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Scoliosis, Calisthenics and a Functioning Body - A Fitness Story

Scoliosis, Calisthenics and a Functioning Body - A Fitness Story

From Scoliosis surgery to a life working in Fitness - Motivation Monday never sounded so appropriate

Theo Lury is a personal trainer who works in Fulham. 

But Theo isn’t your typical personal trainer and I asked him some questions to find out a bit more about what makes him this one of a kind PT and a few questions on how to get fitter.

Hi Theo, thanks for taking part in the interview! Just so everyone has some basic knowledge about who you are, why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been a personal trainer? Oh and don’t forget to mention what makes you so special!

Hey and thanks for having me! I’m Theo, I’m 24 years old, and have been a freelance personal trainer for two years now. Born and raised in Harrow with my 3 brothers and sister, I grew up in a big, loud, busy house. Growing up, I always loved playing and watching sport, particularly football (Chelsea till I die) and cricket. My mum is from Sri Lanka while my dad is English, so there’s always been some pretty strong rivalry there! 

I studied French at university, a year of which was based in Paris, and have spent some time travelling around New Zealand, both of which were amazing experiences. I’m also currently the drummer for a successful rock band, gigging around the U.K. and even over to Europe occasionally. 

Despite generally being sporty and active, my fitness journey really began at aged 17 after a life-changing operation, undergoing corrective surgery for scoliosis. 

I began to go to the gym at the age of 16 but trained without any real drive or consistency. My passion for fitness really developed after my scoliosis surgery at the age of 17.

The procedure resulted in major unforeseen and inexplicable complications, nearly losing my leg (and possibly my life) after suffering compartmental syndrome in my right shin. In the end, I had two titanium rods permanently placed in my back, a lovely skin graft, experienced a temporary loss of movement in one foot due to a foot drop, underwent a very lengthy rehabilitation process, and was left with some commemorative scars. Slowly but surely, I learned to walk again, and through physiotherapy regained movement in my foot. 

Theo’s scoliosis after and before pictures.

Theo’s scoliosis after and before pictures.

So considering you had scoliosis and a really serious complication- why on earth did that make you want to work out, get fitter and become a PT? 

It’s actually the thing that has given me the drive I have in life to be active and do things. Not that people necessarily doubted me, but I wanted to prove people wrong. I wanted to show that I could have major surgery and crazy complications and still do all these things that I do that most people wouldn’t be able to do. It was about testing myself and pushing myself; just a year after the surgery while in NZ, I did two bungee jumps and a skydive!

Ultimately, from this experience, I gained a new appreciation for the fully functioning body I had, instilling in me a desire to become stronger than I had ever been.  

How did you decide that you wanted to be a PT?

Fitness has been a part of my life for a long time and combining that with my story, I think (or hope) that I can be an inspiration to people and show them that anything is possible for anyone. And being a PT was the best way of doing this. I’m also a people person and love chatting with people and getting to know them and PT is such a fun, sociable job where I meet so many interesting people and by the end, you really connect and helping them feels even more special.

So what do you specialise in, in regards to your training, and what do you feel makes you different?

My speciality is something called calisthenics. It’s basically a combination of gymnastic and bodyweight training, usually done outdoors. It’s a lot of pull-ups and push-ups, pistol squats, muscle-ups. It really pushes the body in a different way as it’s really about your body to strength ratio, not necessarily about the actual numbers you are hitting.

But I also do the more traditional ‘gym’ things: squat, bench, deadlift. Because while doing a pull up with 40kg around your waist is great, nothing beats a compound lift. So my training uses a combination of these two, whereas my training of clients is often more METCON, or HIIT based as people want to lose weight and improve general fitness a lot of the time. But I sneak in my favourites whenever I can! 

Theo Upside down, but getting stronger at the same time.

Theo Upside down, but getting stronger at the same time.

How do you keep clients, motivated and engaged?

Keep it fresh! I got a client last year who told me that she had a trainer for two years and she would see him every week and they would do the same workout. EVERY. TIME.

I can’t stand this, not only is it lazy on the PT’s part, but no progress will come from repetition on that scale. I write brand new workouts for every single client every day and am always reading and learning more about different training methods as well as buying new equipment to make sessions fun. Because if a client knows what they are coming to do, they are unlikely to want to come soon.

