Feb 17

The Zen of Remote Coaching

By Elizabeth O’Brien, LPC-S

A year ago, my right hip had become so painful that I was reduced to walking with a cane. This was after months of limping, hoping the condition would resolve. I am an avid dog-walker, and log 2-4 miles in my neighborhood daily. I was desperate to avoid surgery, but determined to keep walking.

I had been hearing about a speciality gym in downtown Austin called Central Athlete, where several people I knew—many with injuries—worked out, extolling their physical transformations. This got my attention. I thought that perhaps through targeted workouts, I could strengthen the muscles and tendons around my hip and heal myself. But downtown was not convenient. I soon discovered, though, that Central Athlete offers a remote coaching option for clients who travel, prefer to work out at home and/or live too far from the gym. Perfect, I thought: There is a globo-gym five minutes from my house and, after speaking to CA trainer Justin Krause, I discovered he could set me up with an app on my phone that delivered my regular workouts, complete with imbedded demo videos. The deal included monthly, in-person consults with him.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how this remote coaching idea would work for me since I would be on my own, in a sense, at my local gym. There would be no onsite trainer to push me. But I was game to try.

Before I began, I endured the notorious hassle of Austin traffic to drive to CA downtown to undergo a thorough fitness assessment with Justin. This entailed not only an extensive personal interview but also a physiological assessment with the high-tech InBody machine, which measures basic fitness—or in technical terms, “hydration, segmental lean mass and basal metabolic rate.” Justin then demonstrated how to do all the basic exercises he would be assigning. With years of experience and a Masters degree in Exercise Sports Science, he knows his business. He chose floor exercises, resistance band regimes and machines geared specifically to my hip situation; many exercises also focused on strengthening my core. He showed me how to use the CA app, and I was set. I was to work out four times a week at my local gym, visiting Justin at CA every month or two for a consult—in order to stay on track. Since I wanted a say in my exercise routine, and I am a lifelong swimmer, I asked Justin to include lap-swimming two days a week as part of my routine. He loved the idea: two swims per week (my local gym has a 25-meter pool) and two gym workouts. When I finished each workout, I was to note it in the app, detailing how much weight I used, how many reps and sets I completed—or the distance and time of the swim—and how I fared with the workout. This accountability, and instant connection to my CA coach, was key. Once I finished the exercises and sat down to make my notations, I felt a strong sense of accomplishment, even pride. This kept me motivated. I even kept a food log for six months, until new, healthier eating habits took hold.

To wit, CA’s remote coaching program isn’t just about the exercises. It addresses lifestyle, and includes comprehensive nutrition guidance and even some relevant life coaching. Diet, hydration, sleep and stress management hygiene were all included in the deal. As a psychotherapist, this holistic approach appealed to me. I strongly believe that physical fitness is the foundation for mental health—and I preach this to my own clients. I did have some apprehension, though, since I’m the kind of person who flourishes in a classroom. Taking Driver’s Ed online, for example, was a nightmare for me and took weeks to complete. Without an in-person instructor, not to mention the engagement of the other warm bodies in the room, I’m not necessarily on task. On the other hand, once I’m “launched” in a given initiative, I prefer guidance and mentoring to hand-holding, especially if I’m in a communal environment.

So I took the leap of faith and committed to remote coaching. Regular communication with my coach, as well as camaraderie in an arena around like-minded people, worked for me. It was beyond convenient, geographically and schedule-wise, and afforded me the autonomy I needed at this post-parenting stage of my life. And surprise: I loved the workouts! Almost every time, I fell into a kind of Zen, meditative state, often resulting in an almost effortless, “flow” experience. Therefore, I was grateful that I didn’t have an onsite trainer talking to me and assessing my every move.

Unfortunately, though, my hip did not improve. I felt great otherwise, but the cane was becoming another appendage. X-rays revealed a jagged hip ball and severe osteoarthritis. I sought second and third opinions and all the orthopedic doctors said the same thing: I needed a total hip replacement, sooner rather than later.

I was fortunate to secure Dr. Shelby Carter as my surgeon. He is one of the first surgeons here to perform the much less-invasive anterior total hip replacement, whereby the surgeon enters through a small incision at the front of the hip, pushing tendons and muscles aside instead of severing them, to perform the operation. Dr. Carter is considered the best hip and knee surgeon in Austin, and I am his poster child. Because I was fit before surgery, having done so much “pre-hab” as a CA remote coaching client, I was immediately up and about. I dispensed with the pain meds within two days, began physical therapy and started walking the dog within two weeks, albeit with the aforementioned cane—but only for balance and only briefly. Dr. Carter, who works with many patients who are overweight and unfit, was delighted. I ran into him at a restaurant a short time after surgery and danced a little jig for his benefit.

Soon thereafter, I returned to the gym. Justin made sure to titrate my workouts up or down accordingly, careful not to stress the hip. If I was having a hard time, we adjusted. And now, eight months later, I am back, only more so. The workouts have gotten more difficult, but I’m keeping pace. On the eve of my 65th birthday, I can honestly say that I am fitter than I have ever been—a bionic Boomer with a futuristic titanium-and-ceramic hip. And the solution that worked for me: remote coaching. It encapsulates the Zen of fitness, giving me the existential experience of autonomy, and leaving me calm, relaxed and, yes, enlightened.