The 5 Things That Make Physical Therapy More Than Just Fixing Stuff

With recently wrapping up the last of Physical Therapy/Personal Training, I leave with understanding so much more about myself in terms of how to train smart  and all that goes into being healthy when it comes to fitness.  (A side note and added bonus is it has taught me what sets a great therapist/trainer/coach apart from the rest).

  1. Seeing is just as important as feeling. (As a CrossFit enthusiast, I do strongly believe that one of the things missing from boxes are mirrors). There is a lot of benefit in actually watching ourselves work out. (I’m not talking about giving yourself a gun show although there’s no shame in that). It is seeing the details and breaking down a movement where you can actually pinpoint what you are doing right and wrong. At Physical Therapy, there are mirrors everywhere, and as much as I dislike seeing the agony on my face while I struggle through a workout, I do appreciate being able to see what my body is actual doing versus what I think it is doing. I tend to base how well I am doing a movement off of how it feels, which is important; however sometimes I can’t feel everything my body is doing at one time. Seeing gives insight into being able to correct form. For instance, I used to feel like I was off balance when I squatted after surgery, but I did not really understand why. When I was able to actually see myself squatting, it was obvious I was favoring my right side. My trainer (BJ) was able to give me physical queues while I was squatting to correct form.
  2. Form is more important than lifting heavy or getting a faster time. After having 1:1 PT sessions, I was lucky to have the chance to not be distracted by anything else. I solely focused on what I was doing which meant dissecting movements. (Seeing a theme here based on #1 as well?) It taught me that it’s ok at times when my body feels fatigued or something just feels wrong, to not worry about adding weight to the barbell or trying to power through to get a faster time or score. I had quite a few strength portions where I would lift very light weight to get in the habit of good form. I also had more than a few instances where BJ had me scale down mid workout when my body was fatiguing resulting in bad form.
  3. Get mobilizing! I spent a lot of time stretching out before a workout as well as having a pro stretch me out after. It’s painful. It’s grueling. It’s time consuming. It’s worth it. Often when form is off or something feels wrong, it could be your body’s way of telling you to stretch out. I am not an expert in stretching and mobility so I won’t spend much time on this point. I just want to say in my humble opinion, everyone would benefit for spending more time doing this, whether it is on your own, in a mobility or yoga class, via massage or one of my personal favorites, the hot tub. For those of us who CrossFit and do other equally aggressive workouts, our bodies need reprieve. We need time to recover and loosen all the muscles and tendons and whatever else we have to avoid injury (and to just feel good!)
  4. It is important that your coach/trainer is supporting your goals.  *I am putting a disclaimer that this is personally important to me, and so I am assuming it is to others. If it isn’t, well then I owe you burpees. One of the key factors that has gone into my recovery and getting stronger by the day is that I had a team backing up my goals and being just as vested in them as I am. When it comes to my own health and fitness, I am always working towards something. I am a woman who likes a plan, even if it’s a plan that someone else is putting together for me. It is no secret that plans are only as effective as whether they coincide with goals. Having people who understand you and your goals is fundamental.
  5. Have a connection to your coach/trainer. This is more like #4 part 2, so really the same disclaimer applies. (I have a lot more to say relating to the importance of connecting that is for a blog to come soon. Stay tuned). It can really take your fitness journey and goals to the next level when you truly feel like the person training understands you. They know your weaknesses and your strengths. They know your goals.

 

Injury recovery and working out can be just as mentally and emotionally trying as it is physically challenging.  I had many moments throughout PT of feeling utterly discouraged. I got through them because I had the best Physical Therapist and trainer who talked me through it, without judgment. I was able to be open and express what was going on in my head as much as what was going on with my body. It is normal and par for the course to have a therapist ask how your body/injury is doing. It is not as common but possibly more important that they ask how YOU are doing.  To this point, here is a perfect example. After I did my most recent body scan, I was completely crushed by the weight I had gained. I told them about it and they gave me solid advice (like reevaluate my diet and throw in extra cardio) as well as just gave me a pep talk. They did not discount what I was feeling nor did they make me feel crazy about it. They continued to be supportive throughout my dieting journey by checking in and asking how I was doing with it.  What was working? What wasn’t working?  They paid attention and it made a difference. (I would be a total liar if I did not admit to thoroughly being pleased with the compliments they gave me as the pounds started coming off. I will never grow tired of hearing about any muscle definition someone else sees in me!)

As much as I do not like to admit, I have gone to physical therapy quite a few times over the years. For many of those instances, I went really to just fix whatever was broken or not working right. I wanted to get in and get out so I could get back to my regularly scheduled programming. The last year and a half though that I have spent in PT has been life changing for me. Seriously.  It is why I strongly believe this time around departing from PT will end the long reigning slew of injuries.  It is because of all these 5 lessons I have learned that are setting up me for success and a healthy journey here on out. It has taught me how to train smarter and how to take everything I learned at PT with me in my journey.

 

 

 

Good Form Trumps All

Last week, a day after returning from a trip half way around the world, I was pretty jetlagged. I managed to get through a full day of work and really was itching to work out as I did minimal exercise while I was on vacation. I made it to class at the box and the strength portion was power cleans. I was a few sets in when a friend  gave me the best compliment I ever could want. He told me that my form was so good on cleans and that he was jealous of this. If this had been a year ago, my most coveted compliment would have been “wow you can clean so heavy!” Having someone validate without solicitation that my form looked awesome meant the world to me.

As I am now 4 months past knee surgery, one of my primary focuses has been on form. When I work out during my PT sessions, my form and mechanics on EVERYTHING I do is highly scrutinized by my trainer and physical therapist. Now this may sound like a complaint. It is quite the opposite. It’s the best gift they can give me. They are helping me to break so many bad habits I have that I never even realized.. When you start to pay attention to form on anything you do whether it’s something basic like an air squat to something more complex like a deadlift or power clean, it is very eye opening.

When you get caught up in the adrenaline and agony of working out, it is so easy (and common) to just want to get through it without even caring or noticing that proper form is being compromised. I used to be guilty of this. I would not know nor care what my form was as I was too busy watching the clock or counting reps or challenging myself to lift heavy.

Right now, I care far less about lifting heavy as I do lifting pretty. Having one on one time with my trainer at PT is just as much an education as it is a workout. I adequately get my ass kicked every time I go while still leaving there with so much more self awareness then when I started. With an injury, it forces me to tell my ego to simmer down. By doing so, it has opened me to being far more receptive to feedback. This is not to say that it is an easy process. It still can be difficult to hear all the things I do wrong and so yes,  I have moments where I feel like GOD I am just sucking at being athletic.

Then I have moments like what I described where a fellow boxmate tells me how absolutely amazing and beautiful my form is. (Ok fine, in reality, he probably said something to the effect of “Missy, your form looks so good! I am impressed!”) Anyhow, the important thing is it reminds me that practice makes perfect. It reminds me that not all rewards or progress are instantaneous. It reminds me that to big changes are like a continuation of subtle changes. While I may not see them exactly as they happen, when they all come together, it is simply wonderful.

The other key takeaway from getting that beloved compliment was the timing of it. Keep in mind that I worked out about 26 hours after I landed back home in LA. I was tired.  I am fairly sure my brain was still on a beach in Malaysia. I had not lifted weight in two weeks. I had every reason to have my form go to shit. But it didn’t. Much to my delight, my form was actually quite good. I could not think of a better testament to how effective focusing on form for the last few months truly has been. Good habits take repetition, patience and a positive attitude. I am to the moon that I am starting to see the light at the end of a tunnel. I am coming out on the right side of injury and I could not be happier.