From Cerebral Palsy to Strength Coach

I'm left hemiplegic and work as a weightlifting and strength and conditioning coach. I've been working in the strength field since 2011 while still in college. I haven't stopped coaching since then and continue to do so at an increasingly high level.

I know the CP population is severely underserved. I was one of those kids, after I turned 21, all my state support disappeared and I can't even apply for disability assistance because I'm too independent. 

Ultimately, the plan is to create a business with the intent on helping individuals with disabilities. I'm starting remote and online because I know I can reach and help more people that way. Because CP has so many different variations and symptoms present so drastically from each other, exercise protocol would have to change person by person.

I want to keep the business small enough to maintain the integrity of service. I work with people who live with all types of physical disabilities. My services are geared towards bringing athletics to a population that no one really knows by using combined experience and knowledge.

Regardless of who we are, the conversation is always the same: “I’ll start it next Monday.” and “I’ll have to do that, but next time.” What makes us uncomfortable, we have a visceral aversion to. It’s simple, it’s animalistic, it’s how we’ve survived as a species. However, as rational beings in the modern age, what will help us survive as individuals is doing what we hate. To stagnate is regression and progression is perpetual, positive change. Although this list may apply to exercise and activity level, it has implications to improve in all aspects of life. What “staying active” really means is changing your lifestyle.

Top 5 Ways to Stay Active

Prioritize and allocate your time towards activity.

If your goal is to become a stronger, healthier person, you must prioritize your time to be and stay active. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, put aside time to actually accomplish the task. For some, it could be for simply being able to carry groceries down the street. For others, it could mean gaining the strength to self-propel your wheelchair up a ramp. Whatever it may be, it’s about putting in the time and effort to see your goal come to fruition. Many things change in a year, even if you haven’t stepped into a gym in your life, moving will always be the answer.

Lift things, not because it’s hard, but because it’s challenging.

Resistance exercise, known as “strength training,” is the only thing that will help you become physically independent. Every time you push more weight, the rest of your life will get easier.

This is where most people get lost. For those who’ve never “lifted” before, it’s fear and ridicule which impedes a person from starting. The truth is, most veteran fitness enthusiasts in a gym are too self-conscious and self-absorbed in themselves with their own insecurities to be worried about the novices who walk in. Many people don’t lift 800 pounds in one month of training. If in fact that’s the goal, it takes years of dedication to do so. Those who forget the path, tend to ridicule. They’re simply naysayers. But those who don’t forget, stay humble and most are more than willing to teach novices who come after them.

“I have to do this, before I can do that.” It’s not true, you’re lying to yourself. Just start! If you don’t know where to start, find a professional who can teach you. It’s their job to. You’ll always be happier accomplishing a task as opposed to having the anxiety of lost potential.

Kill the “can’t” in your head.

One of Immanuel Kant’s most quoted lines is “The body is a temple.” Treat is as such. Positive self-talk has been scientifically proven to help you overcome obstacles or tasks of any kind. Your thoughts will always affect your mood, emotions and performance. Positive self-talk is always attributed to excelling while negative self-talk is always attributed to underachieving. Just like all other aspects of our lives, positive self-talk is a skill we must develop, hone, and utilize. We must constantly and consistently battle the Devil in our head. The Devil in our head is our id, it’s our irrational thought. We must work diligently over the supremacy of our minds using rational thoughts. Rational thought is what separates us from all other species in the globe. We must use rational thought, or we will lose it. Ultimately, self-talk is a choice. Kill the “can’t,” will and do.

Eat clean, whole foods.

There’s no such thing as a specific, must-do diet. Every “diet plan” does the same thing: restricts calorie consumption. How does each diet plan restrict calorie consumption? They teach the individual how to eat healthier. Every body type has different optimal consumption rates. Each individual has a specific level of need for each macronutrient. But you only learn this by trial by error. If you find the optimal balance in your macronutrient consumption, you’ll generally have more energy throughout the day. The other option to finding this optimal balance, is to work with a dietician. But before you shell out your hard-earned cash for a professional dietician, you can learn intrinsically by simply eating healthy, and finding which macronutrient ranges help you maintain energy throughout the day the best. Save your budget, save your body, save your soul. Eat healthy.

Find your tribe.

It doesn’t matter who you meet or where you meet them. Group suffering and training builds camaraderie similar to military regiments who train together. Group classes are always the best way to find like-minded individuals who share the same goal. When you’re sore all across your body, having a friend who shares your misery and keeps you accountable could be all the difference you need to help you stay on track.

If you’re more introverted, self-conscious, or shy, having a personal trainer or coach is the best way to stay on track. You don’t need to worry about your training in each session, and if you don’t know an exercise, the trainer will be the one to teach you. You generally won’t need to worry about others judging you, the trainer’s job is to shield you from the ridicule. Good trainers and coaches will always care not only about your progress, but mentality as well. They’ll make sure you’re happy with your results and attitude while keeping you accountable by making sure you show up and work hard every day. Written by Sam Chang

Photo Credit @crippledlifter

Sam Chang is a strength, conditioning, and weightlifting coach with left hemiplegic cerebral palsy. I teach people to lift heavy weights in the most efficient way possible without injuring themselves," he says,. Learn more about Sam's work as a trainer with CP and read about his take on disabilities and exercise.



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