Girls Who Powerlift: Dr. Marcia Darbouze

Interview by Barrett Snyder

Dr. Marcia Darbouze graduated with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2014 and soon after found herself working across South Florida treating people of all ages and varying injuries. She is the founder of Just Move Therapy, an organization dedicated to giving individuals the tools necessary to move better and feel better through movement. She has worked with a plethora of clients ranging from older patients after a stroke, to young kids with cerebral palsy, to spinal cord injury patients who are learning to walk again, and to powerlifters just learning how to get back under a bar. Dr. Marcia’s need for movement grew from her own personal struggles. As a competitive powerlifter and amateur strong(wo)man, she knew how important it is to perform pain-free. As a woman with an invisible illness, she knows how important it is to get back to "normal" after life-changing events and/or flare-ups. She understands it can be tough to navigate this world of movement on your own, which is why Just Move Therapy is a safe space to move well and reduce pain for all bodies, abilities, sizes, and ages

A few months ago, I interviewed Chloe Lansing, an absolutely incredible individual who is a Partner at Disabled Girls Who Lift, a beautiful organization. I understand you are also involved with Disabled Girls Who Lift. Could you please share with the readers how this organization has impacted your life? 

I joined DGWL because of a common mindset. I found Marybeth on Instagram, and we commiserated on thoughts about disability in sports. In a sense, she was the first person I “came out” to as disabled. The first person I confided with, in my insecurities about my invisible illness. We created the safe space that is DGWL so that others can experience this same kinship. We blog, we podcast, and we go live; We create content for disabled folks, from disabled folks. In addition, our community is also an invitation to abled-bodied athletes to understand our need for better access and understanding, especially at intersections that include color and queerness. 

You are a Doctor of Physical Therapy but also a strength coach. How has having a background in physical therapy improved your ability as a strength coach, and vice versa? How you have been to utilize your experience as both a physical therapist and strength coach to maximize your ability to work with clients?

I never aimed to become a strength coach. It evolved over time as I evolved my physical therapy practice over time. I worked less for outpatient clinics and hospitals and more for myself. Naturally, my clientele included my contacts in strength sports. That was expected. What was not expected was the call for me to coach. A few clients suffered injuries repeatedly due to poor programming and eventually asked me to coach them. This would happen often when they learned that I have been programming for myself for the majority of my lifting ‘career’. A physical therapist is an expert on movement, and a valuable asset for any lifter. To have that in one person is exceptional. I can see movement patterns and how to fix them. However, I can also understand how to adjust programming to maximize success. I would not be successful as a strength coach without a therapy background, and I am MORE effective as a therapist because of my experience in strength sports.

Working from the previous question, how have you evolved as a Physical Therapist and strength coach over the years as you have gotten older and wiser? What changes have you made over the years regarding how you treat patients, in particular powerlifters? What lessons can you share?

I have gotten older and wiser when it comes to learning how people learn. The disconnect that happens from start to finish in a typical physical therapy office is communication. A therapist does not understand their patients’ goals, and a patient does not understand what the therapist wants them to do. I have grown wiser in finding out how someone learns and how I can set them up for success in the long run. Over the years, I have made changes in how I treat from where I start. This is especially true with powerlifters. It does not matter the experience or the knowledge, everyone starts with the foundational basic movement, and then treatment evolves from there. I think that is the lesson I would share with everyone. Mobility work and rehab does not have to be exciting or expensive to be effective. “Simple” can be just as productive. You cannot add complexity without nailing the simple stuff. For example, you would be surprised how many seasoned powerlifters have never learned how to brace correctly during a lift. 

What is the most underutilized exercise that should be a “must” for any powerlifting/strength program and why? What exercise doesn’t get the love it deserves?

Bracing! Forget weight and forget anything fancy. Find your transverse abdominus muscle and learn how to engage it AND BREATHE AT THE SAME TIME. You might hammer this skill out with deadbugs. However, there is a particular way to execute the deadbug that is the most effective and gets the least love. Number one, start deadbugs with head down, and moving legs only. Engage the core, hold the arch, exhale & lower one leg, hold it there, then reset, exhale & lower the other leg, hold it there, then reset. Once you nail maintaining the arch, coordinating that breath with movement, and while keeping the core engaged, then progress to alternate arms and head lifted. When you skip straight to alternate arms & legs or adding weights and bands you might miss the most important part. 

Many individuals reading this post have “desk jobs” and find themselves slouched over for many hours of the day. What do you see as potential long-term (or short-term) consequences for those who sit in a “slouched” position all day? Why is this such an important topic to address? How do you recommend tackling this issue?

Short term sitting all day in a slouchy position yields stiffness, pain, and headaches. While long term, you may be inviting carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, thoracic outlet, and piriformis syndrome to the party. Perfect posture may be impossible, but better posture is always achievable. Classic posture moves would work to open the chest (pecs, upper traps, scalenes) and strengthen the upper back & shoulder (middle traps, rhomboids, rotator cuff). As a short term goal, alter your desk area to be more ergonomic and add daily movement. For example, put your screen at eye level and set a phone alarm to take a walk every hour. As a long term goal, make a plan to get moving. For example, put yin yoga on your calendar or bookmark your favorite Instagram videos.

