Be Willing to Do Just One Squat

Be Willing to Do Just One Squat

living well

I’ve been experimenting with improving my leg strength and gaining back a lost skill. I share the surprising results below.

Since my ALS diagnosis in 2010, I’ve followed a daily practice of range-of-motion exercises based on fundamental movements taught by the strength and movement specialist company Original Strength. I also do modified yoga, Pilates, and gymnastics moves.

Somewhere along my ALS journey, I lost the ability to sit down and get up again without someone’s help. My sitting was more of a free-fall “plopping” onto the chair. Getting up required great effort. I’d take a heave-ho push and then lean onto a nearby side table or have someone grab my hands to pull me onto my feet — not a pleasant experience.

One day, I reached my limit of plopping and pulling and designed a program to improve my leg strength.

In general, exercise for ALS patients is meant to maintain joint mobility and muscle strength. Studies rarely mention improvement.

What’s the worst that could happen? If nothing improves, then I’ll just be right where I started.

My plan of attack

In gyms worldwide, the tried and true leg strengthening exercise is a full squat.

Yikes! A full squat would have me calling 911. I better look up a modification!

The easiest, bottom-rung version of a full squat is an air squat. From a stand, bend the knees a little, then return to a stand. Don’t laugh. I wasn’t laughing. All I could manage was a drop of about 4 inches before my leg muscles began tremoring. However, I managed 10 in a row. I added air squats to my daily routine.

I also knew that to make any real progress, I would have to practice with a real chair.

Down, up, and down again

Positioned with a chair behind me and a rollator in front, I lowered my hips down toward the chair as slowly as I could, resisting all the way.

Once safely seated, I counted “one!”

Frankly, that’s all I could do! It was a “humble-pie moment,” as my grand visions of easily knocking off 10 quickly faded away. Be willing to do just one, I firmly told myself as I set a new goal to do one very slow “sit-down” every day for a week.

I didn’t have to wait a week! Within four days I figured out that one slow “sit-down” in the morning and another in the afternoon would double my progress. By week’s end, I doubled it again. Within another week I sat down and then rocked myself back up by leaning on my rollator handles. The revised goal became two down-and-ups twice a day — adding one more every week.

At the end of one month, I was doing 10! Slowly, yes, but 10 twice a day … 20 a day! I was smiling!

The new goal was 40 a day!

Slow progress

At some point I switched from air squats to legitimate chair squats, actually touching down onto the chair before standing up. I finally hit my goal of 40 a day, divided up as 10 repetitions four times a day. I even felt guilty when backing up to sit down if I didn’t do one or two chair squats just for the heck of it before finally sitting.

Mind you, I began this little experiment around eight months ago. This endeavor takes time, especially when living with ALS. I had good-feeling days, low-energy days, and “I’m just too busy” days. But whenever I felt like giving up, I’d chant my mantra: Be willing to do just one!

The results?

I’m still at 40 chair squats per day. I still hold onto my rollator for balance while doing them. It still takes effort to get up from a chair. However, I don’t need anyone to help me and I don’t feel shaky anymore. My posture has improved and when I walk with my rollator, I walk a little taller.

At my last visit to the ALS Clinic, the physical therapist commented that my leg muscles tested stronger.

“Forty chair squats a day!” I blurted out.

Raising an eyebrow, he replied, “Whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it.”

I smiled, and thought: And continue to learn how to live well while living with ALS!

***

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15 comments

  1. Anita Gunderson says:

    ALS God Bless you for not giving in to this horrific disease that my Mother acquired believe it or not at age 93 after several Dr. scratched their heads. The same needle test in the tongue and other parts of her body showed again and again and than confirmed it took 2 months to diagnose. She worked in a school till she was 93 retired and two months later something happened that upset her and I think ALS was a nervous response to what had happened. She also almost dropped in a pool the life guard holding her above water and her fear of going in and losing her wig. I arrived and said just turn your foot Mom her nerves would not let that happen in her panic. She continued to fall to her knees through that vacation. That was the start of ALS for my dear Mother. If your Young enough attack it as the article above. Don’t give in…. !!! God Bless You and give you strength of mind and body. My Husband and I became her care givers and we felt privileged. Mom’s attitude was you have to have a little humor.

    • Dagmar Munn says:

      Thank you Anita for sharing your experiences and your Mother’s journey with ALS. Yes, don’t give up and – – always have a little humor. Best wishes to you and your family.

