Julie Blandin, PT, ATC, CSCS, PRC
Julie, tell us about the evolution of your career and how you ended up becoming so passionate about PRI.
It’s interesting for us to reflect back and try to remember where we used to be. The evolution of my career is a bit much so I apologize for my lengthy answer. My career has evolved through 3 states – PA, VA, and CA and I’ve had to pack up and start over 4 different times due to my husband’s military career and regional relocations. Each move was a big transitional point for me to learn about myself, new cultures and meet new people who influenced my career path.
My career started off in the fitness industry, passionate about training and Pilates. I went through a phase were I was neurotic about my physique and worked out a bit obsessively. Resources I remember pulling from at that time were primarily the internet, magazines, NSCA publications and other general text books. These were fun years as “I didn’t know what I didn’t know”. I understood muscle actions and basic movement patterns, and was able to choreograph a creative work out as a Personal Trainer and Pilates instructor.
My understanding of the human body progressed as I worked various sports as an Athletic Trainer. As an Athletic Trainer I started to get into Gray Cook’s Athletic Body in Balance, Stuart McGill’s work, and NASM’s publications. These helped me get some strategic frameworks in place for looking at movement and doing assessments. Being an ATC locked in my love for working with athletes.
Physical Therapy school of course added to helping me understand the body in more depth and how to do assessments. Since becoming a PT in 2004, I’ve held various practitioner and management positions in both small private practice and corporate physical therapy outpatient clinics. I’ve always demonstrated clinical leadership and had an entrepreneurial spirit. I was in a clinical lead or director role since 2006 and I had my own business twice - one concentrated on training youth athletes in speed and agility programs and the other offered restorative and performance training and rehab services out of the Pebble Beach Resort - Beach and Tennis Club in CA. Currently I’m a regional manager for a large healthcare system and look after 4 outpatient clinics and 30 employees. These past 18 months in this role have given me a new perspective on leadership and mentorship, which I will be forever grateful. However, anybody that knows me knows I have always had a strong commitment to clinical care. I am looking forward to getting back into that full time and soon will be going through another transitional point in my career.
I was lucky to know early in my career that I wanted to specialize in sports medicine. I’ve recovered from 2 ACL surgeries, one tore playing high school basketball and the second tore years later playing beach volleyball. These injures shaped a lot of my learning and dedication to understand human movement. Both times traditional ortho rehab failed me. I remember being in my young twenties not being able to run without right knee pain. I was also having neck problems, and thinking “I’m way too young for this”. I was in great shape, lifting legs specifically to keep my legs (i.e. “knee”) strong 2-3 times a week, had “great flexibility” and “fabulous posture” as I taught Pilates classes a couple times a week... it makes me giggle thinking about the strong beliefs I had as a young professional, meanwhile I couldn’t run or turn my neck fully to drive… so embarrassing. But working with a lot of athletes and myself, I realized a lot of my patients were strong, had good mobility, and the dysfunctions causing their pain weren’t always that obvious. I needed to learn how to assess the body and movement at a deeper level.
Thankfully, I’ve always been a continuing education junkie. I thirst for new ideas and knowledge and drive my husband nuts with how much I like to push the educational envelope and spend on learning new things. If there was a course series out there I’ve probably taken at least one of the courses from that series. And if I connected with what they were saying I’d take them all and repeat the courses until I fully grasped the material. Besides PRI, I did this with several other methodologies which I continue to incorporate into my practice today – various manual techniques, functional movement impairments, kinetic chain reactions, and other neuro based movement philosophies. Ever since I can remember I’ve been the type that loved to learn and absorb as much information as possible. I’m attracted to difficult and challenging endeavors, which is probably what I found attractive about PRI – it wasn’t easy to learn.
Early in my PT career, after taking a few manual therapy courses I was determined to get a manual certification and become a “spine specialist”. I began to label myself as a hands on manual therapist. At the time, I felt extremity rehab was too easy for me and the advanced concepts taught in osteopathic manual medicine were new to me and challenging. Plus learning more spine rehab correlated well with my Pilates background. It was fascinating the improvements I could get quickly with manual medicine, but studying osteopathic manual therapy didn’t teach me much about movement and muscle function. I remember thinking at times I should have been a chiropractor. To help me understand movement better I dove into Shirley Sharman’s work and went to a bunch of movement analysis courses. I became fascinated doing gait analyses and saw the same dysfunction over and over again in these runners but didn’t really understand why.
A friend from Nebraska asked me to attend a PRI course with her. I didn’t know much about it, and it sounded interesting so we drove up to DC to attend our first course. James taught that course and I’m pretty sure I was lost 80% of the time. But as a committed learner, everything and anything I learned I would try to spend time applying it right away in the clinic with my patients and clients. In doing that with all the courses I went to, nothing rocked my world as much as PRI. I saw things happen that I couldn’t explain. Joints and mobility were unlocking without my mobilization. PRI was challenging me and making me think and apply anatomy and biomechanics very differently and strategically.
