Wednesday 31 January 2018

My Journey With A Learning Disability, Anxiety and Depression - How I Found Strength & Confidence

Updated January 26, 2019

Disclaimer: This article was started back in the fall of 2016, was released for #BellLetsTalk Day in 2018, and has since been updated. Initially I had held off sharing it but decided to do so last year for two reasons

            1) Mental health is becoming such a hot topic in society and thankfully the stigma surrounding it has decreased thanks to great athletes and celebrities like The Rock, Terry Bradshaw and Bill Kazmaier discussing their own struggles & showing that it’s OK to talk about and seek help for mental health issues.

With Bill Kazmaier at SWIS 2018.

2) Without sounding arrogant I have so many people see me on the streets in my hometown region or at big rehab/strength training conferences that say “wow Eric you’re doing so well” but don’t understand the hardships that I had go through. It’s easy to make yourself look invincible and look like a human highlight reel through social media but I wanted to take time and focus on a time period when things weren’t going so well for me.

With that out of the way here’s my article. Enjoy.

One thing you may not know about me is that I was born with a learning disability. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at 4 years old and thankfully my amazing parents did everything for me including taking me to various therapists & specialists to help me, rooted for me & supported me during my ups & downs. In my childhood I was always the different one. I could tell you everything about dinosaurs and sharks from memory. I could read well beyond my grade, and I remember being asked to talk to my principal and senior students about various science topics. Even though I was labelled the “walking encyclopedia” I never clicked well with my fellow students and didn’t have much of a social life until mid-high school.

In grade school I met some good teachers and some great friends along the way, many of whom I still keep in touch with. In high school I decided I wanted to play rugby and being somewhat out of shape and pudgy I decided I needed to start doing some exercising. So I started “working out” which consisted of endless running, situps & pushups as well as half-range bench presses, cheat curls & leg extensions. Even though my workouts (by my standards) were pretty lowsy in hindsight they were beneficial as they taught me how hard it is for someone to start working out who doesn’t have a health and fitness background (i.e. me at the time). Through my interest in lifting weights I ended up getting into the Kinesiology program at the University of Waterloo.

At this time though I started to really realize that I had a disability and developed some very negative emotions & attitudes towards myself. I knew that my learning disability made me different in terms of my social interactions and personality. At the time I also had to work a lot harder than a lot of my classmates to get good grades. The combination of having a “different” personality and having to work harder to be successful made me think of myself as less of a person. Towards the end of high school and during my undergraduate degree I started to see what the top 1-5% of people in health, fitness, and strength sports were doing; and I felt like I would be worthy enough if I achieved what those individuals achieved.  This led me down a dark path of high self expectations and low self confidence. 

With my good friends & mentors Lora Giangregorio & Stuart McGill from the University of Waterloo - the two most important people in my professional career with the exception of my immediate family.

Fast forward a few years…. I worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Waterloo, helped start a course in Waterloo’s Kinesiology program, completed the Master of Physical Therapy program at Western University, wrote for two of the best powerlifting & strength training sites in the world, did my first powerlifting meet, and got asked to start a cardiac rehab program in a PT clinic. No matter how many successes I achieved or how many ladders I climbed I never felt happy with myself and always felt that I would be happy and “worth something” when I achieved the next goal. Whenever my accomplishments were threatened I felt under huge pressure. I’ll confess that there were times where I came very very close to quitting physiotherapy school.

Lifting at the Vault Barbell Open Bench Only last December. 

2014 was when I first realized I needed to take better care of myself. I was burned out, as many of my classmates were, from a long & tough first year of physio school. The moment that made me realize I needed to get my act together & take care of some issues I’ve let slide for too long was when Robin Williams killed himself. That was when I saw my first counsellor at Western University who helped me out a lot with finding a better work/life balance and getting me through 2nd year.

