By Neil Perkins
Nursing an injury and lying on a treatment table, I was given some advice on my sporting career by someone who’d been around professional sports at a high level. What came out of his mouth shocked me
‘you need to give up boxing, sports like boxing will be dominated by Black Africans’
On hearing this sentence I swallowed air, I am not shocked by what people say – but this one got me! It was made worse by an elbow probing into my back as I cried in agony on the treatment table, the advice continued…
‘There’s something in their muscle tissue and movement – they’re wider in the back, stronger in the glutes and better aligned. They are just more robust – stronger, faster and fitter’
This was a physio at a leading Football Club. I was becoming a regular visitor to one of his teams treatment table with injuries as my body repeatedly broke down.
My body certainly wasn’t well aligned, wide backed and my skin is light pink…..my glutes are pretty good though – albeit one stronger is stronger than the other. I’d be on the treatment table nursing an injury or having soft tissue work two to three times per week in my short professional boxing career. Intermittently between fight camps I did some yoga, but I never had time to re-align myself, when ‘fight camp’ kicked in I’d be back hard, hard, hard, injured, injured, injured. Ice and ibuprofen. Growth Hormone prolonged my career – but GH is illegal and it was expensive.
Prior to professional boxing, I was lucky to even have a contest. A week before my first contest, my shoulder dislocated for the 8th time. I was on the operating table twice in a 12-month window meaning 2 years out of the sport. With the first procedure done via keyhole, I was advised prior to the second operation that it was 50/50 if I’d box again. Upon waking from surgery, I was greeted the chirpy surgeon dressed in a kilt who was informing me about the operation in his thick Scottish accent! If instability is done on a 1-10 scale, I was a 12! This had all ben caused by my poor posture in my body, the result – a shoulder that would pop out front, back and top!
After professional boxing, I could structure my training better. I took the other option – don’t train. I was busy running a new business and without the date of a fight my weight increased. When the 36-inch waist jeans didn’t fit I’d decide I was going to train again. Chicken & rice, 4 litres of water and cardio and lifting. Two weeks in and I’d be thinking about fighting again, the suffering in fight camp and mountains of broccoli would fill me with hate! I’d increase my training and by week 4 – BANG….. Something on me would break….I’d be back on the treatment table. Intermittently over an 11 year period, this cycle recured. I’ve been treated by too many good and well renowned physio’s and they’ve all given me the same feedback
- Week/ misbalanced glutes
- Poor posture
- Tight traps
- Tight pec minor
- Weak mid back
- Tight hip flexors
- Tight hamstrings
Lockdown 2020, time to start training again! I don’t know if I chose a more holistic route with my training due to my age, testosterone, wisdom or amount of weed I had smoked! My body alignment is terrible, I haven’t consistently stuck to a training regime for more than 4-weeks in the last 10 years due to injuries and I’m starting to feel old. if I was a client and I walked in my gym, how would we fix him? I knew the answer, the repetitive things I’d be told before, during and after boxing by countless health professionals. I then set about rectifying my weaknesses of weak/ misbalanced glutes, poor posture, tight traps, tight pec minor, weak mid back, tight hip flexors and tight hamstrings.
I’ve had spells of yoga and found it useful to prevent injuries, but 90 minutes on the mat is a long time. There is also another problem…from a vanity and performance view point, when have you ever seen a Yogi with an ass or a back?. Yogis have great alignment, but no back and no glutes – they’re not built to perform, they are built not to get injured. Flexibility is one big aspect to correcting alignment and posture, but along with stretching tight areas such as my hip flexors, I needed to strengthen antagonistic areas such as the glutes.
I’d had plenty of advice of the years from leading (even world renowned) physio’s and oesteo’s. I amalgamated the advice they’d given me I started to put together a pre-hab routine.
My previous remit was throwing heavy weights around, ballistically HIIT training and trying to punch a punch bag off the wall, things changed considerably. This was combined with a calorie restrictive diet and typical ‘diet’ foods – broccoli, chicken and egg whites….misery on a plate. I opted for a different approach this time. Short term I took HIIT training with anything remotely explosive out of my routine (box jumps and swings included), rather than training ‘power’ with heavy weight training, I worked time under tension which resulted in lower weights under control and with good form that reduced the risk of injury. I stretched daily and worked through building awareness in my body. Building awareness means doing all the ‘boring stuff’ that I’d been told to do for years by many leading health practitioners. Learning to engage and ‘pop’ your gluets at first is boring, until you can learn to do alternate pops – great fun and now I’ve found my lifts are increasing with ease. After 2 shoulder surgeries and countless minor injuries, I finally learnt to control my scapula and engage my mid back – this resulted in my posture being better.
I chose to eat ‘cheat meals’ 4 times per week, but I am very anti-diet. I’ve not eaten any grilled chicken, broccoli or steamed veg. I have never felt hungry and I have never craved to eat anything, lots of red meat, lots of salad and lots of food. I never felt hungry, deprived or angry! As training was always ‘sub maximal’, I’m not relying on Metalica in my headphones, some smelling salts, face slaps and two black coffee’s pre workout – I’m pretty much good to go on a nights sleep and some water. Structured, progressive and sub maximal – I kept moving well. Training intensity never went above a 7 out of 10.
I have resisted the urge to fall into the old trap of trying to lift something as heavy as possible and I only had to re-adjust my training after my knee flared up whilst over zealously showing off my trampolining skills to my daughter 4 months in. As nothing has gone pop, bang or snap I have progressively got stronger over a 10 month window, all because I’ve been able to keep moving. The good news is now I’m starting to do the fun stuff in – Olympic lifts, HIIT training and punching things.
In March 2020, I was 116kg. My weight dropped down to as low as 104kg following a very whole foods/ paleo approach to nutrition. Now I’m increasing calories and carbohydrates and looking to build more strength as training volume and intensity can increase – I am now back up to 108kg, a deliberate plan as I’m aiming to get stronger. I am now lifting more weight than ever before, but this feels sub maximal (I could do more) and I’m integrating movements, exercises and mobility to ensure that I can keep on moving. I didn’t body fat test myself in March, I’d guestimate at around 23-24%? My body fat dropped to 14% at 104kg and I contemplated going for sub 10% for the first time since 2007, my reason for not pursuing this goal – diet foods, restriction of calories and training twice per day ceases to be fun. Anything you do in extreme is never good for your physical and mental health. At 39 years old, I’m happy around the 15% mark, happy to be able to move well and happy to perform, mentally I feel great. My body awareness is better, I can engage my glutes and my body is alignment is better – I am more like the physio’s vison of the super athlete – wide backed, strong in gluets and well aligned……now I’m starting to PB lifts too….. but I’m not black or African!
Keep moving is the message, work on your alignment and quality movements – repeat, repeat, repeat.
I see with my corporate client base the same problems I encountered. Hunched over a desk all day and sedentary life means lots of tight hip flexors, hamstrings and pec minor and weak backs and glutes. A strong back protects your shoulders from injury and strong glutes protect your back – both massively help good posture and good alignment. It why I am putting a keep moving section on our on demand area for all of our members. We have leading health practitioners involved in this project.
Sport is movement, exercise is movement and life is movement. Training is fun for the first time in over 10 years because my body moves well.