The Role of Awareness in Injury Recovery and Athletic Development: A Conversation with Personal Trainer Ian Lim
Current MBS Foundation student and personal trainer Ian Lim discusses how the principles of Mind Body Studies help him connect with his clients’ needs and better prepare them to meet their goals.
Next February, Ian Lim will once more fly from Singapore to Germany to participate in the final seminar of the MBS Foundation Training program. With graduation right around the bend, many students are gearing up their own practices at home. Since the beginning, Ian has seen his studies with MBS improve and enhance his skill as a personal trainer. Instead of teaching formal group classes (ATM’s), though, Ian finds that he can best reach his clientele by incorporating a Mind Body Studies approach into his private training sessions. He notes, “It’s about bringing the principles of MBS into the usual fitness work and about guiding the client to become more aware of their movements.”
Sometimes, when a client changes the way they think about a movement it brings the most significant improvement. Ian offers an example: “My clients used to think about just kicking the ball. But the motion, itself, is much more important than what happens with the ball.” So he begins suggesting questions to the client: “‘What do you move first? When do you stop moving when you kick the ball? What do you do when you get to the endpoint? Do you tense up?’ So,” Ian explains, “I slowly move them through their entire movement.” What is the result of shifting attention to the movement, itself, instead of the athletic goal? “More power. More flexibility.”
As it turns out, Ian’s clients perform better overall when he can bring their attention to how they move instead of focusing on the number of repetitions, the maximum speed, or the weight that they press. This same phenomenon holds for clients with highly varied needs.
Within the field of personal training, Ian specializes in physical rehabilitation. Often his clients come in with issues like osteoporosis, high blood pressure, or other conditions that have motivated them to begin a regular exercise routine, sometimes for the first time in their lives. In some cases, sessions center on post-injury rehabilitation, working to recuperate back to the pre-injury ability level (or exceed it.) Usually, though, Ian’s clients are looking to make an overall change to a healthier way of living. As Ian describes it, “MBS works complementarily with everything else: helping people to get moving again as well as assisting them to deal with injuries. Often, I can help to alleviate their pain and stiffness by using these methods instead of the usual techniques.”
Improving with the Movement (While Upping the Results)
In discussing how Ian applies MBS to his work, one term surfaces again and again: “quality of movement.” Instead of clients wasting their energy in a less productive pattern of movement, Ian guides them to figure out for themselves how they can find easier, simpler, lighter ways of doing the same task.
When using MBS within a gym setting, inevitably clients will talk about their movements in terms of the number of repetitions or weight lifted. Setting aside the quantifiable for a moment, Ian points out how students often begin to perform each repetition better, more smoothly and across a bigger range. Eventually, that smooth “quality of movement” translates back to the original goals and more impressive stats. If clients feel tired after ten repetitions, Ian asks them to do far fewer reps. While sticking within a range that’s easy and comfortable, clients see the quality of their movements begin to improve. They stop “blocking themselves with their own muscles,” as Ian puts it. Once that “quality of movement” is improved, the clients might try all ten repetitions again. Not only are they capable of doing more, but they have executed each of those first ten repetitions far more effectively.
Likewise, clients with injury recovery make massive progress by bringing their awareness to each movement, using the same MBS principles. Ian recalls many occasions of impressive recoveries; “in injuries, I’ve seen so much progress. A client came in who could hardly move because his hips were so tight and his neck was so tight. In one session, he built up the confidence to get back movements he hadn’t managed since before the injury.” In turn, that speedy recovery allowed the same client to pursue a secondary goal, of getting back into general fitness and losing weight.
Benefits in Work and Play
Outside of work, Ian regularly plays basketball recreationally. He explains, grinning, “For an Asian, I’m pretty tall, but I can’t jump at all!” Recently, though, his friends started to comment on a change in his game; he was jumping better and higher than before. Given Ian’s fitness and personal training background, they guessed, “Have you been practicing your jump?” He hadn’t. Simply attending MBS seminars and incorporating the principles into his own life, Ian had developed a “better overall quality of movement.”
Ian recalls frequently getting tightened hamstrings in the past. Now, he notes, it only comes up once in a while, after going on very long runs. Otherwise, the tightness has disappeared. While voices throughout the fitness world clash and clamor over the benefits or damages of stretching, Ian has found pre-emptive relief through better organization of his movements. “I don’t mind occasional stretching, but as for everyday tightness, with the MBS way, it’s just not there. A lot of that habitual tightness happens from overworking the muscles or being in stressful events.” The awareness that comes with MBS can clear up both cases. “Once you are more aware of the stress and are able to deal with it, the physical manifestations start to go away, too. Otherwise, it can become something like muscle memory in your system.”
MBS works complementarily with everything else: helping people to get moving again as well as assisting them to deal with injuries.
Trading in Prescription for Dialogue
With each class of new practitioners, MBS Academy sees the potential applications of the work expand further to new fields. Personal trainers’ goals are uniquely aligned with at least one aspect of Mind Body Studies: refining movement toward greater ease and freer execution. As such, when Ian joined MBS he’d already spent years learning how to improve or “optimize” movement. So what does MBS add to his toolbox? Ian doesn’t hesitate in answering: “Curiosity.”
“In personal training courses,” he explains, “the focus was more prescriptive: this problem requires this, that one requires that. With MBS, it’s not about judging the person beforehand. It’s more about finding out how each individual is, one day at a time. Also, maybe someone comes in and has an excellent session. The next time she comes in, she may have regressed a bit, or maybe this time the issue is in another part of the body.” Instead of producing an assessment from the start solely based on the client’s past or based on one specific physical limitation, Ian works with whatever comes up in each session.
“Now I find out more about the person. It gives me more of a personal relationship, which is helpful. Sometimes the problem with the movement doesn’t come from the physical issue, but from an emotion, or stress levels. There’s just so much that can be done with this work, and that’s really what is amazing. It’s about finding out more about your clients every time you meet.”