Jim Redd is a certified life coach and trainer. Despite being born with spina bifida and then suffering a herniated disc that left him wheelchair bound, Jim enjoys a full and active life. The certified personal trainer and life coach maintains a full client schedule in his home town as well as going hunting and maintaining an active life with his wife (who is an absolute sweetheart on the phone!) and their children. Quick to laugh and easy to talk to, Jim was a pleasure to interview. Check out his story and find out why he may be in a wheelchair but he’s always free!
Jim first things first: how big are your arms?
They’re about 18 ¼.
18 ¼! That’s ridiculous! Stuart McRobert wrote Brawn and I think he said that 19 inches would be what the average natural athlete could develop his arms to be and you’re just under that so that’s amazing!
People talk a lot about overtraining, but you’ve got some huge arms despite having to use them to get around. Have you modified your training to make sure your arms continue to grow?
I have. What I basically do is I train each body part once a week. So maybe a Monday or Friday, I’ll train just biceps and do four exercises, four sets and do twelve reps per each exercise. And I don’t touch my biceps again until the very next week. And the same thing with triceps and chest and so on. I’ve found that at least for me being a wheelchair; rolling all of the time like I do that gives them enough time to rest up to be able to work them again the next week.
So your training split is?
Chest on Monday—
Of course! Monday is International Chest Day! That’s a rule right? Ha ha!
Ha ha! That’s right, you’ve got to go by the rules! But my split is
And then you take the weekend off?
Yes Sir. I take Saturday and Sunday off.
Do you break your back up into upper back, lower back or do you just say, it’s Back Day?
It’s back day. I just do everything for upper and lower back all in one workout.
How did you start training at home?
See, I was born with spina bifida and I used to walk on crutches. I could basically climb a mountain on my crutches if I wanted to and about six years ago I hurt my back. I was just standing around with my wife drinking a cup of coffee and we were talking; about to leave to go somewhere. I felt something in my back but since I work out every day I thought, “It’s just a twinge,” and the next thing I knew that night I was in the emergency room and to make a long story short, I had herniated a disc in my spine and it had bumped up against my spinal cord. By the time everything was said and done, I got through with all of the surgeries; I was no longer able to walk on crutches. My balance was affected by that accident so I had to go to the wheelchair. So after that working out in a gym became kind of difficult to change the weights out, get out to the bar and transfer over to the seat and back to the wheelchair. So I bought a Bowflex Revolution. And I’ve been working out on that for the past six years.
That’s one of those things that I never thought about, regarding Bowflex machines, is the applications they have for people who have physical challenges. But that does make a lot of sense, you can set it and the machine isn’t going to move around once you’ve got it anchored.
Yeah, it takes a whole lot less time. It uses plates but the weight is inside the plates. It’s called SpiraFlex® the weight really doesn’t weigh anything it’s the action on the inside that provides resistance. It’s really easy to load and for me I can load a couple of forties or whatever I need, get back on the Bowflex and get the workout I need. As far as for somebody in a chair it’s great.
You know my Bowflex malfunctioned and that’s why you haven’t seen much on social media from me. They’re giving me a new Bowflex because that one malfunctioned. I haven’t been able to work out for about three weeks. It will be next week until I get it in and get back into my routine.
I’ve always been a person that’s been like, Bah! Bowflex but I can see the advantages of it now and I’m glad they’re taking care of you.
They’ve been incredible as far as working with me and getting a technician out here to try to get it fixed and when he couldn’t, to get it replaced.
What have you added to your home gym since you started?
Well, I added an assortment of dumbbells but really that’s it. And I also use a heavy bag for my cardio. Those are really the only things along with the Bowflex that I use.
You’ve got to have a different foot print for equipment to give you room to move around it in the chair. Did you have to do any renovations to the room where you train in order to make it big enough to put equipment in there and still move around?
No Sir, I got very lucky. We live in an older house that was built in the Fifties and the rooms just happened to be much larger than they’re built today. I moved everything into my daughter’s bedroom and it turned out to be just the perfect size. I did keep the heavy bag in another room though.
