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How A Physical Therapist Can Help Your CrossFit Game

CrossFit is for everybody, but not every BODY is for CrossFit… yet.

How Physical Therapists can help current CrossFit-ers and help people become CrossFit-ers!

I wrote the following blog a while back while I was working at Pilates in the Grove in Miami, Florida. At the time, I was just working with athletes of a local CrossFit gym, but not actually doing CrossFit myself. Fast forward to a few months ago when I moved back to NJ to set some roots and eventually started The R3finery with Sara… When I first moved back, I was trying to reestablish relationships with friends from high school, but also decided that I needed some new like-minded people in my life. I joined CrossFit908 and have no intentions of looking back! As a new CrossFitter, I can honestly say, that even more so, I stand by what I wrote in the following blog:

We said it once and we’ll say it again. CrossFit is for everybody, but not every BODY is for CrossFit...yet! Now let us explain.

CrossFit is a workout style that hit the streets in 2000. Founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai, CrossFit incorporates “elements from high-intensity interval trainingOlympic weightliftingplyometricspowerliftinggymnasticsgirevoy sportcalisthenicsstrongman, and other exercises”, per Wikipedia. It is known for its rigorous workouts of the day or WODs (if you don’t know, now you know), and unfortunately, for some 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, every BODY is not ready for CrossFit.

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 have become occasionals and not mandatories, it seems, in our everyday lives. What that means for our bodies is that we have hips, spines, shoulders, etc that are extremely tight/immobile, and countless muscles that are very weak and underdeveloped. This mix of tight and immobile joints with weak and underdeveloped muscle groups leads to gross imbalances in many bodies. If those imbalanced bodies are put through a rigorous and intense workout such as a CrossFit WOD, unfortunately, injury is inevitable at some point. However, injury 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. PTs are masters of human anatomy – they are trained in not only 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 CrossFit-er to become a stronger one.

When you schedule a preventative care session with a PT, that therapist can run you through a series of movements, test your functional muscle strength, assess muscle length, and identify movement patterns - all of these things will tell that therapist a story about how your body moves. Once that therapist has 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 can barely function as they should), 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 no idea what’s going on, 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 are clueless and the lower back extensors try desperately to take over for the glutes. 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 and see a physical therapist who can help you maximize your physical potential in a smart way.

With love,

Alix Terpos PT, DPT

If you’re interested in how we can help you improve your at home CrossFit game, schedule a telehealth session with one of us. We will perform a consultation via Zoom, then provide you with a personalized at home mobility workout that is specific to your CrossFit needs!


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