3:00a.m, December 27, 2016
This was it. The most excruciating pain I’d ever felt. This moment was my personal zenith of agony and shame. A lifetime of injuries and self-neglect had culminated with me laying prone on the floor of my bedroom, wearing nothing but sweatpants (which my wife had put on for me), covered in perspiration and screaming with every 10-second spasm of my abdomen and back. Sporadically, for the duration of the morning, my entire “core” (I know we hate that word) contracted involuntarily leaving me a red, sweaty, heaving mess. I could hear my wife on the phone with 911 describing the situation. I pictured the paramedics rolling out of bed, huffing in frustration and contempt as they headed out on a 3am back-pain call.
They showed up, sleepy and indignant about being inconvenienced by my plight and the timing of it. I couldn’t blame them. I’d been a paramedic in a former life and had gone on hundreds of calls like this. I knew the question was burning in their minds, “why did this guy wait til 3am to call us?” Instead, she asked “When did this all start?”
Christmas Day 2016
A sneeze. A physical phenomenon experienced by almost everyone on the planet. I’d been sitting on my couch opening gifts and sneezed. I felt something in my lower back pop and that was it. I had to walk hunched over like an invalid and the next two days were spent laying on the couch reading books and watching Netflix. I couldn’t sleep, I could barely tolerate sitting on the toilet. I was miserable. And it only got worse. I felt like a slug. My emotions ran the gamut of self-loathing and self-pity, to regret and determination. I had done this to myself and the piper has come to collect.
The emergency room physician told me I had a herniated disc between my L-5 and S-1 vertebrae and that it’s most likely been there for a while. Apparently, 33% to 59% of adults between the ages of 29 and 39 have some form of disc malady. Great, so I’ve got another statistic to add to my repertoire. I’d been dealing with myriad injuries and intermittent back pain for years. I just figured it was an unfortunate side effect to working in the badass industry for 12 years and essentially just ignored the pain and sucked it up.
Workout Programming for Dudes With Back Injuries
After battling with the VA to get follow up care, I remembered one of my buddies was part of this thing called SOFLETE as one of their coaches. I got on the hook with him and told him I wanna do physical therapy on my own terms and was adamant about not having any surgery on my neck, spine, or joints…ever.
I’d done Crossfit extensively during my time in the reconnaissance community; it’s kind of a requirement. The first question I was asked when I passed the indoc was “You Crossfit, breh?” I got into it hard and very much attribute it to passing BRC and a few other courses and events. I loved it—at least until it became the fitness equivalent of the Yoga pants/Ugg boots/Pumpkin Spice-latte combo.
However, I wasn’t looking for Crossfit. I knew my back wasn’t going to take all the squatting and deadlifting and constant hammering Crossfit is known for (development of the posterior chain or something). I don’t have the need or even desire for hand-stand push-ups or pistols in my daily life. That kinda shit is for Instagram.
What I did want was to be a functional human being. I wanted to run around with my dogs, hike, jump around with my nieces and nephews, bang my wife into a coma, and if the day came I needed to beat someone’s ass or save someone’s life, I wanted to be able to do that and do it well. I wanted to be an athlete again.
But, for the better part of 4 years, I had been doing bodybuilder shit. And typical of guys like me who do bodybuilder shit, I was ignoring squats, deadlifts, running, and pull-ups. I’d also ignored my trunk. My thought was “yeah, six packs are cool, but so is being able to bench a truck.” I had gotten into the traditional prison-lifting because I was doing PSD work at the time, which wasn’t exactly the high-impact, run and gun, hump-the-boonies-with-a dead-hooker-and-radio-strapped-to-my-back kinda thing I was used to. So, as is typical of the PSD types, I just wanted to get big, mean, and scary.
I asked the SOFLETE coach if there was SOFLETE programming for dudes with back injuries. But coaches aren’t going to tell you what you want to hear, just because you want to hear it. He asked me, as Morpheus to Neo, “What if I told you strengthening your back, with deadlifts and squats and the like, will make your back less prone to injury from little shit…like sneezing?”
That was all I needed. For years, I had been babying my back instead of making it stronger. In 2016, I wasn’t even working out anymore. I had gotten depressed, moved in with a buddy, and bro’d out with fast food and booze almost every night. I needed to get my ass back in shape or 33 years old was going to feel like 80.
Starting the SOFLETE Performance-Based Workouts
So, I started right away. I cancelled my membership to a Club Fitness, signed up at the local Crossfit gym—ha, just kidding, that shit’s ridiculously expensive and not conducive to my schedule. But I did buy a suite of Rogue equipment and got my ass to work.
I figured I’d start with just the posted social media workouts at first and banged those out every day. Or I should say they banged me out. I was struggling to squat 135 lbs for reps, could barely squeak out 10 pull-ups, was deadlifting 185-lbs as a max, and got winded running to the end of my street. I was embarrassed and humbled. I’ve always been a shit-talker. But I’ve always been able to back it up. I had always loved a challenge and took pride in doing things most people couldn’t, wouldn’t, and probably shouldn’t. Here I was again, lying on the floor sweating.
But, this time it was different.
I actually felt like I was accomplishing something. Being performance-based programming (versus outcome-based), I didn’t have to beat a clock, or a weight. I just had to get better. None of the exercises were things I hadn’t seen or couldn’t do. They were things that I just sucked at and had to get better at doing.
SOFLETE didn’t just encourage me to workout, but to live a better life. My wife and I went back to a Paleo diet which I hadn’t done since my Recon days and I felt great. I started to make it a point to get my ass to bed at 8:30-9:00 pm, no matter what was going on. I stopped stressing about things outside my ability to control. I started treating MYSELF better.
“Die Living” and Choosing to Be Better
It’s paying off. I’m not some superman, who’s been training like this for decades, telling you that in 12 weeks “you can be like me.” I’m telling you that I’m a normal dude, with a normal life, who made a conscious decision to “die living,” as they say. I made a choice to be better. And SOFLETE has facilitated that in spades. The community has been motivating and supportive (just look at their sponsored athletes, these dudes have missing limbs and my “able-ist” ass look like Steven Hawking), and the workouts, even the free stuff on Instagram and Facebook, are designed for improvement. I’m bigger than I’ve ever been. I’m able to run several miles without stopping, I’m benching almost 250-lbs, and I’m deadlifting and squatting almost 300-lbs now. Are those numbers impressive? I suppose not. Are they where I want to be right now? Nope. But I look at where I was at the beginning of the year, on my face screaming from a negligence and laziness-induced injury, and I’m a damn sight better off than I was. I’m improving, and that’s what matters to me. No, I’m not deploying anymore. I’m not kicking doors and running around with a hysterical principle in my arms, I’m just a dude who is trying to do life without self-made barriers. I’ve done my gut-check courses, now I just wanna be able to do things and do them well, preferably better than most.
I owe a lot to SOFLETE for being something different. They aren’t solely for guys gearing up for a pump or BUD/S. They aren’t just for guys who run and gun every day. They’re also for guys and gals who don’t want to just look pretty, but do pretty as well.
I recommend SOFLETE to anyone who wants to improve their physical capacity for life in very real, very visible, and very tangible ways. I recommend them for people who want to quit feeling sorry for themselves, get off the couch, and live life fully.
Die living, indeed.