As I look back on my time as a physical therapist, I am haunted by the harm that I am certain I caused.
Hey runners! Let's talk about load (ie. strength training). Strength training is a valuable asset to a runner's training regime for a number of different reasons, but too often strength training is non-existent in a runner’s routine. While each person is different and may require different exercises or habits, in my practice as a physio, strength training is a necessary and complimentary add to a runner’s routine and the benefits are robust.
Here are my top 10 reasons why a runner should be implementing strength training into their routines:
Increased tissue tolerance
Added training variability
Enhanced movement coordination and control
Improved bone density
Improved cardiovascular health
Improved reactive strength
Improved VO2 Max
It helps you to feel like a badass
I tend to recommend that runners perform strength training 2-3 times per week in their low seasons or off seasons and as mileage ramps up, reducing that down to 1 time per week during peak training. Studies have demonstrated that being able to maintain 1 time per week during peak training, continues to foster the benefits listed above.
Injury, and the pain that follows, can be a scary experience. But it doesn't have to be. We will often go searching for information to help us understand what has happened or what may be happening to cause our pain. Unfortunately, that information much of the time, is frightening, scary and downright bad.
As it turns out, frightening or threatening information from the internet, the media, your friends, your family, and even from your healthcare provider, can feed a cycle that may keep you from a full recovery.
My job is to use the knowledge I have to foster resilience and joy. This means providing you with a better understanding of your body, what is happening, and how it can get better. We are, after all, incredible at learning and staying alive after an injury!
The video below provides a very simple explanation of how positive feedback can foster recovery after injury and how I use positive feedback to do just that.
Have a watch!
If you haven't done so yet, check out the new blog I wrote for Girls Gone Strong on movement variability!
--> Click here to read the article <--
- "Variability in our movements and posture is important, because of the need for our bodies and minds to tolerate day to day activities, without needing to think about what our spine is doing during those activities."
- "By simply telling someone that bending over is “bad” for them, we create an environment that lends itself to fear. Fear of one’s own body and how to use it."
- "Adding variability into our day gives us the opportunity to explore and get curious about what our body can do and in what positions it can do it."
- "If someone were to ask me why movement variability is so important, my answer would be simple: for perspective."
- "When we encourage women and girls to believe that perfect posture is the one and only answer to reducing their pain, to being able to lift a weight off the ground, or to developing the assurance to ask for a raise, we ultimately diminish their ability to feel comfortable and confident enough to get in the gym, explore, create and discover their truest selves."
- "Movement variability provides us with an opportunity to gain confidence, learn new skills, test the limits of our body and our mind, as well as break down old belief systems and build up new ones."
Dr. Ellie Somers, PT
"Physio on a mission 💪"
I recently had a conversation with a woman and her husband. The woman, is a well-intentioned person with a good heart, looking to do what is best for her husband. Knowing that I was a physical therapist, she decided to walk over to me with her husband in the hopes that I would help convince him that he needed better posture and that he needed to put efforts into improving it.
When they first walked over, I was asked to simply stand in place. The hope, I’m pretty sure, was that I would demonstrate “perfect posture” for this gentleman. But alas...I do not have perfect posture. I have forward shoulders, anterior pelvic tilt, thoracic spine kyphosis, and probably some other “imperfections” that I’m not even aware of and that I could care less about.
After seeing my posture, her husband asked me to “stand up straight.” I did so and at the same time, I said “well that’s not comfortable for me.” He looked at his wife and said, “see??” A bit confused, she told him that better posture would be helpful for him. When he looked at me, I said, “well how do YOU feel?” What he said next, was like a breath of fresh air for me. He said, “I think, I am the way I am.” And I said, “I agree.”
“I am, the way I am.” So many reasons to love a statement like that.
Here’s the deal, we grow like trees. ALL of us have “perceived” flaws and asymmetries. Areas we feel we need to “improve” or whatever. When it comes to posture, our society has been crippled by the belief that posture is why we have pain and why we have “degeneration” in our spines. It’s a load of crap.
Some of us have rounded shoulders, some of us have broad shoulders, some of us have conditions that CHANGE the way we look from the outside, like kyphosis or scoliosis. But good posture never improved someone’s strength. Good posture, doesn’t dictate a person’s level of health. Good posture doesn’t improve joint function. Good posture, is bull shit and what we call "bad posture", sure as hell doesn’t prime you for a life a misery.
