated and on a structured program, I have definitely become more sedentary. I don’t feel like my best self, and I know it’s time to get moving again. If you’re reading this and feeling the same way, let’s keep each other accountable the way Christian would do.
One thing I learned from Christian is that everyone’s fitness journey looks different. But there are some general principles that apply to most amputees in some way, shape, or form. Keep these in mind when you’re getting started, and adapt them to your own needs and goals.
Stretch it out: No matter how flexible you were (or weren’t) before limb loss, you need to stretch. It’s the key to preventing injuries! Lying flat on your stomach and pulling your upper body upward will do wonders to open up the hips, something lower-limb amputees struggle with the most.
Tune in: When I’m working out at home and not sure where to start, I’ve found that videos are a great way to get going. I’ve found several online that teach how to modify workouts based on your level of amputation. Yoga, spin bikes, weightlifting, and running with a blade are all wonderful ways to build your strength. Modify these ideas as needed, and the possibilities are endless. Check out @subhreet.ghumman on Instagram and the Ottobock app.
Don’t give up: This won’t be easy, but you’ve been through greater struggles, and the freedom that mobility will give you is PRICELESS. If you fall—and you will at some point—laugh at yourself (trust me, it feels good), get back to work, and keep going.
Rest, refresh, restart: I have been known to take some time off from my fitness routine during (and sometimes after) a vacation. Maybe you’ve had more surgery and are on strict orders to stop your workouts. If this happens, it’s ok. Every day is a new opportunity to get started again. Once you’re healed up and feeling ready, begin moving your body again.
Don’t focus on weight: Your surgeon and prosthetist weren’t lying when they told you it’s important to maintain proper weight for successful use of a prosthesis. Here’s the thing: If you are taking care of your body with proper nutrition and a fitness program that boosts your energy and strength, then you will reach a healthy weight naturally. So don’t focus on the number on the scale. Prioritize health, and the weight will take care of itself.
Set goals that fit your ability: Elite athletes always get lots of attention, and that’s especially true in an Olympic / Paralympic year. But that doesn’t mean sports only have value if you’re winning gold medals. Establish goals that support a healthy lifestyle, and have fun doing what you do. We can’t all play tennis like Connor Stroud or swim like Elizabeth Marks, but we can cheer them on at the 2021 Summer Paralympics and take inspiration from their drive.
Alexandra Boutté writes every week at her blog, Limbitless Sunshine. She’s now a regular member of Amplitude‘s writing team and will be contributing to our newsletter once every six weeks. You can follow her on Instagram @limbitlesssunshine.