So your home gym is actually in two separate rooms.
Exactly. I keep my heavy bag in my den and my exercise equipment is in my daughter’s old bedroom.
That’s actually what my wife and I would like to do when we move into our final home. Actually, we’d like to have a detached building so we’d still have the feeling of “going to the gym” just on our own property.
That would be great. That would be the perfect setting.
So let’s talk about this heavy bag situation. When you bought it had you used a heavy bag before or did you just get it and say, “I’ll figure it out as I go along?”
You’re absolutely right. I just bought it. I saw it online, someone was selling it and they lived close to me and I thought it would be great cardio for me. That it might add a little something new and I could get a little more heavy breathing out of it. It’s been wonderful! I’d never used one before the last six months and I really like it a lot.
I’m a big fan of walking for exercise because it’s something that, once you get used to doing it, it doesn’t eat into your recovery for other activities. But the problem is your body gets used to it and it seems that you’d have a similar situation with a wheelchair. You’ve been doing it for six years so you probably don’t burn enough extra calories because you’re used to it. It wouldn’t be a good way to lose weight for you.
You’re exactly right. Now after being in it for six years, I can push it forever. I mean if me and my wife go shopping; I can push this thing all day and it doesn’t exert anything. I don’t get out of breath and I don’t feel my pulse racing. So you definitely do get used to the situation that you’re in.
I mean I see wheelchair races and I just think, “Man that would be hard!” Especially with the distances that they’re going, I mean that would kill me. But I guess you build up to it.
Your body just adapts. If we go somewhere with other people they’re always like let’s take a break but because I’m constantly moving. I’m like, “Okay but I could go more.” I like to go around the block here at the house. I take the dog, it gives him some cardio and gives me some cardio but it’s just to keep from getting bored.
What’s on your wish list?
At the moment I wish I had kettlebells. I like to use them I just haven’t incorporated them into my gym but they’re something I’d like to have.
You know when I first saw that you take long breaks from social media I was confused at first. I thought you had unfollowed me, then I saw the deer and I understood! You take deer season off right?
Yes, I don’t work out too much during deer season. They weren’t too plentiful this year so I had to hunt just about every day. Ha ha!
Is this something you’ve done your entire life or a recent hobby?
Yes, I’ve hunted since I was a little kid and that’s something that when I went into the wheelchair I didn’t want to give up. I’m trying to keep everything that I did before and just adapt to be able to do it. I didn’t want to give up anything.
I know people who take physically challenged kids out to hunt so I’ve heard of it before. Do you normally hunt on WMAs (Wildlife Management Areas) or do you all have property where you just keep your deer stand?
My family has property and so I have a specific deer stand built with a ramp so I can wheel up into it. So I just hunt on private property.
So you’ve got it set up so you can shoot from a rest?
Yeah I’ve got a real good upper body movement so as long as I can wheel into something.
This is something I’m just thinking about; some rifles kick harder than others. The recoil isn’t necessarily as bad as people might imagine but do you have to lock in the wheels of your wheelchair in order to shoot?
I do actually. Because even though my shoulders can take the recoil, it always moves my chair back. So I always lock my wheels before I shoot.
You say you don’t work out during deer season but I know that getting out to where you hunt can be challenging and coming back in with a deer isn’t easy for anyone! Do you all use a four wheeler to get it over to the cleaning station and then to be processed?
Generally I hunt with my brother and when I do hunt by myself, I just always have his number. My brother or my son and if I kill a deer by myself they’ll come help me get it into the truck so we can take it to be processed.
That’s just a good habit anyway whenever you’re going into the woods with or without firearms to let someone know where you’re going and when you plan on returning.
People are always talking about functional fitness but what that means depends on what the person has to do in life. What exercises comprise functional fitness for you?
Since I’ve gotten hurt, I’ve tried to concentrate more on doing the lifts really correctly. Trying to do as heavy as I can but still trying to stay safe where my form is good where I’m not having to jerk or pull. I try to stay as strong as I can as long as I possibly can.
