In 2005, I reconnected with Eva Twardokens, a two-time Olympian and former U.S. ski team member. I had been the physician for the U.S. alpine team for more than a decade and she had been one of the stars, but was hampered by multiple knee injuries. Now retired, she appeared far fitter than any woman on the team had ever been. I wanted to know how she had done it.
What Eva showed me transformed the way I approached fitness programs for myself and for my patients. She came first to my house and then to The Stone Clinic to teach my family and my staff the principles of a new workout program called CrossFit. The program focused on short, intense workouts that trained most of the body simultaneously, helping to improve all kinds of fitness areas: strength, agility, balance, proprioception, cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, flexibility, power, coordination, and accuracy.
Most importantly, it was not sport-specific, it was sport-agnostic. The goal was to be a fit human being for all activities. We immediately saw the benefit for our patients and over the past 13 years have optimized the program we call StoneFit for orthopedic rehabilitation.
StoneFit works like this:
When a person is injured, whether or not they require our surgical skills to fix the problem, we engage with their mindset to persuade them that they are now and forever going to be an athlete in training and not a patient in rehab. We want them to use the injury as the motivation to become fitter, faster and stronger than they were before they were injured. Even if their goal is simply to walk to the store without pain, they can train for that goal. We want each person to treat themselves as a professional athlete would, say in training camp getting ready for the upcoming basketball season. A pro would leave no stone unturned and focus on diet, weight and fitness, and so should the everyday person.
For each injury, we custom-design a set of exercises to work around the injured joint using the principles of combined functional exercises. So for a severe knee injury, a single-leg squat with a partner ball throw is a great example of training almost all the body’s musculature and skills. Combining a round-robin of exercises, completed almost nonstop, increases the heart rate, trains the cardiovascular system and most of all is fun. Elderly people recovering from a knee or hip replacement can combine balance skills standing on a pillow while swinging a very light kettle bell. This rapidly improves their core strength and balance skills. The combinations are endless, limited only by the creativity of the rehab team and the patient.
Part of StoneFit encourages a change in diet to focus on a lean protein, and to dramatically reduce carbohydrates and processed foods. We suggest increasing water intake to a tall glass of plain noncarbonated water every hour, which easily eliminates calorie-laden foods and sugary drinks and optimizes the person’s weight.
What StoneFit does not do is add the competitive part of CrossFit. The competitions have led to a significant number of injuries from the fall off in technique as people get fatigued. In the rehab environment, we push to fatigue only in safe, supervised ways and encourage people to continue this private personal training technique forever.
The day I reconnected with Twardokens was the beginning of a new energy, creativity and enthusiasm in our rehabilitation space. StoneFit has permitted our patients to return to peak performances and has been a blast for those of us who care for and exercise with them.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments. For more info, visit www.stoneclinic.com.