BY ADINAWA ADJAGBODJOU
This week I featured Dr. Liz Letchford, a rehabilitation scientist and strength therapy specialist, whose captivating work has healed and educated countless athletes, including the Golden State Warriors Dance Team. Read below about how she continues on her mission to revitalize !
Thank you for joining me, could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Liz Letchford. I am a PhD in kinesiology and rehabilitation science. I am also a clinician, with a background in sports medicine, so I work one-on-one with individuals, and I help them get out of pain and understand their bodies better.
What led you to doing what you’re doing now?
I’ve always had a sense that I wanted to know what to do so I could help people. I really just want to help others. My first job, I was a lifeguard and my second job, I was an EMT. So, I’ve always kind of been in this caregiving kind of role. My undergraduate education was in athletic training, so I was working with sports teams, helping out with their injuries and rehabilitation. I fell in love with it. And I started working with other sports teams and started realizing that there’s this huge component of injuries that a lot of clinicians, a lot of athletes, a lot of us are overlooking and that’s the mental and emotional component of injury in the rehabilitation process. And so when I started my own business working one-on-one with individuals, I made it my goal to marry sports science with that psychology, with the emotional and spiritual and mental component of what’s going on when you’re injured and when you’re training. I’ve had people cry in my arms in the gym because of the creation of that space: for people to feel vulnerable, to get strong. Any time that you’re strength training, anytime that you’re going up to a set of weights and thinking ‘I’m going to get stronger’, you have to reach failure. So there’s a lot of edge space for people in there. Every time you go to strength training, you’re failing on purpose. So there’s a lot to be learned. There’s a lot to grow there. And so I just hope to hold people in that space.
Why do you think there’s suddenly such a need to fill this gap in the practice of wellness?
I think there is a shift and right now, the more that we understand the body, the more that we understand that rest and recovery actually are one of the most important components of your strength training or rehabilitation program. The shift progresses based on our increased understanding. The culture around athleticism has been ‘push hard’, ‘push through the pain’, ‘no pain, no gain’, and that kind of mentality. And there’s this predominant culture of ‘I’m going to get fit at all costs’. And what we’re finding is that as people are approaching their thirties and they’ve been lifelong athletes, or they’ve been in fitness casually, they’re finding that their joints are wearing down. They’re experiencing imbalances in their body. So my hope is to teach people, whether they’re starting out or just starting over to teach people, how to embrace imbalances and correct them and sit with the discomfort of being bad at something. and so I think that the more that people understand ‘oh my gosh, when I address my imbalances, when I correct my injuries, when I start strength training with proper form’, not only am I going to achieve better physical results, that they also receive a much better understanding of their body and then they can train for longevity instead of wearing down their joints. So I do believe that there is a cultural shift around recovery and rest. And, you know, we had this huge year of going inward and it allowed for a lot of reflection and a lot of rest. And I’m really hoping that that takes hold in the fitness culture.
How do you feel like access to sports medicine and to all these different branches of kinesiology has evolved over the years and what work do you think remains to be done?
Well, with widespread adoption of social media and the availability of information we now have with the internet, the evolution has been promising. Traditionally research was only accessible for other researchers. It was written in a way that only researchers could only understand and interpret. And it kind of stood in this really insular community of scientists and academics, and it wasn’t really readily available to the public. But now there’s a lot more information accessible to the public but it is like a double-edged sword because it comes with more misinformation. So it’s part of my job to dissect where that information is coming from and how well the research was conducted. So part of my mission in my communication with the public is to give them the tools to dissect that information and to ask questions. My motto is “stay curious”. It’s something that I live by and it’s very important to me as a scientist.
Do you feel like there’s been a memorable experience that you’ve had while working with someone that inspired you?
Yeah. I was working with this gentleman who was very afraid of being in the gym and getting stronger. He had a congenital defect that made him really self-conscious about his body. He was very confident in all other aspects of his life, but he never felt comfortable taking off his shirt. And when he was with a new partner, he felt like he had something that he had to explain or, or apologize for, and then compounded with that was his fear of the gym and this toxic masculinity that can sometimes be very present in a gym. And it was just so beautiful to witness his transformation, to teach him the truths about working out, to make sure he felt good in his body, that he felt comfortable being strong and owning his stance. And I could just watch month after month, week after week as he transformed. And he started standing in his power and growing more muscles, and his posture got better and taller and he started building up confidence. And parallel to the muscle that he was building, he became more confident in his dating life and career. None of that would have been possible if he would’ve just given in to those preconceived notions about what strength training is and the prevailing culture of toxic masculinity around strength training and being strong. So, he was someone who completely inspired me because he was able to surrender himself to this experience and it all paid off because he stayed curious.
So if you could say a few things to thank your body, what would it be?
Radical acceptance is the most powerful thing I can push. ‘Radical’ because the world does not want you to love your body. Anybody who’s trying to sell you something doesn’t want you to love your body, doesn’t want you to feel like there’s nothing to fix or buy or change. So this radical acceptance has inspired me to constantly say “Body, thank you for being strong. Thank you for allowing me to walk through life with two able legs. Thank you for giving me the sensations and the signals to know what my body needs. Thank you for giving me arms to be able to hug. And a skin to be able to feel the touch of people and hands to be able to share my gifts of therapy and rehabilitation and mush into people’s muscles and allow them to feel them melting into this love and care that I hold for people like that is so beautiful. It has nothing to do with how I look in a stupid bikini!”