Knowledge Can Lift Weights and Spirits

Domenico Valdespino, SPT – Texas State University Doctorate of Physical Therapy Class of 2024

Finding success at any high-level sport is incredibly difficult to achieve for any athlete. I had some of my best performances in sports in lifting competitions and was among the top 6 strongest highschoolers in my division. Strength was always one of my strong suits in sports, no pun intended, and this was the sport where it allowed me to showcase this quality the most.

The sport of powerlifting consists of competing in 3 lifts – squat, bench, and deadlift – with the main objective of moving a barbell from point A to point B. One of the simplest sports to the human eye, powerliftig has many intricacies that an untrained person would not recognize.  Breathing techniques, various grips, perfect setups, and timing are just some factors that must be considered every time a lifter attempts a lift. After years of practice and multiple injury recoveries – I ultimately thought that I had grasped the technique of lifting and keeping my body in optimal positions to perform. I was able to put over 650 pounds on my back while being injury free and feeling the strongest that I ever had felt. But in reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong to think I had it all figured out!

D. Valdespino performing an Olympic squat in competition.

Looking back at my lifting career, I had only scratched the surface on knowledge of biomechanics. This lack of education was truly exposed only a couple of years after continually lifting through collegiate football and being assessed on my technique continuously. One deadlift, which I had done thousands of times before, derailed me so horribly that I could not move into any position without pain. Thankfully, one of my professors in physical therapy school treated me and helped me to recover, but the reason for my injury was ultimately the continuous faulty movement patterns that I had used in almost every lift I had ever done through the years.

The most humbling experiences came during my recovery in PT sessions where I had to relearn how to simply hinge at my hips or bend forward correctly. Going from being at the top of my sport to barely being able to stand up shows how well the body can hide poor body mechanics until we finally do that poor movement one too many times and trigger a major injury. It took me months to figure out how to start lifting with even my old warmup weight again with the correct form.

Looking back at old powerlifting videos, I’m amazed at how I lifted hundreds of pounds with such terrible form, and not in a good way! Learning about physical therapy is the only reason that I can even look back and assess what I was doing wrong before. My classmates and I constantly talk about how much better we all could have done competing in sports through our youth lifetimes with the knowledge that physical therapy school has given us about our bodies. Being able to pass that knowledge along to others is how we can make an impact on our community and hopefully prevent any injuries we’ve lived through ourselves from occurring in others.

If I were able to experience everything all over again, I would have started working with a physical therapist before I even started competitively lifting. Having a trained set of eyes watching me to move would have corrected my form from the beginning! Now that anyone can go to see a physical therapist without a referral, my suggestion would be to learn from my mistakes and get evaluated if you don’t know if you are moving properly – regardless of what activity you are trying to accomplish!