When it comes to posture, the research clearly shows us it means almost nothing. Posture is a piece of a puzzle that has billions of pieces to it. That puzzle is called the human condition. And humans are complex!! I wish I could say that posture was a cure all, as so many tend to believe, but posture means very little about a person’s well-being, their risk for pain, or their risk of “damage” to themselves.
You see, our bodies were meant to be put into weird positions. They can withstand great forces from all kinds of directions. In fact, if we take a look at the research on scoliosis, we’ll find a very weak link to pain. How can that be? It can be, because our spines are strong and resilient. It can be because each of us is different. Because ‘we are the way we are.’ Because our bodies are friggin amazing.
So, quit being hard on yourself. Quit being hard on others. Be in this world whatever way you want. Standing tall or hunching over a computer. Twist yourself into a pretzel if you wish. Do a back-bend, do a forward bend. Do it ALL. Sit the way that is most comfortable. Your body is fabulous.
Dr. Ellie Somers, PT, DPT
"Physio on a mission"
When I started Sisu Sports Performance & PT in Seattle, I made a very deliberate decision to support women to the best of my ability within my business. This meant, offering better care options for women but also supporting women-owned businesses, to the best of my ability, in every way.
Gaining access to high quality continuing education opportunities as a physical therapist can be challenging and while programs like MedBridge offer some excellent opportunities through online learning, it can be tough to filter through the endless number of courses to find quality education. Not only that, but I craved personal connection. I wanted to MEET the most highly regarded providers in the world. To be challenged through thought, intellect and personal connection.
When it came to my education as a professional, I wanted to learn from the best, and as it turns out, some of the most decorated women in physical therapy were offering the quality continuing education courses that had me drooling. The only problem, was that they were offering these courses in Chicago and I live in Seattle.
So, after a few adult beverages, I decided to reach out to Sarah Haag of Entropy Physiotherapy & Wellness, in the hopes of convincing her and Sandy Hilton to agree to partner with me. I fully admit, this ask was a selfish one. I wanted better learning opportunities here in the Northwest. Much to my surprise, she said yes. It felt like a marriage proposal of a lifetime and I quickly became the luckiest woman in the world. It was shortly after that, that I decided to reach out to my old colleague and friend, Paige Raffo, the owner of Balance & Flow Physio, to facilitate this opportunity by providing the right clinic space.
Entropy brings in world class physical therapists including names in the likes of: Julie Wiebe, Christopher Johnson, Jessica Davis, Greg Lehman, Adam Meakins, Erik Meira and let us not forget, the owners themselves, Sandy Hilton and Sarah Haag.
These courses, brought in by two of the most impressive women in our field, are a result of the network of people they have all over the world. Opportunities like this do not exist anywhere other than Chicago and now the Seattle-area. I am incredibly honored and proud to support their mission to bring, as their tagline states, 'world class continuing education' opportunities to healthcare providers, now in the Pacific Northwest.
These courses offer the opportunity to connect with other physios from around the world. We have four courses lined up for 2018 and are bringing in professionals as far reaching as Australia. We offer lunch and snacks at each of our courses, as well as provide the opportunity to network and connect afterwards.
I am very excited for what we have in store and for the people I get to meet this year! And...I very much look forward to connecting with you in 2018 at an #EntropyWest course!
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out! I am happy to be a resource for you!
Dr. Ellie Somers, PT, MSPT, DPT
Being curious about the sensation of pain, and how the entirety of our personhood might be affecting our feeling of pain, can empower us to be unafraid of our own bodies. To know that our bodies are not under attack when we feel pain, that we aren’t damaged goods. That we are, indeed, the most capable, most intelligent, most advanced species in the world.
As a physio who works with athletes, many of which are women, teaching the hip hinge and deadlift is essential. I use it with almost every single athlete in pain. For a number of reasons. Including, that this lift, unlike many others, works basically all the things: the shoulders, back, hips, hamstrings, knees, ankles, feet. Pretty much all of it. But with a fair bit of time working in sports, I have found that women are either uncomfortable with the hinging exercise, or simply nervous about doing it with a lot of load. Others, are frankly, afraid of the bar.
