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How Physical Therapists Help CrossFit

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How Physical Therapists Help CrossFit

CrossFit is for everybody, but not every BODY may be ready for CrossFit … YET!

CrossFit is a workout style that hit the streets in 2000 founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai.

Per Wikipedia, CrossFit incorporates:

“… elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport, calisthenics, strongman, and other exercises.”

It is known for its rigorous workouts of the day or WODs (if you don’t know, now you know), and unfortunately, is sometimes synonymous with injuries. That’s exactly the part we wanted to talk about. As physical therapists, we’re frequently asked about CrossFit, and seemingly expected to have some sort of negative reaction towards it, but that’s not the case at all. CrossFit is not the problem. In fact, it can be a phenomenal workout for everybody; but as we said, not every BODY may be ready CrossFit just yet.

Over the years, from our ancient ancestors to now, we’ve become fairly … um … mostly … sedentary (comparatively speaking, of course). The first humans walked for days, ran from predators, climbed trees, foraged for food, and didn’t get much time on their tushies. We, on the other hand, have become the antithesis of that. We sit during our long commutes, our long work hours, for socializing, for watching TV, for reading books, and for our meals – standing, walking, running, climbing trees, and especially foraging for food are no longer mandatory in our everyday lives. What that means for our bodies is that we have hips, spines, shoulders, etc that become tight/immobile and countless muscles that become weak and under-active. This combination of tight and immobile joints mixed with weak and undeveloped muscle groups often leads to gross imbalances in many bodies. If those imbalanced bodies are put through a rigorous and intense workout such as CrossFit, unfortunately, pain or injury may be inevitable at some point. However, this doesn’t have to occur, if you have the right team in your corner.

Many believe that Physical Therapists (PTs) are only there for you once you’re injured, but actually, physical therapists should be your first stop before starting any exercise program. Many PT’s are masters of human anatomy and biomechanics– they are trained not only in rehabilitative exercises, but more so to identify imbalances, postural deficits, and faulty movement patterns. A PT’s general core curriculum includes everything from basic anatomy to neuromuscular conditioning. Essentially, a PT can help your body prepare to be a CrossFit body or it can help a current successful CrossFit-er to become an even stronger one.

When you schedule a preventative care session with a PT, that therapist can run you through a series of movements, testing your functional muscle strength, joint mobility, stability and motor control of such mobility and identify movement patterns – all of these things will a story about how your body moves. With a better understanding of how you currently move, the next step would be to adapt current and compensatory movement patterns to movement patterns that are not only mechanically correct, but also performed with the correct muscle groups.

A great example that we love to use is the squat… a fairly basic movement that is often performed incorrectly – let’s break it down as to why. Generally speaking, as we’ve identified a few paragraphs back, people nowadays sit a LOT. We’re going to generalize and simplify this, but when a person sits for prolonged periods of time, hip flexors tend to get tight and weak, glutes and hamstrings get squished all day (to the point that they sometimes forget how to fire properly), and the quads like to take over everything. Now, when that person stands up, their thigh bones sit forward in the joint because of the tight hip flexors, the glutes have a hard time figuring out what they are supposed to do, and the hamstrings are holding on for dear life.

Now let’s project that beautiful image into a squat-based movement (or a snatch or a dead lift or a clean) – the quads want to do everything, the glutes continue to lag behind and the lower back extensors realize they are called in to help. The result? In the least, back pain. What a physical therapist can do for you in this scenario, is identify all of those many deficits and teach you how to correct for them without compensatory movement, then help you strengthen the appropriate muscles. Now, when you do your *insert your favorite CrossFit exercise here*, you will be not only using the correct muscles, but you will be preventing a multitude of potential injuries.

Joseph Pilates once said “practice doesn’t make perfect, PERFECT practice makes perfect”. So why go into a CrossFit WOD and perform an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of snatches if you don’t have the shoulder or hip mobility to practice them perfectly? Do yourself a favor a see a physical therapist who can help you maximize your physical potential in a smart way.


In Health,
Alix Terpos PT, DPT


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