It took me a lot of knocking my head against the wall; working with a second counsellor; and a rough stretch in my personal (and professional) life filled with moments of anxiety, depression, and weight gain to realize that I was going about building my self esteem the wrong way. Professional accomplishments and praise are wonderful things but they don’t exist all the time. Self-worth must come from within.

To steal a quote from the movie Cool Runnings “….a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it.”

I’m sometimes asked how I’ve dealt with my learning disability as well as the stressors that have resulted. Over time I developed some strategies to help build confidence, self-esteem and mental strength. I hope that you can find these strategies to be helpful in your own journey as self-confidence is something that many health & fitness professionals (anecdotally) struggle with.

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychiatrist or a doctor … and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. All I can share is my experience & what I did. As such I wouldn’t consider this medical advice.

Some of the ways that I dealt with these issues are through

1) Discipline, consistency, hardwork & time management

At the end of the day – nothing replaced these values. From 2009-2016 I quite frequently put in 60-100 hour weeks of classes, studying, professional sidebar projects/networking, and/or clinical work.

Time management & organization for me was and is critical. I use a to-do-list app at as well as the Google Calendar app to track what I need to do and schedule it appropriately.

2) Being aware of how I talked to myself

A commonly asked question I’ve heard people say is “would you talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself”? While we all say “no” as a gut reaction we should stop to think of how we really perceive ourselves. “I’m the fat one, the slow one, the weak one, the ugly one” are all examples of messages we give ourselves that do nothing to help us achieve our goals and only reinforce a negative belief in ourselves.

My first piece of advice is to really stop and think about how you talk to yourself and perceive yourself on a day to day basis. Awareness is key.

Another thing to consider specifically for people with a disability is that some of the most successful inventors, scientists and businessmen in history had disabilities (or were suspected to have had them).

3) Finding ways to problem solve issues

Although I credit pure hardwork as the biggest reason for my success there were times where I ran myself into the ground and still couldn’t get anywhere in certain areas. Some examples of this were in communicating with clients & lay people both verbally & non-verbally. I had to develop my own strategies to overcome these barriers.

Side note: from a professional perspective we don’t spend enough time educating people in rehab & fitness on communication with patients & clients.

4) Spend at least 5 minutes a day listing your positive qualities

Another useful activity is to spend 5-10 minutes a day listing your positive qualities. These are qualities that you see in yourself, not what your friends & family tell you and not what a fitness magazine tells you. By doing this daily I built up my self confidence and also noticed that I talk more positively to myself.

This doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and roses and that you’re not trying to improve yourself. It means that you’re taking the time to acknowledge and build your self worth while continuously working to progress yourself.

5) Finding the line between acceptance & defeatism

My lovely sweetheart of a colleague Joletta Belton wrote about this recently. In my journey I had to find that balance. For years I wished that my disability could go away permanently but I had to accept the fact that it was there and that I may have some limitations in life because of it. That said – I couldn’t let it take hold of me and defeat my desire to do anything and get any better. I still had to keep fighting and to keep moving forward in life.

6) Deciding to work a counsellor

No one can do it all by themselves.

7) Understand that stress is not always a negative thing

I learned this from an article by one of my all-time favourite strength coaches Mike Boyle. Stress has a negative connotation but can also be caused by working hard on tasks that you enjoy whether it’s athletics, work, or school.

After I got through my licensing exams I wanted to change the world and, even though my insecurities were pretty much gone, I still wanted to do big things. Between February 2017 and January 2019 I
·         Was part of a review panel for Western University’s Physiotherapy program across 2017
·         Co-authored Chapter 14 of Rehabilitation of the Spine (and helped a bit with several other books)
·         Started a cardiopulmonary rehab program
·         Furthered my involvement with, and guest lectured in, the University of Waterloo Kinesiology program
·         Got interviewed by, and became a writer for, Mash Elite Performance (on top of writing for my own site)
·         And tried to train for powerlifting at the highest level

Lecturing at University of Waterloo last Fall

Including a clinical job I would spend 45-65 hours a week between all these endeavours. I enjoyed them and am grateful for the opportunities and the great people I’ve met along the way – but they did take a toll on my body and mind over time … and they created a constant level of “go, go, go” in my day. Once I decided to cut back on the amount of projects I had on the go and prioritize more down time and recovery … things were good and I felt much better.