Being afraid of the bar is totally normal, particularly when you haven't been trained how to perform the lifts in a way that maximizes the use of the proper musculature. The truth of the matter though, is that no matter how you try to pick up a bar for a deadlift (despite what some will tell you), you WILL eventually adapt and it will get easier. While lifting mechanics can be helpful towards optimizing your muscle recruitment, there is little to show us that “poor” lifting mechanics actually harms us. So, I’m going to take this quick opportunity and say that perfect lifting technique is not required to perform a deadlift.
As a new face at the gym, I remember heading towards the bar and feeling utterly embarrassed about my lack of skill. And I say that, as a physiotherapist and as a previously trained division I athlete who was lifting weights regularly and using the bar regularly. Gym-timidation is real, particularly for women. As with anything though, when it comes to lifting or recovering from injury, I encourage the mantra "don't let fear stop you." Movement exploration and curiosity are the spice of life.
Here, I aim to help you gain confidence with the deadlift. To give you some tools to practice with and to help get yourself moving towards the incredible feeling of pulling a heavy or heavy-ish weight off the ground.
1) Practice first
The first thing that I recommend is simply practicing the movement of the hip hinge. You can do this using a pvc pipe as seen in the picture below. Most gyms should have these handy, but if they don't, a nice broom stick at home works wonders. You'll want to put the PVC pipe along your spine, touching your head, between your shoulder blades, and your tailbone. Keeping the pipe in contact with each touch point, you'll drop your shoulders forward and push your hips backwards.
If you do this movement and attempt to keep your knees straight, you'll notice a little tension that might build in the back of your legs, specifically your hamstrings. In the deadlift we want to optimize that tension, but bringing your hamstrings to a full stretch like this doesn't end up providing them with the best way to contribute to the motion. As such, when you start to hinge, you also want to think about slightly bending your knees. That will help to shorten the hamstrings, bringing them into their optimal position for maximal loading.
What I’ve noticed in rehab, is that this is where folks can start to get a little confused. I often see the tendency for an athlete to fall into a squat BEFORE they hinge. Ultimately this is seen when an athlete bends the knees first, instead of the hinging the hips. The deadlift is not a squat, but can be confused for a squat when the movement technique being used isn’t maximizing the use of your muscles in the boot-ay. So, work towards diving those hips back FIRST when you're practicing.
2) Add load slowly
Once you’ve practiced the hinging motion with a PVC pipe, it’s time to add a little load. You can do this a number of ways, but an easy starting point is with a weighted bar. This just a heavy-ish bar found in most gyms. You’ll still get the feel of holding a barbell, while also adding a little load. You can practice this movement, by propping the weighted bar onto two stair steps and then moving into your deadlift/hinge position and pulling it upward.
Adding weight slowly can help you gain confidence, as well as help to build tissue tolerance, giving your body time to adapt. By doing so, when you approach the barbell for the first time, you won’t be in a situation that makes you unable to walk the next day. As long as you are relatively consistent with your practice lifting weights, you’ll likely be able to lift the weight of a barbell (typically 45 pounds), in no time.
3) Lift the barbell
Once you’ve had the opportunity to practice with the pipe and the weighted bar, you can now consider moving to the barbell. Lifting the bar is exactly like what you’ve practiced and now you’re ready. The movements are the same, so continue practicing under the new and heavier load in a way that feels good to you. Practice makes progress, not perfection.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of lifting a heavy object off the ground. As you progress and gain confidence with the bar itself, you can start to slowly add weight at a level that feels good for you. Adding weight will also facilitate muscle recruitment where you want it...the lower back, the glutes and the hamstrings. But now, you have the confidence and wherewithal to do it and feel like the badass that you really are!! Remember, this all takes time! Strength gains and confidence to use the barbell don't happen overnight, but with consistency and commitment they will.
**It would be advised that if you DO have an injury, you consult with your physio or medical provider before you attempt to lift something heavy.**
Thanks for reading!!
Dr. Ellie Somers
Your sports physiotherapist
A Woman's Guide to Running Pains:
From tendinopathies to stress injuries, navigating pain during or after running can be a frustrating journey. This event is to help you gain clarity on these things to become a more empowered and resilient runner. Understand best practices to maintain a healthy body, progress long distance running safely and to feel confident with where to go when seeking help. A brief presentation with information on some of the best bang for your buck exercises, how to manage strength training when training for endurance, and how to know when it might be appropriate to pull back when experiencing pain. Light snacks will be provided. BYOB.
This event is FREE but will be limited to 15 people.
