Holistic Rehab by Brendon Thomas of Surfermag.com
It was inevitable. With the current trend in professional surfing leaning heavily toward high-performance conditioning, it was only a matter of time before I would drag my lazy frame—and this column—down that road. For me, it was an unfamiliar path paved with gym equipment, balance balls, and ultimately, three months of sweat, tears, and food deprivation. All in the service of you, dear reader.
But first, a bit of history.
When I was 19, I had spinal surgery. A “lumbar discectomy” the doctors called it, but I considered it outright butchery. Of course, when you live in some degree of pain for the eight years that follow, it’s far easier to blame someone else for your condition than it is to actually do anything about it. But when I visited the C.H.E.K (Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology) Institute (1) —home to a program that Mick Fanning followed from injury to World Title, and one that Kai Otton and Laird Hamilton use to stay in shape—the blame would stop at me.
Body In C.H.E.K.
“All injuries are doorways to enlightenment,” says Paul Chek, founder of the C.H.E.K. program. “Your injuries are there to teach you. Your injury brought you here, and every one of those surfers on my program came to me because of an injury.”
I contested that I had really come to him to fulfill my pseudo-masochistic obligations for the magazine. But after my initial evaluation—a three-and-a-half-hour ordeal that analyzed everything from foot pronation to which of side of my mouth I chew my food—I realized that there was a lot wrong with me.
From the outset Josh Ruben (2), the C.H.E.K. practitioner who worked with me, let me know what I was in for. My surgery, and subsequent lack of proper rehabilitation, meant that my body mechanics were out of whack. I used bigger muscle groups to initiate movement instead of initiating movement from my core. This, he explained, did not help my surfing for two reasons: 1. Bigger muscles react slower, which made my surfing slower, and 2. My lack of core strength made me prone to injury and re-injury.
The thrust of my program, therefore, would be aimed at teaching me how to move again. High-performance exercises would only exacerbate the problems I already had. My body needed to be reconfigured from the inside out.
The Other 90 Percent
Interestingly, however, exercise would only account for 10 percent of my program. The other 90 percent of my conditioning would be lifestyle-oriented, and would begin with my diet—specifically, the introduction of organic foods and the eradication of gluten and dairy from my diet.
“Most people have dairy or gluten intolerance, so the first thing I suggest is cutting those elements out of your diet for three months,” explained Josh, to my horror. This meant no cheese or bread, which effectively blacklisted everything I ate. Even if was trying to be healthy in a traditional sense, it meant no yogurt or even granola. Although it brought tears to my eyes, pizza and double-double cheeseburgers were simply out of the equation.
Still, I kept within the boundaries, and proceeded to gorge myself on anything remotely tasty (3). Even with this unprecedented indulging, the results of my efforts were soon evident. In three weeks I lost 13 pounds, and although the temptation exists to fill these pages with a lengthy analysis of my stools (4), I will spare you the agony. However, I will say that I produced the kind that made me want to call my girlfriend in to look, if, for nothing else, just so that she could corroborate my stories when I bragged about them later to my friends.
Paul and Josh prescribed me a list of stretches way longer than my hamstrings, and an exercise program designed to reprogram my body.
“Think of your body as an out-of-tune guitar,” Paul explained. “If a guitar isn’t in tune, you can’t make music.” The stretches aimed to loosen the tight muscles, and an obscure set of exercises would tighten the loose ones. Paul advised me to surf only in moderation while I worked on my core, and the reasons soon became clear. The day after a particularly harrowing workout, I went surfing, only to find that my torso barely had the strength to initiate a backhand bottom turn. I guess you could consider that progress. At least I knew something was happening.
Under the Hood
According to Paul Chek, “The physical body is the synthesis, the byproduct of your emotions and your thinking, so to look at the physical body without looking at the emotional and spiritual is the equivalent of repeatedly taking your car to the body shop to get fenders repaired with no one ever teaching you to drive.”
The C.H.E.K. program is all-encompassing, and the spiritual and psychological aspects of the program are as important as any other. Walking into either Paul’s or Josh’s office is like walking into the theological section of your local library, only more comprehensive. As far as my program went, that topic would only be covered more fully as I moved further through the program.
My body As a Barometer
One weekend, a month into my regimen, I overindulged. It started with a beer on Friday night and ended on Sunday morning eating French Toast in a Vegas hotel, married. In between those two points, I devoured an entire pizza, ate two cheeseburgers, and had too much to drink. When I weighed in on Monday I had gained 7 pounds. I couldn’t blame my ball and chain (5) for my unprecedented weight gain, so I put it down to gluten and dairy. Almost immediately my lower back pain returned. According to Josh, “Your core muscles go from the lower back and wrap around the gut. Food intolerance creates inflammation in the gut and inhibits the core from working. The core helps to stabilize the lower back and prevents compression and torsion. A pregnant woman can’t activate her inner unit, the same goes for gut inflammation.”
For all my good intentions, sticking to the program has become one of the biggest ongoing undertakings of my life—an undertaking that I will continue to pursue based purely on the results I have seen so far. Initially, however, it meant a complete 180 in my normally lax approach to my personal wellbeing. From the minute I left the institute, I became intensely aware of how I felt and moved. My back doesn’t hurt as much now, but this sort of personalized treatment does not come cheap. For a 12-week rehab program Josh charges $1,800, while Paul charges $500 an hour for his time. Luckily I’m saving money, as none of my friends invite me to dinner anymore. They say I’m too picky. (6)
3. All-natural bacon, eggs, Mexican food (no cheese), copious bags of organic corn chips and salsa, fruit sorbet, etc.
4. Not the kind you sit on in bars.
5. Because its only figurative, after all.
6. Special thanks to Josh Ruben from EastWest Healing and Performance and Paul Chek.
Coming Next Month: Why you should never say, “One more wave and I’m going in.” Ever.
RECIPE FOR RECONSTRUCTION.
Only eat all-natural organic foods.
No gluten or dairy.
An hour of stretching every day.
Specifically designed 30-minute workouts every other day using:
• An exercise ball
• A foam roller
• A blood pressure cuff
• A Body Blade
• A yoga mat
• A wooden pole
• A high-quality silk sheet.
Mix in a healthy dose of determination.