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Combining CrossFit and Physiotherapy: How Our Physiotherapist Utilizes her Passion for the Sport to Benefit her Patients' Health

Updated: Feb 10

“What is this CrossFit thing?”

“Look at their training, so intense and scary”

“Look at them passing out after every workout”

“Looks like an injury waiting to happen anytime”

I’ll admit it, 10 years ago, those were the exact thoughts that crossed through my mind as I stepped into my first-ever CrossFit fitness gym. 

As a physiotherapist in Singapore foraying into a seemingly contrasting realm of health and fitness, where my role in rehabilitation focusing primarily on understanding and treating injuries and ensuring the overall well-being of clients, straddling another world of where individuals (often known as athletes) regularly engage in a rigorous mix of intense strength and conditioning, plyometrics, calisthenics, Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics, was mind-bending to say the least.

Not only that, but many of my colleagues would encounter athletes who sustain injuries from doing CrossFit. A niggling shoulder pain from butterfly pull-ups (are they even real pull-ups?), or low back pain from multiple thrusters (let’s not even get started on the number of athletes complaining about knee pain/skin loss from box jumps).

Whatever it was, it certainly looked like CrossFitters are a particularly injury-prone bunch. But why was it so? Was it that this sport was just plain bad, the workouts poorly designed, or just terrible coaching in general?

And yet, the popularity in CrossFit continued to soar and I thought to myself “why not go experience this for myself?”

So I did.

And I went again.

And again.

Once a week eventually became thrice a week and before I knew it, I realized, that I liked this CrossFit thing.  Very much.

While in the beginning during each class, I would unleash the cynical physiotherapist in me to assess weightlifting movements such as the squat or shoulder press and go, “they’re going hurt themselves”. Or even witness athletes who are overweight, and according to typical physiotherapy textbooks would not have any business doing box jumps (“what if their knees explodes?!”).

These very same individuals that I set my judgement on continued to turn up every week and continued to demonstrate consistent gains not just physically, but in their character as well. The feeling of empowerment that the sport of CrossFit conferred to these individuals was almost palpable, along with a strong community and the sense of belonging, quickly became integral components of not just their fitness journey, but mine as well.

The Sickness-Wellness-Fitness continuum

Then it suddenly dawned on me that being a professional in the realm of rehabilitation, is no different from the sport of CrossFit, as it merely exists not as separate entities, but along a spectrum.  

from rehabilitation to performance

Physiotherapy after all, is training in the presence of an injury.  And if we were to marry them together, CrossFit can be enjoyed by basically anyone, at any age, at any fitness level, without or without the presence of injuries, and still reap the numerous benefits of being able to move safely and efficiently, improved metabolic health, and possibly being conferred additional protection against chronic diseases.  Our lifespan and also our health span can be optimised as well.  

physiotherapy fitness workshop
Using functional fitness as a means for education

As cliché and as contrived as this piece of advice would be, start somewhere. Fitness serves not only for rehabilitation after injury, but also as a natural insurance to prevent injury. I hope that you will find a sport that will bring your health and fitness into longevity just as I found mine!

Ten years on, I am proud to say that I still serve as an ambassador bridging the gap between rehabilitation and the pursuit of optimal health. While some physiotherapists choose pilates, powerlifting, yoga, or other forms of fitness, I choose CrossFit as an extension of my therapeutic arsenal of tools to help others move better, feel better and thrive, and I continue to look forward to partnering with more like-minded therapists, fitness trainers and coaches to empower others around them.

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