8) Prioritize self care

This is straightforward but tough for us Type A, motivated people to follow. Take the time to get a good 7-9 hours of sleep a night, eat almost all of your meals with nutritious food, and block off adequate down time in your schedule.

The purpose of this article was not to blow my own horn or to be an ego shoot. Many people suffer from confidence issues, “imposter syndrome,” stress, and depression. If you are dealing with these issues I highly recommend getting the necessary resources from qualified professionals to help you out. I hope that this article gives you a glimpse into my story and provides you, the reader, with some useful tips that you can implement to build your own confidence and self esteem. As always - thanks for reading.


Eric Bowman, BSc, MPT, PT

Monday 15 January 2018

3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Lifting Weights

            This will be my third (and last) article of this month’s mini-series that can be applied to people making exercise New Years Resolutions…

Side note: before we get started I am currently conducting a survey on Survey Monkey to get feedback for the site with regards to its layout, practical use & content. It only takes 2 minutes (or less) so I would appreciate it if you could fill it out.

     The internet training world is one of the most controversial aspects of the fitness industry. While there’s a lot of great, useful information out there the internet also has a lot of bad information or information that’s lacking in context and application. I understand that it’s hard to decipher all of that if you don’t have a Kin or Exercise Science background. I believe it’s also one of the reasons why people have a hard time beginning and sticking to a diet and exercise program.
            Until I started consulting with many great coaches and trainers, as much as I hate to say it, I made the same mistakes and had to sift through a ton of information (and BS); and deal with a lot of plateaus, injuries, and burnout along the way; to really learn how to train properly – and it’s something I’m still learning and will continue to do until I die.
            In this article I will detail some of the things that I wish I would have done differently in my training career…..

1 – Start with a solid base of General Physical Preparedness (GPP)

GPP basically refers to general work that you do to get in shape to do the specific preparation for your sport (SPP). It isn’t necessarily dragging a sled or pushing a prowler as it depends on whatever sport you do. Bench pressing can be considered SPP for a powerlifter but would be GPP for a football player.

The Soviet Union had their young athletes start by doing a broad base of general activities and as the athlete got older and older a higher percentage of training was devoted to the athlete’s main sport. This system gave individuals a much larger base of fitness with a lot less injuries in comparison to the American model of early sport specialization.

In my case I would have spent more time on general fitness such as jumping, sprinting, throwing, and calisthenics. In high school (and early university) I was a runner so running was not neglected but in hindsight should have been incorporated as part of a more general program. That would have given me a much better base of general fitness from which to progress into my powerlifting career.

2 – Learning how to squat and deadlift correctly for my body type

Some research has shown that people’s hips are built differently. This influences
-          How deep you can squat before lumbar flexion (aka butt wink) occurs
-          What stance will give you YOUR deepest squat

I tried to squat and deadlift using the “proper” technique and ran into a lot of lumbar flexion and back pain. Once I learned how to squat correctly for my hip anatomy than I was able to progress without issues. While lumbar flexion is a controversial topic amongst biomechanics and pain science experts I do believe it’s important to minimize flexion during high load situations as it reduces the stress on the low back.

This video shows you how to find YOUR ideal squat stance

Finding your ideal deadlift technique requires more trial & error. The main thing is that you want to keep a neutral spine and keep the bar as close to you as possible while maintaining a vertical bar path. You don’t want to have the bar so close to you that you have to arc it around your knees during a lift – but you also don’t want the bar so far away from you that your lift is mechanically inefficient. You also don’t want your hips so low that your knees and shins push the bar a mile away from you to start but you also don’t want your hips so high that it looks like a glorified stiff leg deadlift.

