Defining Moment Deconditioned Dad A physical therapist stops exercising and starts empathizing. By Gene Shirokobrod, PT, DPT | August 2018 As a physical therapist, I'm in a unique position to help people live healthier, more active lives. But I needed to better connect with my clients. I wanted to understand what they were experiencing. So, I made the decision. Then I did it. Or more precisely, I stopped doing it. I purposely deconditioned my body by giving up exercise for 14 weeks. What I learned was eye opening. In May 2017, I, along with my physical therapist business partners, opened Recharge. Our facility was years in the making. The goal was to meld elements of medicine, fitness, and mindfulness into a complete health experience. One of our main aims was to help women gain control over their bodies postpartum. What was unexpected, however, was the number of dads who came forward with their own health and fitness issues. In addition to being a business owner, I'm dad to 2 kids—Aaron, 6, and Zoe, 2. But I also spend my days with easy access to an amazing fitness facility. How, I wondered, could I tell a dad who's working a full day, then hustling home for a tiny bit of family togetherness, to make time for exercise? These dads were deconditioned and prisoners of a routine I didn't fully grasp. Yes, I knew what it was like to work long hours and miss quality time with my family. What I didn't know from experience, though, was how daunting, and in some ways hopeless, it must feel to be completely out of shape. That's when I made the decision to stop exercising. I needed to know how it felt to be unfit. More important, I needed to create an effective, simple, and time-sensitive way to reclaim fitness. And, so, I began doing nothing. The first week was illuminating. It takes the body days, or even weeks, of inactivity to become deconditioned. What I discovered, though, is that the mind is another story. The mind's ability to distract and distort reality to justify certain actions is amazing. Before long, whenever I thought about exercising I'd tell myself things like "I'm too busy anyway," "I'm so tired," or "This is temporary. I'll get back to normal eventually." I began to realize how easy it is to fall into a sedentary lifestyle, fueled by faulty reasoning. It's like playing a game of chess with yourself in which all the moves result in your own checkmate. It's an interesting defense mechanism. The more you focus on the moves, the less you do on the eventual outcome. One week became 2, then 5, then 10. Before I knew it, I was in a new lifestyle. I didn't appreciate how bad it was becoming because I adjusted so quickly to new realities. I didn't realize how drastically my body was changing. I didn't see how completely my thinking was changing. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly boiling water, I was nearly cooked, without knowing it. Fourteen weeks! In that stretch I didn't exercise at all. But now it was time to reverse the process. My partners and I worked to develop a program that would incorporate the lessons I'd learned during deconditioning. It needed to be intuitive, sensitive to time constraints, progressively challenging, fun, and fully thought out and ready to go. The visual changes in my body were striking. So, we wanted to give our program a name that would make the greatest initial impact on other fathers. Thus, the "Dad Bod Mod," or model, was born. I'd learned that mental chess can be a welcome substitute for the harsh realities of an inactive lifestyle. Therefore, we added some basic psychological principles to the musculoskeletal ones. We made the program as simple and easy to keep up with as possible. The Dad Bod Mod is a 60-day program consisting of 45 workouts. Each comprises 6 complementary exercises. The format is further split into upper- and lower-body days. Within those, there's an emphasis on either push or pull movements. We had to test this program in a systemized, data-driven way. I was more than willing to be the subject. For each session, I tracked my weight, resting heart rate prior to workout, heart rate range within workout, and rate of perceived exertion—how hard I thought I worked. This was in addition to completing each exercise, repetition, and set. I knew the other dads would need to be able to clearly understand and do this program at home. Oh, and that they should enjoy it, too. The first week was a mixture of soreness and clarity. I'd forgotten what it was like to feel muscle fatigue. I realized that I'd missed it. Not necessarily when I was grunting while walking up or down stairs, or when it was taking me extra time to get out of the car. The biggest initial change I noted was my increased mental clarity. It felt as if a fog had lifted from my brain. My decision-making ability and mental endurance improved. My creative output skyrocketed. This improvement continued for the next several weeks, until I reached a new baseline of normal. Now, looking back on this experience, I'm left with several observations. Did I accomplish what I set out to do? Absolutely. I learned a lot about myself, and about the potential motivations—and lack thereof—that other dads might experience. I was forced to experience what it's like to play mental chess. I'd reset the board each day and played the game, because it was easier to do that and lose than it was to accept reality. Both my mental state and my vital stats, such as heart rate, improved as a result of the Dad Bod Mod program. I'd proven that it's possible to come back from being deconditioned—that I could stuff that chess board back into my mental recesses, where it belongs. Who needs mental chess when you can experience the reality of an active life? Now the Dad Bod Mod program is available to others. It's customized programming that's delivered through an online platform with a supportive community. We offer participants the ability to take control of their health and fitness. I, for one, know exactly how precious that is. Being a dad is one of the most gratifying aspects of my life. I owe it to my kids and to myself to be as healthy as possible in order to enjoy every single second and never miss a moment.