Climbing and physical therapy go hand in hand in this Staff Spotlight. Check out the one and only Lorrain Ko and the spectacular Nick Torsitano on what keeps physical therapists climbing, and what keeps climbers coming back to physical therapy.
Tufas is a Philly climbing gym but not all climbing gym staff members are Philadelphia natives! As the City of Brotherly Love grows – Tufas Boulder Lounge grows with it! Part of our mission is building a community around the bouldering pads, so every month we’re highlighting a member and a staffer here at Tufas! Check out adaptive climber Travis Pollen’s interview with Tufas here. Want to learn a little about all of us? Check out our staff bios here!
Lorrain Ko and Nick Torsitano are two members of our Tufas Tu-Family, and both transplants to Philadelphia. Lorrain and Nick are both matriculated physical therapy students. Recently, they sat down with the Tufas blog to talk about the Combined Sections Meeting, physical therapy and climbing, what their favorite styles of climbing are, and how to properly warm-up for a climb.
Tufas: Tell us a little about yourself!
Lorrain: I grew up in Los Angeles until I came out to Philly for grad school for physical therapy at USciences. Growing up as a kid, I was never in any organized sports. I started climbing back in 2015 after college. Since then, I fell in love with getting in touch with my inner monkey. On outdoor trips, I eat candy.
Nick: I started climbing in 2017 when his older brother took me bouldering for the first time in Brooklyn. I quickly fell in love with the physical and mental challenges the sport had to offer. Shortly after, I entered the physical therapy program at Temple University, which brought me to Philadelphia. My love for climbing and rehab now go hand in hand, using the sport to fuel his knowledge of the body and movement analysis.
Tufas: We heard you were out West for a conference?
Lorrain: Yeah! Both Nick and I moved to Philly for graduate school, but we are in different PT programs. The Combined Sections Meeting is like the who’s who of Physical Therapy in the United States – so even though we’re not in the same school we got to go together!
Nick: Different types of physical therapists have various conferences all over the country – the Combined Section Conference is the one time everyone meets up. There’re people presenting their research and running workshops.
Lorrain: It’s a way for people across disciplines to interact. They have everyone form first-year students to people who have been practicing for decades.
Nick: They even had student career workshops to help physical therapist students plan for a career in a field.
Tufas: Anyone you were especially excited to see?
Nick: As a climber, hearing Dr. Jared Vagy’s talk on a panel was super awesome! Dr. Vagy is the preeminent physical therapist for climbers and also a climber himself.
Lorrain: I think it was a panel for overhead shoulder athletes?
Nick: Yeah! It was a panel on Climbing, Arial, and Circus Acrobatics.
Tufas: Speaking of climbing, did y’all get any climbing done?
Nick: Yes! We went to a bouldering-only location of a gym called Movement Climbing and Fitness. This place was – off the chain!
Lorrain: Yeah. It was definitely movement-oriented. They had a weightlifting area and an awesome yoga studio.
Tufas: What do demographics look like in Physical Therapy in terms of climbing? Are there a lot of PT professionals who climb? Or an especially large community of PT patients who are climbers?
Nick: Dr. Jared Vagy actually asked for a show of hands and almost everyone at the talk was a climber. Second most was physical therapy professionals who treat climbers. And the least amount of hands went up for physical therapists who treat climbers and themselves were climbers. Most of the physical therapists in attendance were climbers, circus or areal art fans themselves.
Lorrain: I think in the greater scheme of things because Nick and I climb – we’re just more likely to know who the climbing PT’s are. But even at the conference, climbing is not as popular as other sports, like basketball, or soccer.