Please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org. Location details will be provided via email with RSVP.
It’s been a bit over 2 weeks since the Women in Physical Therapy Summit in NYC and I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences but have been having a hard time. Returning home after one of my favorite events of the year, I was left with a renewed sense of self, insightful introspection, mindfulness and vigor. Speaking at the summit was an incredible honor and the intense gratitude I feel is beyond what words can describe. But I issued a call to action and when I got home, I felt frozen. There were so many people who came up to me after my speech to commend and thank me for my bravery, courage, and vulnerability in sharing my story. My gratitude for this little gesture is exactly why I spoke to the powers of amplification. For many, I know it took a small act of courage to approach me and for that, I am forever grateful. You all are the reason I wanted to share.
The question of what defines a woman leader seems to be lingering in a lot of minds after this event and I wanted to share some thoughts on this. The google definition of "leadership" is the action of leading a group of people or an organization. The definition of "leader" is the person who leads a group of people or organization. While I do believe that leadership requires action, the definition of a leader, for me, is somewhat restrictive and narrow.
Here’s the thing, if you’re a woman, you possess the capacity to lead. This seems obvious in my mind and I’m sure in many of your minds as well. What I find restrictive in this definition, is that I believe women need to define leadership in whatever way they choose, and in accepting your own definition of what taking action is to you, you embody what being a woman leader means. We are all unique and have a story to share if we should choose to share it.
Speaking up, stepping out, amplifying, being bold, whatever it is, there is a place for you to do it. If you aren’t the type of person to be loud in the stereotypical way, that is yours to own. What is important in all of this, is knowing that YOUR voice matters to progress for women. I had several folks say to me that they’ve never thought of gender as an issue in their experience as a woman PT. What a fortunate place to be!! I wish we could all say the same but statistically speaking, we can’t. It’s vitally important to recognize this as a place of privilege. And with privilege, comes great responsibility to understand your power to influence significant and meaningful change. To HEAR what others are saying and empower women to lead by facing their fears and being unabashed about the feathers they might ruffle. OR it might be helping women to feel empowered to BE THEMSELVES!
Speaking up and amplifying is often a catalyst for other women to be emboldened themselves. I am firmly rooted in the premise that change does not happen without some disruption. In physical therapy, disruption as a woman (and maybe even a man, but more likely for women) definitely comes with challenges as it is often seen as unprofessional. And while I believe this is likely true for most professions in some capacity, as a PT it seems to me that being professional carries a weight that can often restrict my own understanding of myself at times. I'm constantly in a battle with my "disruptive" self and my "professional self." Two boxes that feel too small. Molds demanding to be broken.
Much of my frustration as a young professional is a direct result of the adversity I have experienced. And what is important for me and for everyone to realize is that not everyone has had similar experiences. One of the driving messages for me after the summit, is that it is absolutely essential for stories to be heard and for us to allow each person to live their story as they see fit. By accepting that each person has a different definition of success, of womanhood, of feminism, of leadership, we empower each other to be ourselves.
I have had countless mentors tell me to be careful about what I say, who I say it to, how I say it, where I say it. One of my beautiful flaws is that I am quick to react. I respect the notion that professionalism is an important aspect to my career, but I reject the notion that because I’m a physical therapist I am not allowed to be politically engaged, emotionally charged, frustrated or empowered through feminism. I am allowed all of those things and more...and so are you.
Until gender equity is achieved, my definition of being a woman leader is one that allows me to never be ashamed for being what I am or what I hope to be: A Badass Woman. I'm taking action on being myself. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be fighting the good fight. I am proud to be lifting other women up to do things that they want to do, even if it means potentially sacrificing an opportunity for myself to do it. I am proud to be a woman leader and I will own that word as long as I choose. Because that choice is mine to make.
As I woke up on Sunday morning, the day after the summit, I realized that in being surrounded and accepted just as I was by a group of women I respect and admire, I was able to accept and notice that I am allowed to feel the way I do and so are you. I am allowed to exercise my ridiculous desire to drop an F’bomb or have a damn opinion. I am allowed to be angry that men amplify the shit out of each other and don’t seem to think of women when they do so. I am allowed to be upset when folks want me to quiet down, sit down, settle down, calm down. I will not do any of those things because, I’m not going down anywhere, I’m going up and I’m doing it, as me, a WOMAN leader.