I first met Darren Barnes in 2008, when he helped me train for a bodybuilding competition. At the time, I was 50 years old and had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis only a couple of years earlier. There were many who thought I was crazy, but Darren stuck with me, and in August 2009, I was awarded a trophy for Most Inspirational Bodybuilder in that competition.
Darren (below, at left) is now a certified MS Fitness & Wellness Specialist and now serves as director of fitness for MS Fitness Challenge, the charitable program I founded with my wife, Kendra, to provide free personal training to people with MS.
Here, Darren shares his thoughts on helping people with MS achieve their fitness goals.
David Lyons: How difficult is it to work with someone who has MS?
Darren: Working with people with MS can be difficult because of the variety of symptoms they face, which differ from person to person and sometimes from day to day. The key is to assess each client on a daily basis and work off of that.
DL: What do you do differently when you work with someone who has MS?
Darren: I have to be willing to change the workouts in an instant based on how they’re feeling, so it can be difficult to plan a routine ahead of time. I also have to constantly assess their movements throughout the workouts for safety.
DL: What type of nutritional program do you recommend MSers follow?
Darren: As with anyone else, nutrition plays a large part in their results. People with MS should eat a clean, healthy diet with all-natural ingredients and avoid processed foods as much possible. They should also include foods that act as natural anti-inflammatories, such as green vegetables, some berries, and turmeric.
DL: What do your friends and family think about you being a fitness trainer for MSers?
Darren: They love it. I have been training people for over 25 years because I have a passion for it, but it is very rewarding when you can use your passion to help people who really need it, not just for fitness goals but for day-to-day goals. I think my family and friends can see that doing what I do makes me happy.
DL: Why did you get involved in the MS Fitness Challenge?
Darren: I shared the vision that the challenges organized by the MS Fitness Challenge program are designed to help as many people as possible to fight MS. By holding challenges around the country, we get more trainers involved and reach a lot more people with MS.
DL: What would you tell people with MS to help them reach their fitness goals?
Darren: Never give up on your goals. Never stop fighting or put limits on what you can accomplish. Look at MS as an obstacle between you and whatever you want to achieve, and find a way around it. Remove any negative thoughts of “I can’t,” and always remember that slow progress is still progress.
DL: What are your goals as a trainer to help others with MS live a lifestyle of fitness?
Darren: My goal is to inspire as many people as possible to take control of their fitness and never let MS control them. It’s a constant battle, but winning it starts with a positive mindset. I want people to surprise themselves by accomplishing what they thought or were told they couldn’t. From there it’s a snowball effect, and there’s no stopping them!
David Lyons’s new book, Everyday Health & Fitness with Multiple Sclerosis, co-authored with neurologist Jacob Sloane, offers nutrition advice, a mental approach to fitness, and discussion of the mind-body connection. The book will be available in February 2017.
Photo, top: Getty Images
Photo, middle: Provided by the author