There are many things you just can’t fully understand until you experience them for yourself. For example: fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, making first tracks on the ski slope, raising kids, or the inevitable reaction your body has to the first workout of the year on Jan 2. Discovering your own ignorance has been holding you back; that a dose of humility can be healthy. Let me share the lesson I recently learned.
As a doctor of physical therapy, I have been questioned frequently on my opinion of various forms of exercise and fitness plans. What do I think of P90X? Won’t Yoga make my back better? What exercise video can you suggest? Should I run my marathon if I am 36 weeks pregnant? What can I do to stay healthy that isn’t exercise? I am doing what they do on that TV show, is that a good idea? Staying on top of all the so called fitness trends can be a difficult task. You are often forced to give a quick answer based on little real experience. I can’t just say, “well, since I don’t have a uterus and I am not about to go run a marathon for you that is a question I just can’t answer”. The client does not want to wait 90 days for me to go through some exercise DVDs multiple, multiple, multiple times. They want their answer now; and rightly so. I am supposed to be the professional with the answers. So, quickly diverting the patient to a piece of exercise equipment for 10 minutes, I would rush to Google to find the answers. It seems everyone, except me of course, is already an expert on yoga, 90XP, running with child and how to lose 15 lbs a month by following the Largest Looser. Then I come to find out, everyone knows the answer, but their answers are all different. So, this means more research for me. I go back to the patient and have to be honest, I need to do some more looking. They say “its ok, I will Google it when I get home”. Problem averted, but not over.
One thing about me is that I hate not having an answer when I am supposed to. I think this may be common for medical professionals. We know we are supposed to have the answer so we give our “professional opinion” to appease the client. Have you ever noticed though that professional opinions are as varied as the questions asked? Just think about the phrase ‘get a second opinion’. Isn’t that what everyone recommends when you tell them what your doctor said?
At this point I search more deeply into the topics. I find videos, go to websites, see ads, read reviews, email fellow therapists and try to find any scientific evidence. For most trends this comes up with little concrete evidence. All there is left is to try them first hand. I had to admit defeat on the running at 36 weeks of gestation and just go on the best medical advice I could find. However, over the years and questions, I found my body is not built for yoga, I can take sweating through workouts with my pal Tony Horton and trying some of my wife’s exercise videos (with the blinds closed). I have invested in equipment such as a spin cycle, road bike, spandex clothes, running shoes of various styles (yep ,even the 5-fingereds ones), push-up bars, a foam roller, a pilates reformer, a shake weight and more. I have turned myself (and even my family at times) into fitness guinea pigs. Each experience has helped me see the benefit in a variety of ways to stay healthy. Well, enough background; on to the meat of this post: Crossfit.
This word was introduced to me by a patient approximately 4 years ago. I had seen a few places popping up around town where people would gather around and run around the building, flip a tire and repeat. I assumed it was just the next phase of “bootcamp” exercise routines. I paid little attention. It wasn’t until I had a patient come into the clinic dealing with several issues, mostly in the shoulders and back. They described their workouts as just “I do Crossfit”. “You do what? Is that some kind of crosstraining?” They described some basic workouts to me of swinging heavy balls with handles (kettlebells), pull-ups, push-ups, box jumps, overhead lifts, running and lots of repeating what you just did. A bright red light started blinking in my PT brain. My PT mouth wanted to say, “STOP IT, STOP, STOP, STOP, are you stupid, no wonder you hurt”. I am a professional however and have to filter the thought through my frontal cortex, “hmmm, well, let’s work on getting you better first, some of those moves could be dangerous without the right core strength and body mechanics”.
There in started my course to prove CrossFit was the worst exercise idea ever. I researched little by little. I had more and more patients with issues from CrossFit. As therapists we would joke that we should send thank you cards to the local Crossfit gyms (I know it is a BOX, I didn’t then). With each YouTube video I just kept telling myself that it was a bad way to get fit for most people. That was only for the very fit and strong person. I started cautioning people away from it if they asked me. Then I started coming across information written by physical therapists. My colleagues claiming that they not only support it, but they perform it! I heard a well done interview with a therapist by the name of Kelly Starrett. He shared clinic space with a CrossFit style gym. He started making sense. I was being turned to the Dark Side. Fast forward about another 4 months, a great friend and neighbor opens a gym in his garage. He invites me to come workout with him. He says he has been exercising for a long time. He is a smart guy, in shape, ex-marine. I assume the motivation will be good for me. I show up at his garage a few days later. He takes me through a warm-up on a rower and then starts in on the type of exercise he does, he asks if have heard of CrossFit. “Beedoo, beedoo”, the alarm goes off in my head. I say yes and admit that I am skeptical. He calmly gives me the background into what it is. That it is varied functional movements, not a weekly routine. We discuss fitness, nutrition, proprioception, intensity, etc, etc. He was making sense. We went through some moves which were functional. I started to see how it could be beneficial. I decided to try it for a month.
