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Episode 2: Why CrossFit


Nate Reynolds 0:05

Welcome to The Crosstalk Podcast, the podcast that brings together fitness and health care professionals to discuss topics that will help you become your best and healthiest version of yourself. I'm your host, Nate Reynolds, a physical therapist that specializes in orthopedics and CrossFit from beautiful upstate New York.

On today's episode, I interviewed Kristin Tusa, and Will Murtagh. Kristen is a physical therapist on Long Island. She's been a PT for the past three years. She is an ortho clinical specialist, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and a level one CrossFit coach. Will is the owner of WillPower Strength & Nutrition. He also is a student physical therapist at Stony Brook University. He has his master's in your nutrition, he is also a certified strength and conditioning coach and a CrossFit Level One Coach. So welcome, guys. Thanks for coming on to the podcast. So tell me a little bit more about yourselves.

Kristin Tusa 1:29

Okay, yeah, so I grew up on Long Island, I went to high school here. I went to college at Sacred Heart University and I got my bachelor's of exercise science. And then after that, I went to physical therapy school at Stony Brook University. I graduated in 2017. And I've been practicing in orthopedics ever since. It is mixture of sports and overall general population. I recently just got my orthopedic specialty back in March. So I've been using that a lot in the clinic. I also just became a CrossFit level one coach back in January, and I'm gonna start coaching at my home gym this week. And I have my CSCS which I used to help filter in at my job with athletes that I have post major injuries like ACL, ankle sprains, stuff like that, just to help get them back to their sport again.

Will Murtagh 2:26

I grew up along Long Island, I grew up in Stony Brook, New York. I kind of went a few different directions. From when I graduated college in 2014. I started out with physical therapy and was taking classes to apply to PT school, but then was kind of unsure if that was are the right route for me. So I went into strength conditioning, started with an internship at Notre Dame and was there for a full semester. Then came back and I got my CrossFit Level 1 and started working for a Port CrossFit in Port Jefferson, New York. I've been there for almost a decade coaching. But then I want to say like five or six years in, I started interning at Stony Brook University with their strength and conditioning staff. I interned with them for like two years. I started a graduate assistantship there where I started studying nutrition. I was a graduate student for two years working with softball team, men soccer, and then also helping with football and men's basketball. I was there for two years, while also coaching at Port CrossFit and then stopped my GA because I started physical therapy school. Right before I started physical therapy school, I started WillPower Strength & Nutrition. I do one to one individual program design, we have some group programs as well. And then I do nutrition coaching. Fast forward to right now, I'm about to finish up physical therapy school. I'm hoping to graduate and then kind of build WillPower up as much as I can and see what the future takes me.

Nate Reynolds 4:57

So what made you get into CrossFit?

Will Murtagh 5:13

So I didn't mention I played football at Ithaca. And then, but I stopped after my sophomore year. And then like most people that I've talked to and heard of, once you finish your athletic career, you spend some time looking for that competitive outlet. And I tried, you know, just going to the gym being competitive with myself, like typical bodybuilding routines. Bench, squat, deadlift, trying to be competitive in that aspect. But that just really wasn't filling the void. So then I migrated into Olympic weightlifting and I tried to teach myself how to snatch and clean jerk. And that didn't go too well, honestly. But from weightlifting it was almost natural that it just kind of segwayed into CrossFit. It was, I remember one time I was in my dorm and the 2010 CrossFit Games were on. And I saw people doing butterfly pull ups, and I was like, What are they doing? Like, automatically, I was like "Oh, that's cheating." But then obviously, fast forward to now, different goals, right? So I saw the 2010 games, weightlifting and the typical bodybuilding powerlifting wasn't really working out for me. So then a gym opened up, and I showed up, had no idea what I was doing. I walked in, they were just about to start a class. I was like, Can I give this a shot? And they said, Yeah, first class is free. Come on in. And I remember the first workout we did was Fran, for those who don't know, Fran is 21-15-9 of barbell thrusters or front squat into an overhead press, and then pull ups. And then I remember, I did, you know, I thought 21 tosses and 95 pounds, no big deal. Like I'm a football player, I could do this. But then 10 reps into it, the front squats turn into push presses, and the pull ups turn into half reps. It was it was a mess. And then I walked out of that class and it was like a big time, Gotcha. Because, I went my entire life thinking that I was conditioned since I was an athlete. So from then on, it was CrossFit training or you're not really doing the hardest thing out there, at least in my opinion, you know?

Nate Reynolds 8:07

I always feel like it's the workouts that you look on the board. You're like, oh, that would not be too bad and then they're the worst ones.

