When I first became an EMT, I fell into the trap that so many in emergency response fall into: I thought that the work alone would be enough exercise. After all, in a 12 hour shift, we move thousands of pounds of human weight. We carry that weight up and down stairs; that’s cardio, right?
I heard of a friend, also an EMT, who tore her back. Yeah, you read that right. She didn’t “just” throw out her back or pull a muscle. She actually tore muscles and connective tissue surrounding those muscles while picking up a patient off the floor. That completely changed my mindset.
I started CrossFit. Don’t roll your eyes or shake your head. CrossFit is just like everything else – there are good boxes (CrossFit studios) and bad boxes. Thankfully, I was at a good box. In fact, they were so good that they actually ticked me off a little. I had been doing squats for years until a doctor told me no because they were screwing with my knees. Well, if you’ve never seen an EMT work, the squatting movement is pretty important – crouching next to patients, talking to the little ones, and, obviously, lifting patients! I thought I knew what I was doing. The coaches disagreed. Nick, Alex, and Brian, and Adam would not let me go near the weights, even just the 45# bar, until my form was perfect. This required a LOT of stretching and practice!
When I finally got the form down, for a beginner, I was able to move a lot of weight – that’s where moving all those patients every night paid off!
My partner noticed we were able to lift heavier patients without a lift assist, which was good and bad and something we kept from dispatch for as long as we possibly could! I started thinking about how regular, structured exercise not only did not make my joint pain worse, but it actually DECREASED the pain and inflammation. I started thinking about the patients we transported. So many of them had so many preventable chronic diseases. Some of those “chronic” diseases could be significantly improved if not completely eliminated with regularly, structured exercise.
I was in college at the time studying Pre-physical Therapy and Exercise Science. I went to my advisor and told her I wanted to drop the Pre-physical Therapy, which was making me miserable anyhow, and focus on the Exercise Science. Since I was dropping a major, I had to pick up a minor. For what I want to do, Health Promotion & Education made sense.
I want to help people now so I don’t have to transport them later.
Take-away from this background info: functional fitness allowed me to do my job better. Why? Because I trained to do it better. I didn’t start CrossFit because I wanted the washboard abs or the smaller clothing sizes. I started CrossFit because the movements in CrossFit are similar to movements needed in EMS and Firefighting. When I left CrossFit, it was with a better understanding of body mechanics (which came in handy when I had to take that class a few semesters later!) and coaching techniques. Now, the only CrossFit work-outs I do every year are the Hero WODs, but I still train so I can function at optimal levels on a call.