3 – Going in hand with #2 spend a bit more time on mobility

Mobility is both person and sport dependent. A 5’6” runner who has a small ROM to move through may not need any mobility work. In fact some research suggests that being “loose” can actually decrease athletic performance.

However, my 6’5” long femured frame needed to do a lot of mobility work to be able to squat and deadlift correctly. Now I’m at a stage where I only need to do 2-3 minutes of mobility twice a week (usually warming up just with an empty bar) and I’m good to go. However doing more mobility work in the early going may have saved me a lot of issues.

Assuming you don’t have any injuries, medical conditions, or balance issues mobility isn’t rocket science. Simple unloaded stuff such as hip hinging, air squats, goblet squats, lunges & split squats can go a long way in improving lower body mobility. For upper body mobility exercises such as the back-to-wall shoulder flexion and bench t-spine mobilization (look up Eric Cressey’s videos for these) can help a lot with squatting and overhead pressing flexibility.

4 – Hire a damn coach

Most people who go to the gym aren’t health and fitness professionals – nor do they have the desire to sift through tons of blogs, articles, books and videos like I did to really learn how to train properly. Thus they either

-          Do a haphazard program consisting of bench press, bicep curls and situps OR
-          Pick up a program off a book or a website that may be totally inappropriate for them given their goals, baseline fitness, anatomy, and medical history

That’s where working with a good coach can save a lot of hassle – even if it’s just for a few sessions or consultations to learn how to properly program and do the exercises.

I understand it’s tough to find good trainers given that it’s an unregulated profession. This article has some useful tips for what to look for in a trainer. If you are still having issues message me and I’ll see what I can do for you.

Every strength coach or trainer, no matter what they say, has made mistakes and learned lessons from them. I hope these will help you in your future.


Haubenstricker, J.L. and Seefeldt, V. (2002). The Concept of Readiness Applied to the Acquisition of Motor Skills. In F.L. Smoll and R.E. Smith (Eds.), Children and Youth in Sport: A Biopsychosocial Perspective. (2nd Ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt. (pp. 61-81).

Monday 8 January 2018

Running: Is It A Good Idea + 5 Tips To Reduce Running Injuries

                It’s January – a time of year where many make New Years Resolutions to start being active and lose weight. Keeping in theme with the month this article will discuss the topic of running, one of the most popular forms of physical activity take part in.
                Running has numerous health benefits – but is also associated with a higher rate of injury compared to many other forms of physical activity including strength sports. If you’re PT or Chiro you, like me, see runners on a fairly regular basis through the year (except for right now in Ontario Canada where the windchill is approaching -40 celsius as I type this first draft).

                It begs the question – is running a good idea for you or your clients? In this article I allow you to make the decision and provide you with some tips to reduce the chances of running injuries.


I never look at exercises in absolutes. A better approach is to look at them in the context of the following factors …

The most important factor I use to determine whether or not an exercise is a good choice is the individual’s medical & history. Many cardiovascular, pulmonary, and orthopaedic conditions can make running detrimental to one’s health. While I’m not going to say you will never run if you have the above issues … it is in your best interest to get them dealt with first. The last thing I’d ever want anyone to do is run 10 k with atrial fibrillation or with a femoral neck stress fracture that hasn’t been managed appropriately.

The second factor I look at is the individual’s fitness level. Some are going to disagree with me on this – but I do believe running is something you have to get fit to do. Given it’s a high load activity with a high injury rate I have a hard time recommending people run who are quite overweight and/or have poor fitness. It can be done – but its not something I’d recommend. For many new gym goers I’d recommend doing a proper weight training progression and losing some excess bodyweight first before hitting the pavement.

Lastly – what are the goals of the individual? Goals which determine the acceptable risk/benefit ratio of an exercise. For instance – going to a 1 rep max deadlift, while appropriate for a competitive powerlifter (that’s their sport), likely has way more risk than benefit for a recreational gym rat.