Even though I liked PRI from the start, I wouldn’t say I applied it correctly right away. It was defying many of my beliefs and how I was taught and currently practicing at the time. I was intrigued to keep learning more about it but didn’t understand how it was going to fit in my practice style. The main components of PRI I started using daily were the manual techniques because I had considered myself a “manual therapist” and it was easy for me to incorporate those techniques into what I was already doing. It wasn’t until after several PRI courses that I became fully devoted to diving into the material and trying to figure it all out. The more I started putting the courses together, the more devoted I got to the material and realized how I was over utilizing manual techniques. When I did PRI with the patients, I could empower them to get more involved and less dependent on me. I liked that. After a couple years of practicing PRI I saw the true value in it and enjoyed how it was piecing together relationships that I had intuitively figured out and saw doing manual work. PRI was also helping me understand the whys and how certain patterns were developing in people which I had been seeing repeatedly for years. The more I learned about PRI, the more fascinated I became in understanding the system fully.
Something some people may find interesting is, I remember going through a phase constantly failing at incorporating PRI into treatment programs successfully. I remember getting frustrated daily and wanting to abort PRI because I felt my life was so much easier before I ever learned it. The more I tried to ignore the patterns the more they haunted me and kept showing up. I literally knew just enough to drive me crazy. One of my employees recently told me about this quote “Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same, becomes greater than the pain of change” and this describes this part of my life well. The pain caused me to push harder trying to figure out what I was missing and why this PRI stuff wasn’t working for me. Looking back I can tell you it was because I couldn’t let go of some of the traditional beliefs that had been pushed down my throat for years. I was trying to mix PRI in with too many of my current practices, and I was trying to rush the “fixing” of the injury. I was not addressing the whole person, their behaviors, and habits that were driving the imbalance in the first place.
Since 2008 I have attended over 30 PRI courses and PRI is the main objective framework I use today to evaluate anatomical relationships three dimensionally. Even if the patient or client is not a candidate for traditional PRI activities I still use the tests to help me understand their biomechanical patterns and muscle balance and may incorporate PRI principles into their treatment while using other theories, modalities and interventions. It took me at least 4 years to get to the unconscious competence level of using it and that continues to be fine-tuned today. I believe once you understand the patterns and their deviations, it’s virtually impossible to look at the human body the same. Additionally, once you become good at understanding what the tests mean, it makes evaluations and screening people more efficient and effective -- so much easier on you as a clinician!! PRI gives me direction and helps me identify where and what to concentrate on first. This is one of the reasons I am so passionate with sharing the material. I believe it truly makes our jobs easier once you get through the tough stages of learning it.
What are the principles that have guided your professional development at each phase in your career?
Keep learning. The more you learn about the human body, the more you should feel like you don’t know. We are so much more than an orthopedic system of bones and muscles. The neuro system always wins, and the only system that has a chance to compete with it is the respiratory system.
Good posture is not about standing up tall. Posture is dynamic, three dimensional, and an interconnected linkage of parts and relationships. What happens in one area, has to produce an opposite reaction somewhere else. Learn the relationships and patterns associated with the three planes of movement and stop chasing pain.
It’s ok to be different. Be true to yourself and don’t worry about pleasing everyone else and fitting in with the mainstream crowd. You just need one person to believe in you and help you through adversity. If you figure out what your personal values and beliefs are and get yourself grounded in those, you will start attracting likeminded people into your life who you can team up with – which makes practice, work, and learning so much more fun and enjoyable!
Don’t get caught up in drama, egos, and negativity – certain people will always have an opinion about PRI because they’re paradigms don’t allow them to see the value in it. If you see the value in it, my recommendation is not to associate with them or waste too much energy down this road. The fact is the Institute will continue to keep growing and the truth will come out in the end. There is too much integrity within this system and it is deeply rooted in principles and natural laws. It will preserve through judgement and each year we continue to watch PRI grow.
Periodically evaluate your effectiveness as a therapist, trainer, and leader. Are your patients and clients getting the results that they came to you for? Are you getting these results efficiently and repeatedly? Seek out honest feedback about your current practices– when patients or clients are not responding to your programs – are you looking at what you may be missing or are you blaming them? If people disappear off your schedule or stop showing up do you seek out feedback to understand why?
I believe it’s more effective to learn one system at a time than trying to learn several systems at once. There was a point where I was trying to do too much and trying to mix PRI with my own beliefs or other systems that didn’t share similar values. All this did was complicate compensations, muddle the pattern, and camouflage the key objective measures that were telling me the direction I needed to go. I’ve seen this same struggle in people I’ve mentored.
Get effective at applying the basic principles. When things get confusing, go back to applying and perfecting the basics. Oftentimes cleaning up the basics is all the client’s needs, but it’s easy to travel down the “up and coming” road and to not be patient and consistent enough with applying the basics. Perfect your application of the basics principles.
