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Why PTs Need to Embrace Strength Training

Three years ago, I almost quit being a physical therapist. I was bored, burned out, and thought I might actually die if I saw another patient performing rows with a yellow elastic band. I knew there had to be a better way to marry what went on in the clinic with what went on in the gym. Surely, strength training and physical therapy weren’t the polar opposites that traditional schooling made them out to be.

Shortly after, I attended an informal seminar by a new grad physical therapist and it solidified all my fears. Folks were still coming out of school thinking of physical therapists in such boringly isolated roles, serving either as glorified dog-walkers, or babysitters hired to get their patients through the acute phase of their injuries. This, of course, was then followed by a return to their trainers to do all the fun, “cool stuff”. I direct your attention to the likes of physical therapy legends Gray Cook and Shirley Sahrmann.

We are the movement experts. Our backgrounds prepare us to do so much more than most DPT programs let on.

Stronger people live longer

Career burnout is a very real thing, and one solution that I found was
to take my strengthtalents outside of the clinic and into the strength arena. Now, I realize that some of you reading this may balk at the idea of throwing down in a weight room, or perhaps you work with a population for which you feel strength training, as it is commonly regarded, would be extremely inappropriate. That is exactly why I have written this article. Strength is not a privilege reserved for muscle-bound meatheads with a penchant for bronzer and a proclivity for hair gel. The strength and mobility to move our own bodies is a prerequisite for healthy living and longevity, irrespective of age. If you want to be functional, strength is not a privilege, it is a requirement.

A 2012 study by Brazilian researchers Brito, Ricardo, and Araujo discovered that individuals aged 51-80 who were unable to sit and rise from the floor without external assistance were 6.5 times more likely to die in the next 2 years as compared with individuals who required minimal to no support to perform the same task. [1] However, researchers also found that improving an individual’s score on this sit-to-stand test by just 1 point (total score out of 10) was linked with a 21% reduction in their likelihood of death.

 “It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio, and coordination are not only good for performing daily activities but have a favorable influence on life expectancy,”  – Araújo

The take-home message? We, the movement experts, can save lives.

Physical therapists have a leg up on the competition

As physical therapists, our backgrounds uniquely prepare us to take patients through the movement continuum that extends from a focus on health to a focus on performance. The inherent creativity and eventual mastery of progressions, regressions, and lateralizations make physical therapists perfect candidates to take their talents outside of the clinic and explore the world of strength and conditioning. With some additional education and/or certifications, physical therapists can become hybrid clinicians, skilled in both the nuances of post-op rehabilitation and the oft-times glorified techniques of strength and conditioning.

Body-weight strength and conditioning

For those with an aversion to the iron, let’s not forget that the world of strength and conditioning is not limited to heavy weights and turf fields. The importance and benefit of body weight movements is quickly becoming accepted and sought after by the movement community, with training schools including Move Nat, Animal Flow, and GMB leading the charge. Their courses are open to individuals of all educational backgrounds, and the information presented can very easily integrated into one’s current PT practice, providing excellent alternatives to the typical, and at times insufficient, elastic band routines.

Career opportunities

If that’s still not your cup of tea, good networking can introduce you to an endless list of professionals in the strength and conditioning world with skill-sets that complement yours. This hybrid model is currently being adopted by clinics across the country, with PTs and strength coaches working under the same roof, collaborating to treat everyone from post-surgical cases to athletes looking to improve their performance. In this capacity, we see PTs bridging the gap between rehab and strength, and expanding their career opportunities.

If you’re looking for a fantastic outpatient sports / ortho opportunity with great mentorship, check out COR Physical Therapy!

A foray into the world of fitness brings with it career growth opportunities and improved clinical outcomes. Physical therapy and strength training are two sides of the same coin and you owe it to your patients to have a basic understanding of strength and conditioning. It takes strength to be able to stand up from the toilet. It takes conditioning to be able to walk to the grocery store. Make it as complex or rudimentary as you’d like. You can’t escape it. So do yourself a favor, start blurring that line. Your patients and your career will thank you.

Have Questions? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you ASAP!



[1] Brito LBB, Ricardo DR, Araujo DSMS, et al. 2012. Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention, 21(7):892-8.
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About C. Shante Cofield

C Shante Cofield
Dr. C. Shante Cofield is a former Division I athlete with a passion for movement surpassed only by her passion for learning. Shante graduated from Georgetown University and then continued her educational pursuits at New York University, graduating with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) and becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Shante is a board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) who practices in NYC, with specialties ranging from CrossFit injuries to pelvic floor dysfunction. As a certified Functional Movement Screen (FMS) provider and Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) provider, Shante utilizes a movement-based treatment approach that incorporates manual therapy, corrective exercises, and techniques such as kinesiology taping and IASTM (instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization). Additionally, Shante is a Functional Range Conditioning mobility specialist (FRCms) and holds a CrossFit Level I trainer certificate. Outside of the clinic, Shante is a RockTape instructor, an advisory board member for WODMedic, and the creator of The Movement Maestro, a website and social-media based platform devoted to all things human movement and mobility related. Shante has also served as content expert for numerous publications and has lectured at universities and exercise facilities on topics including screening techniques, movement patterns, and injury prevention. A firm believer in the mantra of practicing what one preaches, Shante maintains an active lifestyle as a crossfitter and outdoor enthusiast. She has completed two marathons, is an experienced rock climber, and is a proud member of CrossFit718, serving as their in-house PT and movement specialist.

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