Member Spotlight: Heidi Kamrath

Heidi and Max hanging

            Hanging around

Heidi, you began training at Ambition in the fall of  ‘11.  I can personally remember your first day in.  I feel like you came in searching for an answer.  What have you found?
Yes, you (Mike) did my orientation (probably September or October 2011) and I know why you can remember: I am pretty sure I had one of the most dysfunctional squats you had ever seen–completely lopsided! I was in pain, too– but also in denial. I was not ready for Prime Time, and you immediately put me with Max the Miracle Worker. My sister, Kim, had spent some time researching kettlebell training and found Max, with his Z-Health background, to be the first guy I should go see. It worked out great when almost right after she told me about him Ambition Athletics was running a Groupon… I have been doing weekly training with Max ever since. I don’t think I need to go into how awesome he is, do I?  Ultimately he let me graduate to group classes in February 2012. This means I also get to train with you and Brian and Holly and a bunch of really motivated and strong members who cheer each other on.
I absolutely came in searching for an answer. I wanted to be symmetrical. I wanted to be out of pain. I wanted to walk with a normal gait, not dragging a pirate’s peg leg around. Mostly I wanted to be normal. I was hoping it was all muscular and could be resolved through a regimen of exercises. I was prepared to work as hard as I needed to…

What was your experience prior to Ambition?

I have never considered myself athletic. I took ballet classes for five years as a little girl and was put “on toe” early, causing multiple small fractures in my feet. I had little coordination and when we had to do pirouettes from corner to corner across the studio, I caused pile-ups: a heap of little girls in black leotards and pink tights. Lots of giggles. Not much else, except for random summer camp swimming and tennis. In college (UCSD) I ran a little. I really liked hills. Running up the hill from Black’s Beach or over Mt. Soledad were challenges I enjoyed. My boss, Jim White (I worked at the UCSD Cancer Center’s “Mouse House”), thought I could be a bodybuilder/figure competitor or whatever it was called in the 80s. He trained his wife and I out of his garage in Clairemont. Some of the equipment was truly inventive, homemade stuff. It was actually a blast. After college I moved to New York and Jim said I should look up some buddies of his at Gold’s Gym. I didn’t do it; I chickened-out.

After New York I moved to Columbus, Ohio (nearly zip exercise) for dental school, then to San Francisco and then to LA for residencies. I walked a lot in San Francisco, but not in LA (just like the song: nobody walks in LA). I didn’t exercise. Pathetic. I finally moved back to the San Diego area in 1999, and got a membership at LA Fitness here in Encinitas as soon as they opened– I loved the kickboxing classes. I thought it was so gratifying to slam my fists into a bag and to kick it as well. I often wonder if this wasn’t the final hurrah for my hip.

Chris Crowley, one of the authors of “Younger Next Year” came to speak to the American Association of Endodontists, my professional organization, in Spring of 2010. It really struck a chord with me. He told us how to put off 70% of the normal problems of aging (weakness, sore joints, bad balance) and eliminate 50% of serious illness and injury. Obviously not eating crap was part of it, but another part was finding some type of exercise you could do six days a week.  I thought Pilates would work for me and I was right. Not six days, but a couple days a week. I did that up until my Pilates instructor, Kathleen Pagnini, moved to Oregon (and is now focusing on Pelvic Floor training–good stuff; Google her). For a while I trained with both Kathleen and Max on the same day. Excellent, but exhausting!

Heidi at work

       Heidi at work

Did you ever think that you would be swinging, deadlifting and crushing chin ups the way you do now?

Swinging, no: because I didn’t know what it was until shortly before coming to Ambition. And by that time my hip was pretty painful…it didn’t always feel good to swing. Deadlifting, yes: because back in my college days in that garage in Clairemont, I was strong, haha! Chin-ups, No!! Never, ever, ever! That was a total surprise. The first time Max told me to get up on the bar and do a chin-up, I was reminded of the President’s Physical Fitness Test in elementary school where girls could just do a flexed-arm hang. Maybe that test has changed in the decades since then, but I don’t think so: even the Marines go easy on the girls! I don’t recall ever doing a chin up, even though my dad had put a bar up in our (Kim and my) bedroom door.  But I did it when Max told me to (with a little help from his hand on my back)! Great day!


In January 2014 you had hip replacement surgery.  That was obviously a big deal. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with that?
Yes. Right side Total Hip Replacement (THR). When the pain got so bad that I couldn’t take it (and I was doing the ibuprofen/Tylenol combination just to get through the day, and certainly before coming to the gym, and Advil PM to get through the night), I finally had it checked. Also, I was afraid Max wouldn’t train me anymore if I didn’t have it checked, haha. When I saw the X-ray, I knew it meant total hip replacement. Severe Osteo-Arthritis. It was bone on bone with nasty, spikey spurs. No history of injury or heavy sports. The surgeon guesses maybe hyper-flexibility as a child contributed to it. I texted Max the image from the parking lot of the orthopedic surgeon’s office and told him I wouldn’t be back to the gym until after the surgery. That was December 11th, 2013. The surgery was a month later, January 13, 2014. Lots of massage sessions in between there. Three weeks off work and a few sessions of physical therapy and I was back at Ambition 8 weeks after the surgery, as allowed by my surgeon. My follow-up appointments were all great and the physical therapists and surgeon all said I was ahead of schedule. In fact I skipped my last couple sessions of physical therapy and just came back to Ambition instead. I credit my strength from training at Ambition for making this whole experience a walk in the park. What Dr. Swenson doesn’t know is that I am able to deadlift over 200 lbs now. And I’m swinging some heavy kettlebells, too… Let’s just say instead of asking the surgeon for permission, I followed Dan John’s lead– he had THR and he’s deadlifting after the surgery, too, and he’s doing much heavier loads than I am…
Only recently, a year later, I feel I am able to do single-leg exercises without bracing myself. Some, not all. But I expected it to take a long time. What I didn’t expect was how quickly my pull-up strength left me and how long it took to get back to where I was before the surgery. When I got back to the gym after the surgery I could barely do one. Back to Square One! How depressing! Now I am beyond where I left off, but it took me 9 months (!) to get back to 6 pull-ups. It just goes to show how our focus on full body movements is important–it’s all interdependent.
We have several members at Ambition who have been through this surgery and we will have many more as the population is aging and as the surgery is routinely being done on younger and younger people. I could name names of the “Hip Hipsters” but I won’t in case it is a HIPAA violation. 😉

Seeing that you have come this far, what are your goals for this year?
Oh, gheezh, I was really hoping you wouldn’t ask that. You’ll make me write it on the board? Let’s discuss this and come up with something later. Besides, I am always one to start the New Year in April ’cause that’s my birthday month. Technically, that’s when each new year starts for me. OK, let’s just say a muscle-up.

 What do you like most about training at Ambition?
The camaraderie. The knowledge that gets passed down from the coaches and among the members. The friendships I’ve made. The confidence that comes with being strong. The fact that I have gained 10 lbs since my surgery and it is all good –except that I’ve had to buy new scrubs for work because my lats were busting out and I was in serious danger of pulling neck muscles trying to get the darn tops over my head. Oh, best part– I had to give away a pair of my Lululemon pants to my mom: glutes got too big. (Insert big smile here)
Heidi adn Schoko

        Heidi and Schoko

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  • cjp

    Love this interview! Heidi, you inspire me to stay fit. Thanks
    for sharing.

    • Heidi Kamrath

      Thanks for your nice comment, Cor, and thanks for your encouragement along the way!