Massage – One of the most effective tools out there!

Massage – One of the most effective tools out there!

sarah at foam rolling session with joe smallerby Coach Sarah

I recall one of my early instructors during our first Anatomy Lab class at Clinical Massage Therapy school saying that our muscles are “dumb” and easily trainable like a dog.  I remember sniffing my nose a bit at that statement, being the athlete that I am who takes great pride in what people’s muscles are capable of doing.  But now, many months later, and many massages later, I know exactly what she was referring to.  And it’s not an insult at all!

Indeed, as athletes, we train our muscles every day to do something that’s out of their “comfort zone.”  And guess what?  They listen!  Much like a well-trained dog.  J  But here’s the flip-side to that.  Our muscles sometimes listen SO well, that they forget to “let go” of whatever we’ve trained them to do.  Muscles don’t have the capacity to just “go back” to their resting length—or ideal comfort zone—without some kind of signal from our brains or from an outside source (i.e. a foam roller, physical therapy, or a massage).

Everything we train our muscles to do can eventually backfire on us if we do not remind them how to go back to neutral.  When too much time passes between interventions (again, foam rolling or massaging), our muscles adopt patterns that can become very hard to break.

Here’s an example:  If someone sleeps in a curled-up, fetal position every night, with their legs scrunched up and their arms held tightly to their body, their muscles will begin to think this is the position they are supposed to maintain.  I’ve worked on numerous people who sleep in this position, and inevitably they are plagued with tight biceps and pectoralis muscles.  Their hip flexor muscles are almost always chronically tight, and their glute muscles lose some of their ability to contract with optimal force (because they are stretched out while sleeping.)  Their hamstrings become chronically tight from the knee (since the knee is flexed), and weakened at the hip (as they are stretched out along with the glutes.)

These patterns become so engrained, that a “muscular intervention” is called for to help break these sub-optimal patterns!  Massage is one of the most effective ways to do this, as muscles can be deeply manipulated by a therapist.  Essentially the therapist can hit the “Control-Alt-Delete” button on the muscles to get them to resume their optimal resting length.

Another example:  Cyclists often have chronically tight hip flexors (iliopsoas muscle & adductor muscles) from the upstroke, and knee extensors (quads) from the downstroke.  Runners often have chronically tight hip extensors (specifically the glutes) from the foot-drag portion of the gait cycle, and their hamstrings pose chronic problems either by becoming over-stretched, or tight from knee flexion and hip extension.  Swimmers often have chronically tight internal shoulder rotators (pectoralis muscles, biceps and subscapularis muscles) from the pull-through of their swim stroke, and tight rotator cuff muscles and deltoids from the recovery phase of their swim stroke.

All scientific jargon aside, the point is that we train our muscles all day long, whether it’s during activity, or rest.  And any ongoing changes to optimal posture will eventually catch up to us!

So how do we break these patterns?   The best tool I’ve found out there yet is massage!  When done effectively, it resets the muscles.  This allows them to find their true resting length again, which in turn frees up our joints, and makes foam rolling and stretching more effective on a daily basis.  And when done in an ongoing setting, it brings an awareness to our muscles, our bodies and our minds – an awareness of how we can and should feel without muscular restrictions.

If you haven’t tried out a massage yet, I urge you to give it a try.  Naturally I’d like to suggest you try it out with Experience Massage!  (I’m a little biased of course, as I know I like to treat muscles to completion, not based on the clock, and some muscles are more stubborn then others!)  J  But at the end of the day, I’d just like to know that people are giving massage a try, going to the therapist with whom they find the most relief.  (Massage is part art, part science, so everyone will respond differently to different techniques.)

Our bodies and minds are so interwoven and connected, that we are short-changing our potential as athletes, and our inner sanctity as humans, when we do not place a priority on caring for our well-being.   We truly deserve to feel good, and to feel whole.   It brings out the best in us all!

Sarah Farsalas is the Director of Massage Therapy and Cycling Programs with Experience Triathlon  She is a Licensed Massage Therapist, USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach.   Learn more about Coach Sarah, Experience Massage and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com

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  • JimR

    Thanks Coach Sarah for sharing both you knowledge and expertise with your ET peeps. The positive effect of regular massage works wonders on the body and the mind of those you treat. Thank you for caring the way you do.