The other thing I try to do is change clients’ mindsets if they aren’t right. People obsess over numbers, but fitness is about being healthy and feeling good as well as looking good. It’s arguably as much for mental health as it is for your physical health.

I sometimes feel like if I want to get fit and lose weight, I need to work out multiple times a day and eat way better than I do, but what's a typical day for you- what sort of things do you eat and how much exercise do you do?

It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard either! It’s about routine and finding what works for you. Small things make a huge difference. I try to work out 4 or 5 times a week but often will do more or fewer days than that. If it’s less it’s important to be active as much as possible; walk to the shops, take calls on your feet. We are so sedentary so often, and these bouts of movement really do add up.

Being healthy has always been extremely important to me, both mentally and physically. I enjoy cooking and love to eat. For me, healthy eating doesn't mean restrictive, it’s about having a healthy relationship with food. Similarly, exercise to me is not solely about physical health, but a vital way that I prioritise my mental health. 

A typical day for me at the moment starts with porridge (made with full-fat milk), a banana and a few chunks of chocolate. This powers me through my morning sessions. A big sandwich or wrap for lunch, and some yoghurt after. Protein with every meal as this keeps you fuller for longer and stops snacking. A post-workout protein shake in the afternoon usually, maybe some pitta and houmous if I’m peckish, and then a big dinner - I’m having a creamy chicken and leek pie tonight with crushed potatoes, and most likely some ice cream for afters!

To put a name on it, it is called ‘intuitive eating’. It’s about listening to your body and giving it what it wants when it wants it.

There is an element of control of course! And you need to understand your body’s needs and what eating certain things en masse will do to you. But the most important thing to remember is that one bad meal or day won’t ruin anything! Your body doesn’t reset at the end of the day, calorie intake is an ongoing thing, we need as much as we burn. Just as if we burn more than we consume, we will lose weight.  

Intuitive eating for me involves eating 5 kinder Buenos because I feel like it- I think I know why I’m not super fit! 

I’ve always felt like PT’s don’t just do their job to pay the bills, so what do you love about being a PT?

Helping people. It’s so rewarding to be so important to someone and to be able to say that you are part of the reason behind a positive change in someone’s life is an incredible feeling. And to be able to say it regularly is amazing.

Also, being freelance like I am, while it has its struggles like generating work, if you work hard you can have a very flexible lifestyle which is ideal for me. I swore I would never be tied down to a 9-5 because it wasn’t for me. I need to be outdoors in the fresh air as much as possible!

Has it been hard being a PT during Covid- has it taken you to Zoom?

Very. I have some great clients who have been so inspiring to me during the lockdown, carrying on despite all the troubles, through phone and laptop screens. When we were in full lockdown, it was really tough, as the name suggests, I like the job for the personal side of it and through a screen really isn’t the same. 

But every cloud has a silver lining and I moved house during the lockdown, to Fulham, from Harrow and people have been looking to get fit this year more than ever and so it has been a really good time to find business in a funny way.

But I really can’t wait to get back to normal, lugging my gear down the park, setting up camp, and smashing out some sessions under the sun, throwing high fives and putting in some hard work. 

What advice would you give someone going into the industry?

Be yourself. There are a lot of PTs out there and a lot of online courses and programmes people can follow. Commit to what you know and own it. People want to see a real person, not facts and figures necessarily. And don’t be fooled, a jacked, ripped PT doesn’t necessarily know any more than the unassuming guy who goes about his work. 

And don’t be scared, it’s hard work but it’s so worth it. I jumped straight into freelancing and have never regretted it or looked back. 

How excited are you to be able to get back out there hopefully by June 21?

I cannot wait. I am so excited! Training outdoors is my favourite thing in the world and my tan needs a top-up!

Finally, what do you think the back surgeon would say to you now?

YOU DID WHAT IN NEW ZEALAND?! Haha, I like to think he would be proud, I went through a hell of a lot for a 17-year-old, still in school about to take his A-levels, and I think the surgeon would appreciate the work I’ve put in to get to where I am now.

So after reading this, I’m sure there are going to be countless clients trying to contact you, but where can they find you?

My socials are @theoluryfitness on Instagram and is my website. Send me a DM or an email and I can get back to you to answer any questions you might have about 1-2-1 or online training!

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