In 2016, I documented my first year into weightlifting. The year prior, I had acquired a Haulin’ Hook whilst in America that summer. As was the case last time around, there was a lot of experimenting. To be honest, the first eighteen months was a lot of trial & error.
Figuring out what exercises I could manage to do; what weight I could lift. Trying to come up with a routine was a perplexing task as I was limited to the machinery at my peril. There was no real way to get a full back or chest workout going as I just could not figure out how to adapt around my arm and lack of grip to complete a decent workout on a specific body part. I continued trying to figure out and every so often, found new exercises to add to my weekly routine.
Eventually, I became unstuck and struggled to progress. I’d figured out cables, pull-ups – sometimes assisted – and some basic dumbbell exercises, but tried as I might to figure out more, all that was at my arsenal was not sufficient enough for me.
I happened to bump into an old training partner, Callum, a couple of months later in late 2017 who I’d noticed had put on some significant muscle and size since injuries stopped him training in MMA. It hadn’t been too long that I’d last seen him, but was curious as to what he was doing.
He told me he had become a member at a strength & conditioning gym not far from either of us called Platform Performance. I said I’d go with him soon, and it was one of those things that slipped to the back of my mind and forgot about for a while. A month or so later, Callum reminded me and took me along, introduced me to the coaching team there; Mark Council, Steven Whittaker & Callum’s brother Lee Newburn.
The gym was in its first year in the newly established facility just on the border of Dukinfield on Park Lane. Before I entered, they had not had a member with any such limb-difference and still do not. It’s such a rarity in a gym, even in all the gyms I have been in over my time, you rarely see somebody with a disability in there.
I had come to them, presenting my obvious issue and wondered how they could help improve, adapt and make me both stronger physically and conditioned better for MMA. As always, one mind on its own can only conquer and achieve so much. It’s when people come together that true ingenuity and true boundaries can be broken.
Funnily enough, all aforementioned coaches had no real experience working with somebody with a limb-difference, so as much as I was performing trial-and-error sessions in gyms of past, this was much the same for the coaches in order to put me and my lifting hook through the paces. I decided to give the two-week free trial a whirl to see how much could happen and how much adaption could be achieved within the two weeks.
In a very early session, I had always pondered the thought of deadlifting and whether the length differential of my arms with or without my hook would play a huge factor. I mentioned it to Lee who, without hesitating, said I could definitely deadlift. Now, I’m not the shyest of people at all and welcome new things, but I wasn’t expecting Lee to give a sudden yes and a push into giving it a go when it wasn’t on the list of exercises that day.
So, here we go: grab a bar, set it up, chuck some low, practice weight on it and see how it goes. Forty kilograms on, attach the hook and lift head and pick up. Not the result I was expecting. The weight came up and it was another notch on my belt.
One of the things I love most is being able to do things I should be logically incapable of doing – and this was another realisation of something I could do. From the first time I deadlifted in December 2017 to March 2018, I had already progressed to 100kg – a big part coming from the program given the moniker of ‘Carcass Sessions.’
Those four months flew by and surprised myself and the coaches with just how much strength I had in my club hand with the hook attached. To many, the hand looks significantly weaker than my left, however its strength is actually shocking and often surprises me, too.The rapport I have built with the coaches at Platform is often comedic, however while we may bounce off each other with jokes, we bounce many ideas off of one another - mostly consisting of me seeing something, saying I want to try this or that seemingly ‘crazy’ idea and the coaches supporting it, figuring it out with me and making it possible. There’s always an alternative - that’s something I knew before joining Platform, but it has become a regular occurrence on their turf.
For a while, we had reached a plateau. I’d conquered my all time best deadlift in April of 145kg. A weight I’m dying to hit 150kg and am close to. But I needed a new goal.
I had focused on an upper body goal for quite a while, so why not switch it up and go for a lower body goal? Therefore, I decided to work on my squats and wanted to join the infamous ‘100 club’ in that exercise too. At first, we stuck with front squat, but as productive as that was being up to the weight of sixty kilograms, it was causing a significant issue pressing into the forearm of my right arm and disallowing me to drive back up in the later sets.
On top of that, trying a traditional squat with a traditional squat bar wasn’t convenient due to the shortness of my neck caused by Klippel-Feil syndrome – I know, I’m a mess aren’t I?! Plus I couldn’t brace the bar round the back with my right arm, so the support system wasn’t viable.
This part just shows the level Platform will go to assist you in your goals. Remember I said I wanted to succeed at squats? Well, the guys went ahead and acquired a Safety Squat bar to help me realise my goals much easier. The different with this device is that is possesses two handles on each side of your head rather than gripping the bar behind you (see picture). I’d mentioned this apparatus multiple times and when I tried it, it was perfect – as far to say that just last week I hit my goal of joining the 100kg club two weeks ahead of schedule.
The grounds being broken at Platform Performance make it more than just a gym. You can accuse me of being a shill and for some it may be high priced, but for me the support and goals the team have assisted me in achieving are invaluable. I’ve seen first hand the change in others, too.
Look, I grew up in an athletic world. Not being able to get ‘big and strong’ was always something that irked me. Not going to the gym or using my body physically is a myth! Something I can’t live without. Since December 2017 it’s been some process, but I’ve gotten bigger, better and certainly stronger. Barriers are there to be broken and goal after goal, I’m excited to see where it takes me.
Platform Performance have become big proponents of limb-difference and as much as they’ve helped me evolve with my difference and reach my goals, I’m confident in saying my difference has helped them evolve into better mentors and coaches for every other member, too.