Will Murtagh 8:17

Yeah. 100%. It's the ones where it doesn't jump off the screen at you. And your immediate reaction is, is that and then by the end of it, you're thanking God that that wasn't right.

Nate Reynolds 8:31

So Kristin, what got you into CrossFit

Kristin Tusa 8:37

So when I was in college, and I was doing my Bachelor's of Exercise Science, one of my courses that we had to take was strength and conditioning. My teacher based the whole course off the NSCA textbook, and everything that you learn in that class was supposed to get you to take and pass the CSCS. My professor hated CrossFit. He wanted nothing to do with it. And he literally had a whole lecture on how CrossFit is bad for you. And he likes to show us all these videos of how you can get hurt and like blah, blah. So basically embedded in my head that CrossFit's bad, don't ever do it. So fast forward a couple years I meet Will, who's a CrossFit fanatic but I thought he was cute. So I was like, alright, I guess I'll try it. He tried to teach me how to snatch a barbell. And I could not even get the bar over my head. But from then on out, I was like now I need to prove to him that I can do this. And then the second I took my first class at the gym, I just like immediately fell in love. I played soccer my whole life so you know, I was conditioned and I could run forever. And then the second you add anything else into that system of just running whether it be like wallballs, kettlebells, a barbell, or dumbbell, I was literally done for. I've been doing CrossFit for almost two years now.

Now, I can snatch more than a barbell and I can say this is probably the fittest that I've literally ever been. And every day I love going to work but I literally just look forward to working out or taking a CrossFit class. It's like my favorite part of my day. And I get to do with him.

Nate Reynolds 10:53

I think most healthcare professionals are probably in the same realm as your teacher or professor. I think that was what I got hung up on when I was trying to look for my next thing. I went to the YMCA and I was the youngest person there by like 40 years. And then I was like, What can I do? I want to meet people my age, I want to be part of something because I moved back to Binghamton and didn't have a lot of friends that were still in the area. The first time I went to the gym, everyone was so welcoming. I was like, man this is a great community and this is pretty awesome.

I think one of the reasons CrossFit got that bad reputation back in 2013 was that study that came out by the NSCA, that showed there was like an increase in injury risk. And then that CrossFit lawsuit came out in 2019 that showed the NSCA fabricated that data. I was so worried that I was going injure myself and be out of a job. But now I'm like this is one of the best things for you. Because if you're someone that needs stability, you got the Olympic lifting portion. If you're someone that is like myself, that's really stiff and can't move at all, the gymnastics shows where your flaws are. I feel like it encompasses the whole mobility-stability spectrum.

Will Murtagh 12:56

I mean, I think to your point in 2013. CrossFit, I don't want to say hit its peak, because I mean at the gym we have new people coming in all the time but there is no doubt that it definitely took a big leap from 2010 to 2013. If you ask any crossfitter or coach who is seasoned and they're honest with themselves, they'll tell you that in thebeginning era the lifting looked like crap. I'll be the first one to admit it, you had people coaching and people in the sport that just didn't have the time or the exposure to the Olympic lifts to develop proficiency in them. So then on top of that, you had other elements being mixed with them like wall balls, running. You then have fatigue on top of that lack of exposure so like they didn't look great. It's only natural to assume that this actually might be dangerous. But in reality, two things or a few things happen. One is smarter people came into the sport so you have better coaching and you have coaches from other sports, like weightlifting, powerlifting, and running. So now techniques are getting refined and there's better coaching. But also, you know, to your point, the average healthcare worker or teacher look at it and may say, "Oh, that's super dangerous". But in reality, if you go into a CrossFit gym, the environment itself is self limiting. There's always the 1% that come in and we'll go way too far and if you combine that with a bad coach, who's not going to be like, well take the 45 off, let's master the barbell first.

You know, no one is actually coming into the gym day one and never have snatched before loading up to 135. It's just not happening. Like most people, when they come in, they're going to grab the 15 pound bar and then a PVC pipe and then they're going to first of all have eyes on them with a coach. It doesn't matter if it's a squat or snatch on the board, it is going to be well within most people's capabilities to stay injury free. Should they be snatching first? Probably not but that comes down to an assessment. Do they have the requisite shoulder mobility, ankle dorsiflexion hip mobility, etc. But are they going to hurt themselves? Probably not. I think people need to be, and it's really on coaches now to keep pushing the education so people aren't ignorant to it. But no one is going to come in day one and train to the point that they're going to be at risk for injury.

