Why Physical Therapists Should Consider Attending a Live CrossFit Seminar

Why Physical Therapists Should Consider Attending a Live CrossFit Seminar

I am a Sports Residency trained physical therapist. I have a Board Certification in Sports Physical Therapy (SCS) and I also have my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialty (CSCS). Prior to attending my CrossFit Level 2 Seminar the weekend of October 21st, I had my CrossFit Level 1 (CFL1). Some of my colleagues have asked me why I felt the need to attend any CrossFit seminar, let alone Level 2.

First of all, I am a lifelong learner. After completing physical therapy school, I knew that I wouldn’t stop there. There would always be room to grow, develop, learn, re-learn, etc.

Second, many CrossFitters read SCS and CSCS and see alphabet soup. CrossFitters, whether treating them on the injury side of rehabilitation or the performance side of training, want to know that you understand what CrossFit is. So why do I think physical therapists should consider attending a live CrossFit Seminar, I digress:

What is CrossFit?

  • Let me first start with what it is NOT. CrossFit is not the CrossFit Games. Yes, they do CrossFit workouts at the CrossFit Games, but it is not the day to day programming that you will perform if you attend a class at your local CrossFit affiliate. The athletes who qualify for the CrossFit games are often elite athletes who have also performed at the highest level of another sport. For example, many elite CrossFitters have been gymnasts, baseball players, track and field athletes, and Olympic lifters. When you walk into a CrossFit gym, do not expect to come out a CrossFit games athlete after your first workout. You don’t expect to be drafted into the NBA after a pick-up basketball game or the MLB after you win the championship in your adult slow-pitch softball league.
  • CrossFit is “Constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains” (CrossFit.com). CrossFit aims to be inclusive by providing scales suitable for all. If you have a body and you want to move it, you can do CrossFit.
  • CrossFit is aimed to improve 10 physical skills. I have listed them below, but for physical therapists reading this--they do cover these in more depth in the Level 1 Seminar.
    • Cardiovascular/Respiratory endurance
    • Stamina
    • Strength
    • Flexibility
    • Power
    • Coordination
    • Agility
    • Balance
    • Accuracy
  • CrossFit is simple if done right. Another goal of CrossFit is to teach athletes to do the common, uncommonly well. Like Kobe Bryant said, “never get bored with the basics.” Yes there are workouts with highly skilled movements like ring muscle ups and snatches,
    but if you go to a reasonable gym you should be receiving an appropriate scale that helps you maintain the stimulus of the workout, while perfecting the movement you are capable of performing.
  • CrossFit aims to train all three metabolic pathways. For you Sports Physical Therapists or those with your CSCS, I understand it’s hard to grasp the concept of training the Phosphagen, Glycolytic, and Oxidative pathways without a Periodization Plan unique to each participant. You have to remember, the largest population of CrossFitters are doing it to stay healthy and active, not to set Personal Records (PRs) in high jump or develop a skill set to help them dunk a basketball or hit a homerun. I would argue if you have an athlete who is trying to set a PR/improve sport specific skills, CrossFit may not be the BEST option for their training. That scenario is so unique and specialized to the person you would be training that I can’t even begin to provide a better explanation for that at this point. Guess what? CrossFit doesn’t claim to do this, they actually explain this at their Level 1 Seminar as well.
  • CrossFit is doing their best to educate their official trainers (those that attend the live seminars and pass the examinations) on proper and safe movement. At my CrossFit Level 2 this weekend I did feel at times I had to “take my PT hat off” and replace it with my “CrossFit” hat and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean it in a simple way. CrossFit trainers are not all going to have all the answers to muscle origins and insertions. They aren’t all going to understand how the brain and spinal cord exchange messages on how to contract a muscle. They may not know the proper exercises for rehabbing rotator cuff tendinopathy. CrossFit trainers are not trying to “take our jobs” or “get people injured.” Sure, some may overstep their boundaries occasionally, but that is the same for ANY profession. If you understand that FOR THE MOST PART, CrossFit trainers who have their training certificate, are trying to get their athletes to move better and more often.

So, why do I think a physical therapist should attend a live CrossFit Seminar? If you think you know it all, you probably don’t. Trust me, after day 1 at the Level 2 this weekend I left thinking I knew it all. I asked myself several times why I was there. I knew the “9 Foundational Movements” and I teach them all the time to my CrossFit patients. I probably knew more about injury prevention and rehabilitation than most in the room. I would argue that from an anatomy and musculoskeletal standpoint, I MIGHT have known the most. But that’s not why I went. I went to better myself as a physical therapist who treats CrossFitters. What did I take away from my level 2 course as a physical therapist?

  1. BE RELENTLESS. Stop letting people do exercises wrong, even if they are slightly wrong. Be relentless, teach them RIGHT. Teach them to do the common, uncommonly well.
  2. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Stop overcuing and using physical therapy jargon. Most patients don’t care if they are doing sagittal plane exercises, working their posterior chain, or activating their transverse abdominis. Give them the exercise. Keep your cues (visual, verbal, tactile) simple and understandable. Don’t lecture them, unless they ask for it..then go for it!
  3. SHOW MOVEMENTS CORRECTLY. And if you can’t, have someone in your clinic who can. Visual cues are POWERFUL. If you show a patient an exercise they are going to try to copy you. Make sure you practice what you preach.

You don’t have to attend a CrossFit seminar to “be relentless, keep it simple, and show movement correctly,” but let me tell you--I was very humbled by the fact that I wasn’t doing this to the level they expected from me. I am thankful for my CFL2 experience, it was the kick in the butt that I needed (in more ways than one). I was sore from an entire week of working on my form with a PVC pipe.