With respect to running – it comes down to whether or not you enjoy it? If you enjoy it and satisfy the three points above … carry on. If you don’t enjoy running and are just using it as a means to an end for fat loss or cardiovascular fitness there are (in my opinion) much better options from a risk/benefit perspective such as circuit training or interval training done using lower impact modalities such as weights (done properly), pushing or pulling a sled, and/or a stationary bike.

Use these principles to determine if running, or any type of exercise, is a good fit for you and your clients.


In no particular order, the most important ways to reduce the likelihood of a running injury are …

1) Proper volume management & progression: I would argue that the vast majority of running injuries are due to “training load errors” or doing too much too soon. A wise strategy is to stick to the 10% rule – don’t increase your running volume by any more than 10% per week.

2) Reread #1 above. It’s that important

3) Managing psychosocial factors: While it hasn’t been thoroughly studied in runners a large body of research shows a significant link between psychosocial factors, sports injury, and chronic pain.

Most people reading this article are likely not head-shrinks or counsellors – but if you are a strength & conditioning or rehab professional it is important to network with people who you know can help in this regard.

4) Proper strength training

While again not studied thoroughly in runners strength training has been shown to effectively reduce sports injuries and can improve performance in runners.  

5) Diet & hormone management

A specific demographic of female runners can develop what’s called the female triad – a combination of undereating/disordered eating, amenorrhea and low bone density which can predispose them to injury. While I’m not a doctor or dietician – this again emphasizes the importance of working with people in other professions to effectively manage these issues that can predispose an athlete to injury.

What about stretching & running shoes?

It is commonly believed that stretching prior to running is an effective way of preventing injuries although the research suggests otherwise and suggests that a proper level of stiffness is actually associated with better performance. A more efficient way to warm up is through lighter, lower intensity cardiovascular exercise and movement to raise the body temperature prior to running.

In addition it is commonly believed that a proper running shoe matched to your foot position will prevent running injuries but research done (and interestingly funded by Nike) has shown no correlation between matching running shoes to foot style and reduction of running injuries.

There you have it – 5 simple tips to help with running injuries plus guidance on determining whether running is an appropriate exercise for you or your clients goals. Thanks for reading. 

Monday 1 January 2018

Barriers to exercise in people with chronic health conditions - and how they can be managed

            Happy New Year everyone!!! It’s that time of the year where people make New Years Resolutions – many of which revolve around losing weight and exercising. We’ve all heard the saying “Exercise is Medicine.” Exercise can improve overall health & fitness in many ways that no pill or quick fix can do.
            However, many people have difficulty sticking to a regular exercise program. Some Canadian statistics from 2012 and 2013 show that only 24% of males and 21% of females meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity (
            With the rising population of baby boomers and resultant increase in health care expenses the lack of physical activity in our population creates a huge problem. In this article I go over some of the common barriers to exercise in people with chronic health conditions. For simplicity’s sake I am lumping all chronic health conditions together as many of these barriers are the same.

1) Lack of time

When people talk about why they can’t exercise the usual response is “I don’t have enough time.” I am of the belief that the lack of time barrier is more of a perceived lack of time than an actual lack of time – especially considering how much TV North Americans watch on average and how little time it actually takes to improve health & fitness.

That being said some people do have legitimate time barriers including (but not limited to)
-          Working a busy job on the road such as being a long-haul truck driver
-          Sudden family crises such as a divorce, death in the family, or illness in the family
-          Moving and/or starting a new job

As such we as practitioners have to be mindful of that and fit our program to the individual – not the other way around. That’s why in the clinical world I’m a fan of the McKenzie method which provides a reasoning platform that enables you to give the client 1-2 exercises that are simple & can be done anywhere. Even a lot of the research guidelines for special populations (e.g. COPD, heart disease, osteoporosis) can enable practitioners to develop time-efficient exercise programs.

Now we can all agree that lack of time isn’t the only barrier to exercise which brings me to.

2) Fear of exercise

Having worked with many seniors in my young age with various conditions ranging from OA to cancer – I understand that exercise can be a daunting endeavour especially if you’ve never performed an organized program or played an organized sport in your life.