Nate Reynolds 16:30

Yeah, I think you can tell a good CrossFit gym based on their onboarding process, right? Because I think from a from a gym owners perspective, they don't want to be known as the person or the gym that everyone gets injured at. If you look at the CrossFit research, most people are injured within their first month or two. Like you said, they're not proficient in the movement and they're going too fast, too soon.

Kristin Tusa 17:27

I also have to agree with you, Nate. Like, I feel like because I had the mindset that CrossFit is bad for you. I missed out on 2-3-4 years of doing something that I now truly, truly love. Just because somebody once told me that it's not good for you, those people are just uneducated. I was uneducated at the time and I didn't realize how good it actually is for you. And like the fact that people say you can walk into a CrossFit gym and be injured within the first month, like you could step onto a soccer field and sprained your ankle within three minutes of being on the field. You can really walk out your front door, and step off the curb the wrong way and sprain your ankle. But if your body's prepared to step off the curb the wrong way, maybe you won't actually have an injury. I feel like CrossFit is one of those things that can do that for you because it's training so many things that you would never even think to even do. It trains stability, endurance, power, and strength. All of that in a one hour class, and not even realize that you're doing all of that.

Will Murtagh 18:31

This is my go to counter argument whenever I get into a conversation like this, what is more dangerous, my mom coming in off the street to do a CrossFit class where she has a coach and has eyes on her. The movement is foreign to her so she limits the weight, in most cases that she's going to use for that day one. Versus. An ex athlete that walks into an LA Fitness with other guys, and he is trying to impress the guys and girls around him. He then loads up the squat bar with 315 and hasn't squatted heavy. He then fails with no one to spot. Like what what was actually more dangerous here, right? So, at the very least, people are coming in to a CrossFit gym and they have eyes on them. More often than not are going to take movements that they're they're not familiar with slow. So I really think that the injury risk is has been inflated over time, just because the movements look fast, and they look foreign to people who have never done them before.

Kristin Tusa 20:12

Also people coming into a CrossFit gym and having a standardized program written by someone who knows how to progress strength training. For the guy walking into LA Fitness he is just like, yeah, I'm going to squat today or I'm going bench. Also leading to injury because now he's just throwing together, whatever, rather than having a standardized program that's progressing him the way that he should be progressed throughout the next day, weeks, months, years, because it all matters.

Will Murtagh 20:39

And I want to be transparent here, like, you know, are there ways that CrossFit can be better? 1,000%. There's so many ways that you can mitigate injury risk, and then just have better training programs, like Kristin just mentioned, progressing properly. You have to look at it like one person is going into the gym, unsupervised and one person going into a CrossFit gym, supervised, I really don't think that they're at a higher risk walking into a CrossFit gym.

Nate Reynolds 21:17

And I think you brought up a point about the level one. In the PT clinic, you only see between, 15 and 20 patients a day, but not all of them are high level. So I felt like my CrossFit coach had a better understanding of squatting technique, deadlifting. His cueing was much better than mine, because he does it all day. And so even though, I have a doctorate and I'm an orthopedic specialist. I feel like being that movement specialist, I didn't dial it in until like this past year when I spent more time looking at people moving at a higher level. I think the level one is probably something that we miss in PT school. I feel like that whole strength and conditioning portion is kind of overlooked.

Kristin Tusa 22:34

100%, especially, because I just took the level one in January. It's still kind of fresh in my head. And literally for two straight days, they are drilling movement patterns into you like no other. So you walk out of there, like I don't ever want to look at a movement pattern ever again. But to your point, in the clinic, like you don't get to apply as much because you don't do it as much. But everyone who walks into your clinic, whether they're an athlete or an 85 year old grandma, it doesn't matter. Like they all need to know how to do these movement patterns. You don't need to just learn how to deadlift to deadlift, 300 pounds. You need to learn how to hinge from your hips so that grandma can pick up groceries up off the floor without hurting her back. It's just moving patterns in general just to live your daily life. As physical therapists, we just help people live their daily lives, hopefully pain free.

Will Murtagh 23:26

And then having experience in like the collegiate strength conditioning world, coaching CrossFit now probably close to a decade, and then making the transition into the clinical world with physical therapy. I think that both fields can really learn a ton from each other. I think about all the time, like when I was a strength conditioning coach. If I knew about the biomechanics that I learned in the kinesiology classes from physical therapy school. Physical therapy teaches you a different way to view how the body moves and so if you can take that knowledge and then apply it to a strength and conditioning setting. You really have the perfect package.