It is not uncommon to see certain powerlifters walk into the gym and immediately head over to the barbell and begin training, with little to zero active or mobility warmup. What do you see as the biggest problem with this approach? Would all powerlifters benefit from some form of mobility warm-up? Has tackling mobility deficiencies has helped you improve as a lifter?

A perfect analogy to this would make sense to a car enthusiast. Let us say you drive a monster of a BMW or a classic Mustang. And I drive the same car. Every morning, I start my car, take a walk around and do a quick inspection, drink my coffee, hop in, and head out. On the other hand, every morning, you start the car, ignore the gauges, and hop on the highway at top speeds. Which one of our cars is going to last longer? 

We have to start treating our bodies like machines. Keep ‘em well oiled (movement, hydration, rest), check the gauges often (any pain during warmups?), and adjust accordingly. Active warmups both prime your body for movement and allow you to check-in with your body. A great strength athlete understands the signals their body sends them and reacts accordingly. All powerlifters benefit from some sort of warm-up, which doesn’t have to be complicated or long. 5 minutes of flinging your body around in some manner and paying attention will do. 

On a personal level, tackling deficiencies has helped me to even out muscle imbalances (my left arm is WAY weaker), strengthen my foundation (flat feet are not the wave), and learn where the really middle is (I put way too much weight on my right when squatting). 

What are 5 mobility exercises/movements you believe every strength athlete should have in their toolbox? Of course, we know each individual is different and will require individualized specific exercises, but generally speaking.

5 essential movements would include one bracing drill, one balance / single-leg exercise, one rotator cuff move (shoulder external rotation specifically), one upper back exercise, and a hip opener. Addressing each of the areas will work most common problems we see in powerlifting like knee wobbling in the squat (single leg & bracing), front shoulder pain in the bench (bracing & rotator cuff), or excessive use of arms in the deadlift (upper back & bracing).

Let us talk about “Peach Problems.” You host workshops that focus specifically on addressing the glute muscles. When it comes to glute training, what do you believe is the greatest misconception? Where do you see most people go wrong when it comes to training their glutes? What advice and guidance can you provide to the audience to ensure they are training their glutes most effectively? 

I love this question. When it comes to muscles and misconceptions, I like to use this analogy. Everyone wants to do sit-ups and get a 6 pack (rectus abdominus) but they do not know how to brace properly (transverse abdominus). Everyone wants to do weighted bridges and join the peach gang (glute max), but no one has hip control or stability (glute med). Lateral band walks are catching on and that is cool, but I would love to see more clamshells, side planks with leg lifts, and single-leg balance drills being done. Get stable first folks. Aesthetics are cool but they do not hold you together. 

Many reading this may pride themselves on being “teachers.” Training knowledge is one thing, but being a teacher is something totally different. You can have a plethora of knowledge at their disposal but doesn’t necessarily make you the best teacher. Aside from your substantial knowledge base, you have a reputation as being a tremendous teacher. How have you, over the years, been able to perfect the art of teaching (coaching)? For those who want to improve their ability to teach, and their ability to coach, what advice would you prove them?

First off, thanks for saying that, it means a lot. Have you ever seen those memes that say, “explain to me like I’m five”? They are funny, but there is truth in jest. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but that knowledge will be useless if you do not know how to share it in ways that people understand. Who cares about big words? Further, if you cannot break down big words into concepts, do you really understand them? That is the first step of being a good teacher, understanding how to help others understand. Word choice and teaching methods must adapt to fit that need. Find analogies that work, cues that work, movements that make sense for each person. I would also say, hold space for your student. Everything is connected. Hear what they have to say and do not cut them off, repeat things to make sure you heard right. This will feed into the first part of learning how they learn, by learning what’s important to them.

I read this wonderful quote on your “Just Move Therapy” Facebook page: 

“That awkward moment when life comes at you too fast and something "bad" happens. Been there? Samesies. How do we react after unexpected injury, traumatic life stresses, and/or illness affect our wellness, training, & mobility? Can we pick up the pieces after everything seemingly falls apart? Spoiler alert, of course we can. Life is a journey and although we get sidestepped we can still keep moving forward.” 

For those who have a difficult time moving forward during moments of struggle, what advice would you provide? What are some strategies that have helped you move forward during difficult times?

The problem with athletes is an identity problem. We are athletes, therefore if we are unable to perform, we are no longer athletes. Sound familiar to your negative self-talk? We have to reframe from letting this happen. Problems are problems and shit will always happen. Trust me, I went from healthy to undiagnosed illness and happy fulfilled family to motherless all in the past 5 years. A lot can change, and things will always change. What should never change is identity. I am an athlete who does powerlifting. I am a powerlifter, and that is a part of me. If I cannot powerlift for whatever reason, I am still a whole me. Cling onto to that with all your might. In addition, find the things you can control in your circumstance, and cope with the things you cannot control. You do not have to get over it, but you do have to hold onto to your true self, hold a space for sadness, and make a plan to get moving again.  

When your time on earth comes to an end, how do you want others to remember you?

If anyone learns anything at all from me during my time here on earth, these are the few things that I hope will stick. Black and disabled womxn of color are badass and never less than; believe us, listen to us and amplify us. Invisible illness is real, but determination is more real. And dammit, warm-up before you work out.

Get to know Marcia better on Instagram


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