Anecdotally I still find many seniors, although this number is thankfully decreasing, that still believe in the theory that everything is treated by rest.

Many seniors are concerned that something severe will happen during an exercise program and this represents a major barrier to activity which brings me to my next point…

3) Lack of guidance

This goes in hand with #2 – unless you have the luxury of working with a CSEP (in Canada) or ACSM certified exercise professional, a RKin, a CSPS or a PT who is thoroughly trained and understands how to develop exercise programs for seniors than you likely don’t have a lot of guidance with how to exercise.

Lack of guidance in my opinion also contributes to the fear of exercise as people don’t know what they should and shouldn’t do. When you throw in issues such as OA, high blood pressure, diabetes, arrhythmias and other health concerns it makes the leap to exercise even more daunting.

My best advice to tackle this barrier is to take the time to either
-          Get the required training mentioned above
-          Or network to find people in your area who are knowledgeable & competent in these areas

4) Lack of interest towards exercise

Another reason why people don’t take part in an exercise program is a lack of interest. Some don’t enjoy exercise and some don’t understand why they should be doing it. I often hear people say comments like “I’m in pretty good shape for my age” or on the flipside conciliatory statements like “I’m just gettin’ old.”

Two ways to help address this are through education and also through giving a range of exercise modalities that people can choose from. During my first cardiac rehab experience some seniors didn’t like lifting free weights but enjoyed the machines. Some didn’t enjoy cardio machines but enjoyed playing a sport or doing step aerobics classes.

5) Psychosocial factors

Psychosocial factors, mainly depression, can be major barriers to exercise and can make it very difficult for someone to begin exercising & living a healthier lifestyle.

I’m not a doctor (or a head shrink), and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. If you’re reading my site you’re likely a health/fitness professional who, like myself, is not trained in treating psychosocial issues and should not overstep your boundary. My only recommendation for these issues is to help guide the patient to the appropriate support whether that’s family, counselling, psychotherapy or a combination of these.

6) Transportation/mobility limitations

This can be a major issue particularly in people who use gait aids, are incredibly deconditioned, and/or don’t have someone to drive them around.

Weather can compound this issue. As I write the article it is -27 Celsius with the windchill here in Canada. Unless you live in Vegas where the weather is often warmer & drier it is likely that you and the people you work with have to compete with Mother Nature.

One solution is at home exercise programming. When I did my final physiotherapy school placement in homecare we often had people with COPD and asthma performing aerobic exercise in their own homes. Obviously the size of the home can be an issue plus fall hazards need to be taken into account there. Resistance training in the homecare setting is more difficult as it is limited by equipment unless you have access to a weight set, therabands and/or an apartment gym.

Another solution is through community resources that offer transportation for seniors with decreased mobility.

The purpose of this article was to show you some of the major barriers to exercise in people with chronic health conditions and offer some suggestions as to how they can be addressed.

Jones AWTaylor AGowler HO'Kelly NGhosh SBridle C. Systematic review of interventions to improve patient uptake and completion of pulmonary rehabilitation in COPD. ERJ Open Res. 2017 Jan 30;3(1). pii: 00089-2016. doi: 10.1183/23120541.00089-2016.

Karmali KN, Davies P, Taylor F, Beswick A, Martin N, Ebrahim S. Promoting patient uptake and
adherence in cardiac rehabilitation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Jun 25;(6):CD007131. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007131.pub3.

Rodrigues IB, Armstrong JJ, Adachi JD, MacDermid JC. Facilitators and barriers to exercise adherence in patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis: a systematic review. Osteoporos Int. 2017 Mar;28(3):735-745. doi: 10.1007/s00198-016-3793-2. Epub 2016 Oct 6.

How I've Adapted The McKenzie Method Over The Years

If someone were to ask me “what are the biggest influences on your therapy philosophy” they would be (in no particular order) ·  ...