So you mean that you keep the repetitions low?
I try to do between 8-10 reps and go as heavy as I can. That seems to keep the strength levels up and I seem to get stronger over time rather than trying to do a lighter weight with more reps.
Are there any exercises you stay away from?
I try to stay away from behind the neck presses or anything that would really put unnatural load on my shoulders. Since I’ve gotten into the wheelchair I find that I use my shoulders a lot so I don’t do as many military presses as I might have done before. Trying to do more concentrating on my delts and all around strength in my shoulders.
For someone just getting into this situation, let’s say they recently injured themselves and are in a wheelchair. Or they’re trying to begin doing something like a wheelchair race. What would you tell them? Are there things that you normally wouldn’t think about but that might be important to know? Like one thing that comes to mind for me would be gloves.
When I first started in my wheelchair, I didn’t really think about gloves but you learn pretty quick that one thing you’ll need is a good set of gloves.
Do you have a particular brand you like or would recommend?
You know so far the cheapest pair that I’ve bought have been the best pair that I’ve owned! They’re called Athletic Works. They’re leather and have a mesh back so your hands don’t get as hot.
You train in a commercial gym is that what you do for a living?
Yes, I’m a personal trainer.
How long have you been certified?
I’ve been certified since about 2002, 2003.
You’re a pretty inspiring guy what’s the one thing that you find that surprises people about you?
I think they think that maybe when they train with me maybe I won’t be as hard on them or not do as much. Everybody who trains with me afterwards says, “Man! I didn’t know I was going to get this much out of it!” Then after a couple of months of training with me they’re like I didn’t realize that we were going to get the changes in my body that I’ve gotten.
Are they in wheelchairs or do they have different ability levels?
I’ve only trained one person in a wheelchair other than myself.
You’re also a certified life coach. How did you get into that?
When I train someone I want to keep them going because a lot of times people think that they can just do it for a month and get the changes that they want. But we know that in a month you’re going to get very little change and what little change you do get is going to disappear after that. So since I’m in the situation I’m in, I know how hard it is to come out and do what you need to do to work out to keep yourself fit. I want to be able to tell somebody else that even though they may be able bodied not to give up. To keep going and have a reason to keep them from quitting. I want to be able to say, “Okay, you’ve gone this far; there’s another mountain we can climb.” So it helps me give them reasons to stay.
I saw that you liked the photo of Zack Ruhl in the Animal Cage. He’s in Texas also—
Yes, in fact there’s a gym in Houston, called Redefined you might see it on my Instagram. I went up there and met Angel Gonzalez, he owns the gym along with a man named Lance Miles, and he’s in a wheelchair. They really cater to wheelchairs and he told me that Pitbull Ruhl had come in there and worked out on occasion. In fact, Pitbull is also a trainer there now.
That’s actually a CrossFit Box right? Redefined Fitness? They’re incredible. They definitely deserve a shoutout.
They just do incredible work there. Have wheelchair friendly events on the weekends.
So we’ve got you and Pitbull Ruhl down there. He’s pulling trucks and you’ve got those arms. What’s in the water down there making all of you so ginormous?
I appreciate it. Ha ha!
Would you mind going outside and dipping a bottle into a spring and mailing it to me so I can test it and see if it has an effect?
Ha ha! I definitely appreciate it! Ha ha!
Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known when you started working out at home?
Versus working out in the gym? Absolutely. One thing is I really like the idea of the solitude of going into my room; working out against myself without anything else around me to distract me. I’ve found that I’ve grown way more and made more improvements to my body than I ever made in twenty something years of working out in the gym! And I think it’s being by myself, the intensity is so much higher. I think the focus is much better than when you’re in a gym with a bunch of different people with distractions all around.
So to wrap up, is there anyone you’d like to thank?
My wife definitely! She’s been by my side since day one.
Does she work out with you?
She is going to start.
That’s awesome and I thank you for taking time to talk to me.
Well thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story.
You can follow Jim on Instagram @jim_redd (just don’t expect much from him during deer season!)