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Simple exercises that led to happiness
‘When this misery is over, I’m going to get as healthy as I can be.’
These were the words I kept promising myself throughout the nine weeks of chemo for metastatic testicular cancer and through the long stays in hospital.
When I left hospital for the first time after chemo, I realised how weak I was. Even climbing stairs, taking each one as fast as I normally would, nearly made me pass out. While it was difficult, it made me even more determined to do as much as possible against all the side effects of the therapy.
The Pushing and the Failing
I felt I should immediately start at the gym again. On the treadmill, I began at level one, but after only six minutes I thought that my stomach wanted to empty itself through my eyes. As I’d lost a lot of muscle mass during treatment, I was very prone to injury because of weakness.
Moving too fast in my recovery meant that the first year and a half was quite bumpy. It felt like a lot of pushing and failing: doing as much as I could possibly do and collapsing. I often suffered because of fatigue and low energy; my heart rate was 20 bpm lower than normal for two months.
This was nothing compared to the hormonal problems I faced. My testosterone levels were sometimes way below the minimum value. That was tough because all of a sudden my mental wellbeing went down as well. I had days after days when I was crying at breakfast. I did not know why, but I felt like someone just told me all the people I care about most were assassinated.
I knew things had to change. By then, I had gotten to know a number of great people with whom I discussed health and fitness. A true #fitfam. Finding inspiration from other people really helped me and I implemented their advice into my daily life.
I wanted to explore the benefits of strength training. How can it help create a more stable health and build energy? I started by using the gym machines that isolated particular muscle groups. I became stronger through these machines, but it felt like there was no real plan behind it.
So I asked the trainers at the gym but they did not have an answer. So I asked some strength training experts on twitter.
What are compound exercises?
Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscles at the same time. There are several of these exercises, but the most well known ones are the squat, the deadlift and the bench press. In my case, I focused on the squat and the deadlift first and discovered there are lots of different versions you can try. These exercises helped me get my body going and helped reduce the long term side effects of chemotherapy. When I do these exercises I get more feeling in my hands and in my feet again.
So just before Covid-19 I made a start. The technique is much more difficult than ordinary machine exercises. And that is quite a challenge for someone who has studied the best part of his life and who has not much talent for sport and exercise at all... But I continued.
Actually, the lockdown really helped my body. It could finally get the rest it deserved because work was less intensive and days became much more routine. When the gym opened again, I could make a fresh start.
Working on these compound exercises proved to be a very nice challenge.
Soon weaknesses I’d experienced in my knee and back came to the surface, so I went to see a physiotherapist and we are working on them now. We are ‘fine tuning my body,’ so she says. And getting improvement in the exercises gives me kick because I am doing things that I did not consider possible some years ago.
Compound exercises also help in daily life. I feel less fragile and have a more stable and strong physique that benefits my general wellbeing.
That is because these exercises are functional. For example, the deadlift helps you pick up heavy things from the floor. All these exercises work the core. Using free weights like barbells allows your body to move in a natural way.
Things are now falling into place. I feel just great when I can do these exercises. To me, health after cancer is also an investment. I realised with this disease hitting me when I was 41, my health can go in two directions.
I can be a person who will come back stronger, or a person whose general physique will deteriorate from here. My doom scenario is being a person who falls from one injury into the other and who goes from one illness to the other.
I want to be the former: the person who improves their strength. So I invest in my health by eating healthy products, by going to a good gym, and going to the physiotherapist when needed. I also now have an online personal trainer, Hannah Haynes (@ironqueenfit on Twitter), who makes my schedules and with whom I can discuss the execution of the exercises and my goals. I can tell you, it is worth every penny. Without Hannah, I would do all the same exercises over and over. Now I learn new things so it doesn’t become boring and she gives me a new routine every 4 weeks.
Now, I’m training 4 days a week and I make sure I give myself enough rest between the sets. In the beginning you have to learn the technique of all the exercises and the body needs to get used to doing these. I’ve found compound exercises work the best when you are not focused on the amount of kilos you are pushing but on the technique and on the health benefits. It is good however to set some achievable realistic goals for yourself.
Rest, routine and healthy eating in daily life and the compound exercises brought me to where I am now – and I’m really happy. I have also learned to listen to my body and to take warning signals seriously. I wonder what the future will bring. I am ready for everything!
My name is Peter. I live in the south of Netherlands near the border with Belgium. I studied social science and theology and philosophy. I love hiking, museums, nature in general, reading and good conversations.
Cancer: Testicular cancer with metastasis in the lymph nodes of the stomach. I received BEP chemotherapy for 9 weeks and I’ve been in remission for over 2 years.
After cancer, I can enjoy the beauty of the little things in life now. Cancer has also taught me to be thankful for what so many great people did and are doing for me. Life is beautiful. There is still a lot of beauty to discover, interesting things to read and to learn, and there are so many interesting people I want to meet. Most of all I want to be there for others, for my almost 83 year old mother and for my people at work. So I would like to stick around for some time if I am allowed!
Find me on Twitter: @braverock76
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