I am always inspired after teaching any course, and this past weekend was no different. We recently hired 5 new Doctors of Physical Therapy at Activcore and it is my job to teach them how to do suspension based physical therapy. I also mentor them on a one-on-one basis to speed up their learning curve. As one of the first physical therapists in the United States to use this "zero gravity" system, I have countless success (and not so successful) stories to tell.
When I began using the Redcord suspension system in 2007, there was no one available to mentor me. The system came from Norway so there weren't any practitioners here in the U.S. for me to observe, ask questions, and talk through my patient cases. There also wasn't much online content available at the time. The Norwegian physiotherapists who originally taught me this treatment method were on a time zone 6 hours ahead which made it difficult to even do a Skype call. So it felt like I was on my own island trying to figure things out for myself. And, for the most part, that’s exactly what I did.
Fast forward 15 years. I am a co-founder at Activcore, the nation's leading provider of suspension based PT and performance. I now use the system everyday to help people overcome pain and restore functional mobility through the power of "neuromuscular activation." I also teach this evidence-based method to physical therapists and athletic trainers around the country, including the U.S. Olympic Committee and some collegiate and professional sports teams.
Here are a 3 key takeaways I have learned along the way:
1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Since I was one of the first physical therapists trained in this system, it means that I have probably made the most mistakes using it. I think of the acronym FAIL which stands for First Attempt In Learning. I use this as my guiding light. If you don’t make mistakes, you will never learn. When you are first introduced to suspension based PT, you will likely fumble with the ropes too much, forget how to do something, or just think that you are not very good at doing it. But keep in mind that the patient on the treatment table has no idea how good or bad you are. As long as you make them feel better, you are doing your job.
2. Keep it simple.
There's so much to learn when it comes to this system. It can be intimidating. You will first learn the history of suspension exercise and the science behind it. Then you will learn how to adjust the ropes and attach the accessories (bungee cords, slings, etc.). Next you will learn the grading principles, the types of tests, and the corrective procedures that go along with each test. There are also many other exercises you will learn, including ways to progress and regress each one. Finally, you will learn how to apply everything for your clients without making a fool of yourself. Wow, just writing this has made me a bit sick to my stomach!
So let's all take a deep breath. Here's my advice: stick with the basics. Start out with just a few simple tests and exercises, and make them all pain free through bungee assistance. When you do this, good things will naturally happen. I recommend sticking with the "big five" myofascial chain tests: pelvic lift, bridge, plank, hip abduction, and hip adduction — and that's it. Sprinkle in a motor control setting of the lumbar spine, a push up or two, and a few closed-kinetic-chain neck exercises — and you are good to go. Master these exercises inside and out and your clients will rave about you to their friends and family.
3. Get a mentor.
Maybe it’s my older age but I think it is normal to feel like you can help the younger generation of physical therapists with all of the knowledge you've accumulated over the years. For me, it’s more personal than just being older and wiser. It has more to do with not having a mentor in my early days. I eventually had a mentor who became one of my friends to this day. The only problem is that he’s in Norway. But I will say that every time I talk with him, I learn something new. If you work by yourself or in a private room, I implore you to get a mentor. It will make a world of difference.
After many years of pulling on these suspension ropes, making mistakes and celebrating successes, I still have a passion for suspension based PT. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I make a major change in functional mobility and see the smile on a client's face. I often hear them say, “how the hell did you do that?” Sometimes the pain is gone after just one visit! None of these things would be possible for me without suspension based PT.
Some physical therapists feel that they can be a great practitioner without it. But for me that's simply not the case. The system allows me to see things that other people can't. Having the ability to create a "zero-gravity" treatment environment and get to the source of the pain makes me pretty darn good at what I do.
I use the Redcord suspension system because it gives me purpose. I believe that I can make a significant difference for my clients in a very short period of time. And I never lose site of that. I am also proud to help transform the way physical therapy is delivered in the United States.
I can’t help but get emotional when I speak of this. That's because it is all true. I would not be half the PT I am without it. The younger version of myself would never have guessed that I would become an instructor, a mentor, and a thought leader in the fields of physical therapy and professional sports. The list goes on and on but I never say I was lucky. I only felt lucky that Redcord fell into my lap when it did. Although I worked my ass off and made it my mission to be the best PT I could possibly be.
At every course I teach, there are participants who struggle with some aspect of the training. I always say, “If I can do it, you can do it too.” I’m living proof of this and I’m not quitting anytime soon.
If you are interested in getting mentored, please contact me.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.