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Check out this sneak peek clip form an upcoming @epictvclimbing series in March. I teamed up with @adidasterrex and @fiveten_official athlete @jon_cardwell to create a six part video series that demonstrates injury prevention and performance tests for rock climbers. The videos show how to perform the test and what corrective exercises and movement technique drills to perform to improve test results and climbing performance. This is a short clip showing one of the reaching positions for a modified Upper Extremity Y-Balance Test. To perform the test, create a letter “Y” on the ground with tape. The top lines of the “Y” will need to be angled 45 degrees from the bottom line. Use a pen and a tape measure to mark and measure the reach. Begin in a plank with your feet hips distance apart and rotate your fingers of the reaching hand outward. Slide your fingers as far as you can down each line. Repeat three times for each line and take the average of the reaches. You can furthermore eliminate your ape index (so that you can compare with your climbing partners) by measuring the distance from your spine to your fingertips and dividing each of your reaches by that number. The test ends if you press the palm of the reaching hand into the ground or if you lift your leg. This is a research validated and standardized exam that will test how far you can reach in three directions in a weight bearing environment. It tests the strength of your injury prevention muscles during a lock off and reach. However, there are some minor tweaks that you can do to the test to make it even more climbing specific. What modifications would you make to this exercise to make it climbing specific? Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments and stay tuned for the full episode in March to learn more about testing and training upper body stability for climbing. Special thanks to @agrphoto for shooting and editing the content!
Tufas: In his interview, Travis Pollen, climber, personal trainer, biomechanist, and international man of mystery, mentioned how climbing included a lot of novel movement which made it different from other sports – like soccer and basketball and, notably swimming. Would you agree?
Lorrain: With any sport, it’s about working in line with their specific goals. So with climbers, you could treat their climbing-specific movement, like flagging for example. In the same way, you would be treating a 80 year old in line with their goals, and a D1 college athlete in line with theirs.
Nick: The biggest thing I would say is the mentality. Climbers want to climb. Athletes want to continue their sport. In general, you want to meet your athletes where they’re at. I feel like you can treat runners and climbers similarly in terms of getting them back into their sport gradually.
Tufas: To quote Travis, “If you don’t run all week and start running every day leading up to the 5K – by the end of the week you already have shin splints.”
Nick: As much as I’m psyched to climb, I have to police myself. You can’t just climb, climb, climb, climb. You gotta go about it smartly – I mean – intelligently.
Lorrain: When I was starting out, I wish I knew three things: 1) good warm up, 2) training antagonist muscles, and 3) how to deal with injury. An appropriate warm up mimics your movement for the workout – because climbing is so physically demanding, we have to do climbing-specific, dynamic warm ups: things like Flying-V’s or Crawls. It’s also important to train the muscles that climbing doesn’t load frequently – like the chest and other interior muscles.
Tufas: And in terms of injury recovery in climbing?
Lorrain: I’ve seen my friends with finger injuries and shoulder injuries often just want to rest the tissue. But once you rest, are you going to go back and do the same thing? Or are you going to progressively strengthen it past the point where it was injured last time?
Nick: In that regard, climbing and running are very similar. You kind of have to go back to square one and ramp up, appropriately and progressively after injury.
Tufas: Any parting thoughts for our readers?
Lorrain: Come climb with me if you see me around!
Nick: Follow me on IG!
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Little Fluffy Clouds, Haycock Mountain 📸: @craig_fineburg • • • This sport has brought so many intelligent, creative, kind, and strong people into my life. I’m so thankful for all the friends I’ve made and meaningful connections I’ve had with these people. Never in my life have I had a community that lifts me up physically and mentally, and I want to thank all of you for the love and support, the ups and downs, and the weird and incredibly fun weekends spent outside 🙌🏼 #rockclimbing #alternativemillenialsports #diabase #haycockmountain #littlefluffyclouds #whyamialwaysbleeding #letsgoflyers #lasportiva
Lydia Yang is a Singaporean travel blogger who reached out recently to show us her article titled A-to-Z Ultimate Guide To Climbing Injuries after reading this interview. Her guide goes over common injuries, prevention techniques, strengthening exercises, warm-ups, and different training methods that will keep you healthy and active.
Check out her article here, and make sure you poke through the other articles on her blog!