When I was a full-time personal trainer, I witnessed a ton of client transformations. Of these, there were a handful of dramatic, day-and-night success stories—but none more dramatic than the one you’re about to read. It first ran in the December 2013 issue of Muscle & Fitness.
IT’S IN YOUR HANDS
Why the greatest health insurance you can buy is still a gym membership
Every trainer has a favorite success story. Mine starts in the summer of 2009, when I met a man named Ganesh Narayanan. He walked into the corporate gym where I worked at the time and was practically waving his wallet around, asking for personal training sessions. As most trainers will attest, that’s not usually how you meet a client. Ganesh, though, was desperate to get started and I was about to find out why: He’d recently undergone a quadruple bypass.
Ganesh didn’t look the part of a cardiac patient—he was rail thin and only 38 years old at the time—but his high-stress job had led to lousy eating habits and zero physical activity, which led to blocked arteries. He was weak from head to toe, lacked any semblance of cardio endurance, and had never picked up a weight in his life.
It wasn’t just a matter of building him back up after surgery, but starting from scratch in a completely deconditioned state. The other major caveat: He was on 23 medications related to his heart condition. With most personal training certifications, you learn how different medications can affect exercise, but I know when I’m in over my head: How 23 medications might interact once we started training was an entirely different matter.
Shockingly, my phone calls to Ganesh’s doctors clarified nothing: They knew as much about prescribing a safe and effective exercise regimen as I knew about performing heart surgery. One doctor, when pressed for an answer as to his patient’s true restrictions, suggested that he shouldn’t lift anything heavier than five pounds.
I told Ganesh the news: For the rest of his life, bringing his briefcase to work was out of the question. So was buying a gallon of milk. We had a good laugh at the notion, then I told him the truth: that if he were to continue with me, we’d have to enter uncharted waters together. I told him we would have to be careful, communicating frequently and backing off the pace as needed; but otherwise, I wanted to train him the way I’d train any beginner. We’d build a base of strength with pushups, situps, and pullups, then learn to squat, deadlift, and bench press. I’d prescribe steady-state cardio for him to do outside of our sessions, but eventually, I’d want him to interval train, learn to use kettlebells, and do all the other dynamic moves that a man his age should be able to do. Ganesh wanted in. Following “doctor’s orders” meant accepting an enfeebled state before he was even 40.
I trained Ganesh through two years of steady progress in all markers of strength and conditioning. It was slow and oftentimes painful, but without incident. When I left the corporate gym job, I passed him on to one of the smartest trainers I’ve ever met, Mike Geremia, an M&F contributor, and the progress continued to a level neither Ganesh nor I ever dreamed of: He’s now totally free of all medication, and his arterial diameter went from 1.2 mm in 2009 to 2.87 today. For reference, 2.0 is average.
This is my favorite success story because it’s not mine and it’s not Mike’s—it’s Ganesh’s. He’s the one who realized that while modern medicine might have saved his life, it could never grant him quality of life. He took that into his own hands and started pumping iron. Sure, it was a risk, but so is crossing the street to get to the gym.
Ganesh’s situation is probably different from yours, but his story reinforces a universal truth: You get one chance at maximizing your health and living the life you want, and ultimately, it’s all in your hands.