That was a tough month. Lots of running. Lots of push-ups. Lots of pull-ups. Swinging kettlebells. I was doing dead-lifts; a lift I had blamed the cause of many a high school football player’s pre-season injury. I was tired, but I was not getting overuse injuries, my muscles were not spontaneously turning to jelly. I kept going. I struggled learning various bar presses, squat presses, burpees. I climbed a rope for the first time in my life. I did 23 pull-ups in a row. I did 50 dips in one workout. I started to notice I actually had muscles in my chest. I dead-lifted 260 pounds! Almost 100 lbs over my body weight. I noticed that I lift boxes better, heavy yard work is not quite as bad. I can move my kids play gym on my own now to finish mowing the lawn. I had been turned.
So, you see, this dose of humility has been good for me. How could I have even known what it really was all about? Just like P85Y, or yoga, or others that I have tried, I have come to enjoy and see the good in things that I used to blame a patient’s injury on. I will admit, the short time I have been doing Crossfit workouts (WODs) I have caused myself some pain. I have had back issues. The same thing happened with P93Z. Yoga was never comfortable or relaxing. My chest burns each time I ride my road bike. So why do I still do these things, and why should you?
Basic cost to benefit ratio of health and wellness. I am not saying that CrossFit is for everyone, nor is every CrossFit location going to be the right match for those interested. Yoga is not for everyone either. There are some people that I would recommend they shouldn’t touch Mr. Horton’s videos with a 29 and ½ foot pole. However, those situations are rare. In general, people should get out, move, stay active. Understand that no matter how you choose to stay active there is a good chance you will get hurt at some point (there is also that same risk if you don’t do anything plus other health risks). Don’t blame the institution. “I tried that Pilates stuff and it killed my back”, “I did CrossFit for a while until it ruined my shoulder”, “Used to run until it gave me bad knees”. We are very good at placing blame for our injuries; an excuse to stop trying.
Through all my self-trials and investigation I am discovering that we are to blame more than the institution. We hear about the new exercise trend and jump in with both feet. We go hear the pitch and then sign up already thinking how great we will feel 6 months later. We go full bore and forget about the fitness test P90x recommends you take and immediately do 5 videos a week. We trust the gym owner and sign up for 5 high intensity WOD’s a week. We buy some running shoes and go 5 miles every day that week never having run before. This is like proposing marriage on the first date! How often does that work out?
The first step to preventing injury with an activity is to understand that we should be in control and responsible for ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to learn what we can and to start off simple and easy. It may be that you are really good at that activity and can progress quickly. However, it maybe that you need a great deal of help as well. Don’t get married to the type or style of exercise during the first date. Date around a little, take it slow at times. Learn how to communicate (with your body, mind and those that maybe coaching you). We also owe it to ourselves to stay open minded about other types of exercise. Do what feels good to you and what you can progress in. Anything is better and healthier than sitting and doing nothing.
Use your head. Think logically and honestly about your situation before starting an exercise routine. If you have not exercised much in the past several years, be honest and communicate that to whoever is helping you. If you are afraid of getting hurt, do the same thing. If you have been active but never tried anything similar, be prepared for a learning curve! If you have health issues, do not ignore them. Don’t sign up for a marathon if you have never run further than 1 mile before. Maybe buy the $300 road bike before the $3000 one and actually try it out first. Also, don’t agree to go to a trainer 5 days a week if the last time you worked out was when Regan was in office, maybe start with two.
These two are a great start to get you on your way in whatever new activity you want to try. Obviously, there are going to many other things to do and remember to help keep you safe and as painfree as possible while being active. Those depend on many things. That is why it is also a good idea to have several professionals that you trust to help find the answers you need. Remember that we can not all know everything, however, finding a health care professional that will take the time to research for you will pay off in the long run. The ones that always have the quick answers may not have the best answer!
So, while I keep my love-hate relationship with Crossfit at a BOX and you do your activty in a gym, garage, field or at home let’s stay humble and accept that we are human. Let’s accept there is no one perfect way to stay active. Let us be willing to blame ourselves for our shortcomings and understand that we can do hard things to make ourselves better. Let’s be willing to take it slow at times. Lastly, let’s be smart. Understand that we can avoid many of our own injuries just by being smart and logical. Don’t get swept up, don’t form opinions and don’t get married to your exercise routine during the first date. Be humble enough to research, try, learn and to ask for help when needed (sorry to wax philosophical). I learned all this from Crossfit? Well, life helped a little too. P.S. Huge thanks to Steve Pederson and all the gang at Round Rock Garage Gym. (By the way I still hate over head squats).