Being an effective professional means knowing your own blind spots. You need to know yourself, to grow yourself. Knowing yourself doesn’t mean trying to fix your weaknesses as much as it means knowing your strengths, when to capitalize them, and when to silence them. All strengths can be a weakness when pushed out of balance or when being used at an inappropriate time.
Knowing yourself and your strengths makes you a better team player to synergize and produce results larger than you can do alone. Building your team doesn’t mean pairing up with people that think exactly like you. The best synergy and teamwork comes when you bring different specialties together who respect and value each other’s differences. Learning how to work with other professions is crucial for long term success.
You are currently working to develop an affiliate course with James Anderson titled PRI Integration for Fitness and Movement. How has your background helped you in the development of this course?
Without a doubt I can say the variability in my career has helped me take a well-rounded approach with developing this course. I have been dedicated to understanding the various paradigms that people view fitness, performance, movement, and PRI. James and I have consulted with many people across the country. I think I’ve become a better listener through this whole process – well I at least tried! I tried to listen and understand the language and trends amongst these professionals and piece together ideas and viewpoints while looking for opportunities to help people piece together PRI, apply it more ethically in their setting, and identify the underlying themes seen in the industry.
I also highly respect the differences associated with different professions and also have a strong passion for making interdisciplinary care and a team approach work. I believe trainers, coaches, therapists, dentists, and doctors can and should creatively collaborate and synergize expertise to work together to improve the health of our communities and each individual we serve. With this passion, I’ve witnessed and experienced the struggle with communication and associated contention due to too many professionals being used to working in silos. When I say communication, it’s not only communicating about PRI, but also being able to communicate in one universal language that can be understood amongst various professions. I hope my passion for interdisciplinary care and my ability to explain complex concepts in a common language will help others communicate better. I am passionate about teaching and talking in a language novice and experienced PRI professionals can relate to and respect.
What have you learned during the process of developing this new course that you would like others to know?
That there are a lot of “right ways” out there to do things. I’ve learned that a lot of people have strong opinions and that our industry is and will remain quite versatile. There are many different paradigms which “experts” look at movement and view fitness. We can all learn from each other. I don’t think any one method or any one person has all the right answers. One ironic thing I realized is many disagreeing people are saying the same thing and just using different words to describe the same basic principles and similar concepts.
Also you can overdue everything. Every theory or method can be taken to an extreme and be made out to be something it’s not, including PRI. Oftentimes we don’t need to go down these extreme paths, but instead we need to get better, more consistent, and more patient with applying the basics. I hope this course will help more people understand the value in staying rooted in foundational basics of PRI, elaborate on our understanding of those basic principles, and influence health in our communities in a positive way.
What do you feel course attendees will benefit from the most after attending this new affiliate course? (Some teasers for the course here J)
I know that this course will help attendees piece together PRI and help them apply it in a more systematic way to the everyday movements which are taught more mainstream. Attendees will be presented a framework to look at and understand trunk stabilization and “the core” at a whole new level. This course will also help attendees look at gait and various planes of three dimensional movements. We will break down flexion and rotation in a whole new light learning the value of keeping the core dynamic through a PRI lens. I think the concepts taught in this course will also improve the language that is associated with PRI and will help people discuss principles of PRI more universally and comprehensively. Lastly, we are going to discuss the differences between fitness and performance especially how performance enhancement is specific and multifaceted. I hope that the course attendees will learn how to sneak PRI application in more often in their programming and into their conversations with colleagues that don’t know anything about PRI.
Who have been some of your mentors in your career? How have these mentors helped you become the clinician you are today?
Many various people have influenced my career at various stages. Early in my career the Director of Sports Medicine at my college, Saint Francis University, believed in me and encouraged me to sit for the BOC ATC exam. This had opened up many doors of opportunity and gave me great experience working the athletes and developing a love for sports medicine at an early age. My first Physical Therapy job was also a great experience. I had a great first boss and the owners of that private practice taught me a lot. They molded my work ethic, allowed me to go to a ton of continuing education courses, and helped be develop efficient manual and sports medicine skills. This experience shaped a lot of my core business beliefs I have today. Another good friend of mine was a business owner who also believed in me and encouraged me to do things differently. She mentored me and helped support me through the challenges of moving for my husband’s career and encouraged me to open up my own business. In the PRI community, Mike Cantrell and James Anderson have been my biggest mentors. They’ve answered so many of my random questions and I can’t thank them enough. I wouldn’t be where I am today with PRI without their mentorship. Lastly, I would have to say another mentor would be my most recent boss and the visionary leadership of the healthcare organization I’ve worked for over the past 18 months. They taught me the value of making sure you have systems and processes in place to drive long lasting results in your business and influenced my beliefs on how to grow and mentor employees and how to run efficient sustainable operations.