Strength conditioning coaches cue the five foundational movements on a daily basis. But I didn't feel like that I had the knowledge to understand when the movements break down. I can say "Oh, yeah, you might have tight hips because your pelvis is tucking under due to having tight hamstrings... there's so many other reasons why that could be, you know? Is the tightness issue a motor control issue? Is it a stability issue? Are there some degenerative stuff going on? Like, is it an issue that is completely unrelated to just musculoskeletal, like you don't know. So that's where the strength conditioning coach could learn from the PT. And then like I mentioned, PT could learn from the strength conditioning coach on how to coach those movements. So I think the two fields can really learn from each other. But I think that there is a little bit of a disconnect between the two. I don't know if it's like an ego thing, or what, but I know the relationship can definitely get better. That's for sure. Yeah, I think it will get better over time.

Nate Reynolds 25:45

Yeah, I would definitely agree. And I think that's kind of where we probably see both our businesses going, right. It's being that bridge between PT and the strength and conditioning world, What's the CrossFit saying? It's not by kind, but by degree, right? The demand is the same but the degree is different. The Olympic lifter squatting versus the grandma squatting to get out off the chair, it's the same thing.

Will Murtagh 26:21

Yeah. Interesting enough, I think the Phoenix Suns, their head strength conditioning coach is a physical therapist. I think a few other teams in the NBA have their head strength conditioning coach are PTs, which is interesting, the field is starting to mesh.

Nate Reynolds 26:44

Yeah, definitely. I think that's, that's a solid point right there. So going into like the next topic, how do you think CrossFit is kind of transferred to your life outside the gym?

Kristin Tusa 27:06

Actually, probably in more ways than one. So fitness wise, obviously, its the most obvious one. Like I said before, I feel like I've never been so fit in my whole life. I feel better about the way I look, I feel better about the way I move, I feel in general, I just feel more confident in doing anything I do. Whether it's picking up a barbell or doing a 10 minute max count on the bike that Will made me do today. And again, I got better at that too. If I could put the hard work into that and get better at something that I was never really good at, I could put the hard work into something else in my daily life and get better at doing that too. Overall, I think my confidence has been better because I feel like I'm more confident being social with people outsid. When I first walked into the CrossFit gym, I didn't know anybody, but they were all so welcoming. And I love how many friends that I've made there. And then even in my job as a PT, I just feel more confident in how I approach a patient. A patient can look at me and feel confident in me treating them because I look like I can treat them. Sometimes the 300 pound, 6'5" male looks at pipsqueak me and thinks, oh, you're gonna help me. And then the next week, they're feeling much better. It just applies to so many different things. And then if someone else sees 130 pound me lifting or squatting way more than what my bodyweight is, they can be like maybe one day, I can do that. So you're not only just like building confidence in yourself but you may also be inspiring others.

Will Murtagh 29:13

One thing that I think CrossFit has helped me to develop it and it's something that I see in my family members and my friends who don't do it, is that it helps put things into perspective. Just in day to day life. I'm kind of twofold. One is like when things don't go your way, like little frustrations that may derail someone's day or just like kind of make you snap in the moment. And then minutes later you're like, why don't I just forgot about that? That was ridiculous. I don't know what it is, it could be the effort you have to put in on day basis or the situation you get put in during the metcons. You have to think of things on the fly. You have to adapt things like that. I found now that things like that don't bother me as much and I kind of can shake it off. Whereas now I don't need five minutes post something that happened to be like, why did I just react like that? I'm more even keeled throughout the day and I don't let things bother me.

Have you've ever heard of any podcasts by Ben Bergeron?

Nate Reynolds 31:04

I haven't.

Will Murtagh 31:07

Kristin always makes fun of me because I quote him a ton. I really feel like he has some really good points on outside of just training but more so on how to live. The big saying is, "You don't have to do anything, you get to".

It is so true though because when you're waking up at 5am and it's snowing outside, and you have to go coach and are like, no, I am tired. I don't feel like doing this right now. Like, why do I have to do this so many people in the world would kill to be able to wake up and have a job in the first place. But then second, we'll be able to go and coach people in exercise, and you're not sitting in a cubicle all day. At six in the morning, you're putting on sweats and then you're going to the gym teaching movements that you enjoy doing yourself. Like in the moment you might think, "Wow this really sucks", but in reality you're living the dream. What is better than that. And so mindset, it can be applied to anything. You really don't have to do anything you get to and if you're feeling sorry for yourself, chances are there's someone out there that would kill to be in your situation. So just putting things into perspective like that.

Nate Reynolds 32:56

Like, I love that because, like I always thought or this idea of being in the middle, right? Someone's best is your worst and your best is someone's worst. So there's always someone better than you and there's always someone worse than you.

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