  2. Diana Belland says:

    I was diagnosed with ALS on March 4, 2019. I am 73 and have been very active all my adult life–working out at the gym, running, training for marathons, hiking, biking, swimming, spin biking… I loved exercise and thought that staying so active was insurance that I would live to be as old as my mother who died at 98 from gall bladder disease. Silly me! I am still in shock about my diagnosis. I had lumbar spine fusion and laminectomy to decompress the L5S1 nerve in my right leg in March, 2018. The surgeon was sure that the radiculapathy of the L5S1 nerve was causing my right foot drop. But recently he noticed weakness in my left ankle as well which led to my having a series of tests and ultimately the diagnosis of the illness I had feared most.
    But fortunately I discovered your wonderful blog and have also just read your book, “Align, Lengthen and Strengthen.” Your story and your blog posts are an incredible inspiration. Reading your March 12 post really lifted my spirits today. Until recently I have been able to get off a sofa or chair without using my hands. But since receiving the diagnosis, I have been afraid to try even one lift off a sofa or chair without using my hands.I will be starting a program of PT for ALS patients soon and I hope to be able to follow your example with squats. Thank you so much for all the wonderful work you do for ALS patients.

    • Dagmar Munn says:

      Diana – – Thank you for your kind words. Our personal ALS stories may vary, but the things we have in common are a willingness to share and learn from each other and to try and stay positive. Air squats to chair squats – – I know you can succeed (and feel good too!)! …..we CAN live well while living with ALS 🙂

  3. Richard Curtis says:

    Hi guys,

    I was diagnosed with MND on the 5th of March 2018 at the age of 48, so I am just 12 months into this life changing condition, I had similar symptoms as mentioned above, while running my calf would tighten and I noticed my right foot dropping, causing me to trip on occasions, I was told that this was probably just a trapped nerve round around L4-L5 brought on after many years of running, I like many other people was an enthusiastic keep fit fanatic, I trained practically every day, running 10 kilometres each day , training at a professional boxing gym and generally trying to hold back the years. I still train most days but I can only train my upper body as my legs really don’t cooperate now and I am in a wheelchair for the majority of the day and squatting seems like something now out of the realms of possibility, I did try a squat a few days ago but dipped to low and literally crashed to the floor, it made me smile at first as I knew I had tried something that I could no longer achieve and the resulting crash to the floor was inevitable, I did than become upset feeling a little sorry for myself, thats never a good thing and out of character for me, but after reading the comments above I am going to try air squatting today to see if I can regain some leg strength, the comments are inspirational, I will start with very small goals 1 or 2 air squats per day and see where it takes me, I am off to Being China in 48 hours time for some stem cell treatment, I know that this can not stop the progression and that this will certainly not reverse this condition but the science says its possible that the stem cell treatment could protect the cells that are not yet affected so my hope is that the treatment will slow the progression.

    • Dagmar Munn says:

      Richard, Good luck with your treatment…hope it helps you. Remember to help your body by reducing unneeded cortisone and adrenaline by changing your lifestyle as well; balancing body & mind. Besides air squats, why not take advantage of your sitting and do leg extensions? One-at-a-time… I take the movement I want to learn and break it down into its smallest parts – – practice those and work up.

      As pALS, we can motivate and inspire each other. Stay positive Richard 🙂

    • Dave Reckonin says:

      Best wishes for a successful outcome with this Richard.
      Stem-cell treatment is at an early stage of evaluation so any feedback you can give us on your return would be fantastic.

      The results from the parallel Nurown trials will also be avidly snapped up by all connected to ALS in some way.
      There seems to be only one-two promising avenues of treatment research currently so we are all ears and with fingers crossed for these clever cells.

  4. Eileen Coyne says:

    Dagmar – your recent blog is over the top … once again! While I don’t have ALS, I do follow your progress closely and am so inspired with all of your achievements in every aspect of your life – you touch my heart and oh so many others in unknown ways. You are such a blessing – thank you for being you – IE

  5. Bex says:

    Hi Dagmar,

    My mum has been fighting ALS for 4 years so far since diagnosis at aged 53. She spends most of her time in her wheelchair, and has barely any movement in her whole body, and talks through her eyegaze. We transport her to her wheelchair/armchair/shower/bed etc by hoist. I am inspired by your blog post, and want to try and motivate her to adopt a similar mindset in terms of exercises. I was wondering, if it is not too personal a question, as to what sort of stage physically you are to be able to get up and down into a chair? Any advice would be warmly welcomed! I think you, and your blog are amazing. 🙂

    • Dagmar Munn says:

      Thank you Bex – – I send good wishes to your mother as well. Everyone has a different journey and experience with ALS, so it is a challenge to try and copy another patient’s regimen. However, having a positive mindset seems to be at the center of coping well. I suggest your mother read a few of my past columns, or even my (free) ebook on my blog site: https://alsandwellness.blogspot.com/ Whether she can move herself or needs someone to assist, regular range of motion movements as prescribed by a physical therapist are always beneficial to feeling better and keeping joints/muscles stimulated. I am in my 9th year living with ALS; my voice, swallowing and legs have all been affected… but I do what I can and I keep a positive attitude. Best to you both!

  6. Donna Meier says:

    Can you describe to me what piece of equipment you are calling a rollator? I am an ALS Advocate working with clients in NW WI. I enjoy your blog and share with others at our Support Groups

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