It has been a long time coming, but gyms are starting to open back up and the glitz of falling back into your gym/fitness routine is in the works. However, before you cannon ball into your routine, or even something new, consider the importance of bodywork and massge therapy when it comes to your recovery. If you want to stay active, avoid injuries and improve your performance, let me give you some reasons why I think massage and bodywork is so critical for the long haul.
Massage and Bodywork therapy has an endless list of benefits, but when looking at performance, three of my top being:
1. Reducing the risk of soft-tissue injury: bodywork and massage can help prevent soft tissue injuries by way of relaxing tense muscles, reducing adhesions and scar tissue, and lengthening fascia.
2. Help maintaining flexibility and range of motion: by increasing temperature of soft tissue through bodywork, this helps increase tissue elasticity, reducing swelling and inflammation around the muscles and joints. With increased range of motion, this in turn helps to prevent injury and increase relaxation.
3. Reducing recovery time after exercise: Addressing your soft tissue after exercise can help ease inflammation, improve blood flow, and reduces muscle tightness. Now, I know it isn't ideal to have a massage after each time you workout, this is why stretching and cool downs are so critical for longevity and injury prevention.
I believe to my bones, that if people focused more on moving well and getting into a self care routine, there would be far less injuries and much more longevity of life and in the sport. You may have to strip your ego a little and re-educate your movement, but trust me, it will pay off.
how fascia impacts you
The understanding of our muscular systems is ever changing, especially that of fascia and its function and characteristics. I want to dive into what fascia is and how this connective tissue that lines your entire body (not just the bottom of your feet) is affecting the way you perform and live.
Fascia is connective tissue that covers you from head to toe. Think of it as an internal mesh that holds you together- it lines every fiber, organ, and bone in your body. It has two major jobs: structure and communication, sounds pretty important, right? It is composed of collagen and elastin that allow not only extreme strength but uber flexibility.
Why and how does something so important cause such big issues? After an injury or surgery, your body sends new collagen to the injury site to help protect, which is great. But it is done so in a very chaotic, unplanned manner and because collagen is tough it can cause deviations and restrictions in soft tissue limiting function of the surrounding muscles and joints.
But Sara, I don’t really have any major injuries and never have had surgery?
I spend a lot of time working with folks with painful fascial adhesions due to crappy biomechanics and movement patterns.
You strain your lat doing pull ups during Murph, sure a week later the pain goes away, but the damage is done at a cellular level. A few months/year later it will show up in the shoulder or QL. This can be more dangerous down the road and lead to unexpected major injuries. Shameless plug: start getting bodywork done yesterday and put it into your weekly self-routine.
How to prevent fascial build up?
1. MOVE- your body was built for movement. Get up out of your chair that is jamming up your hips and back. Get up from the computer screen that is causing chronic neck pain and your shoulders to round. Holding a pigeon pose for 30 minutes isn't going to correct years of stagnation in a chair. Move, AMRAP style.
2. GET OUT OF THE SAGGITAL PLANE- rotate, bend, side to side. Tissue and fascia can also get congested and stressed out in the same line of movement.
3. BODYWORK- muscle maintenance is critical for everyone, that is all. Don't wait until you have a major problem, put it in the routine and make it an investment.
4. HYDRATE- our bodies are more than half water...need I say more.
Start a routine. It isn't rocket science, but it is important. I promise that years down the road you will thank yourself.
Just you watch!
If you are in the Charlotte area, I would love to help you feel better if you are feeling tight or need some work done!
We all know by now, I hope, that the key to performance is recovery. When we recover optimally we can train harder and not feel like dumpster fire. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors out there and a lot of murky information or scams like oils you rub all over your body to help you “recover”. People push all kinds of things to boost their recovery, but a lot are not backed data or research and most you come with a social media influencer’s discount code.
I have always been the “show me the data” kind of person, but in the case of recovery, I think getting back to what we have always been told gets left behind. I am no scientist or expert, but I can tell you what I think is important. If these things are honed in on, your bodies ability to recover better will increase and therefore allow you to train harder...win win. take it or leave it:
If these aren’t fine tuned, your epsom salt baths and CBD oils don’t matter fam.
1. Snooze Hard. Not just getting the quantity of sleep you need, but the quality of sleep you need. Once you find your sweet spot of hours, it is critical to dive into other things for your routine such as temperature control, I like 66-68 degrees. As we know, blue lights can be detrimental, a dark room with no screens is great. I use blackout curtains and a white noise sound machine. Whatever you do: drink tea, meditate, journal, yoga, pray, read, just make sure it is YOUR schedule and your body vibes with it.
2. Diet & Nutrition. Let us make one thing clear, I am NOT a dietician or nutritionist, but I know plenty that can help. But I do know that PROPER nutrition (quality and quantity) is queen when talking about growth and recovery. I won’t go down this rabbit hole, but just know that this is a game changer and there are GREAT sources out there, but also phonies.
3. Programming. Can I get an “AMEN”- Proper programming people. We all have different goals, experience, and bodies, so please have a program that is sensible for you. You are only able to accrue so much volume and intensity before injury comes and slaps you across your jowls. Forget injury, too much training can cause burnout. If you aren’t enjoying what you do...then maybe the program isn’t for you. And we can’t forget about programming deloads/rest days.
4. Parasympathetic TLC. Humans always seem to be idling in a sympathetic state. Don’t get me wrong, this is great walking up to a barbell, but we shouldn’t be cruising in this state all the time. If you are always in this state, it will take more and more to get there during a workout which will lead to diminishing returns. What this looks like for each person is different, so a few examples are: taking a few minutes to walk and stretch after a workout and turn off the Five Finger Death Punch after, breath work throughout the day,getting bodywork/massage,taking a REST day, and a hot bath and a good book
5.Work Capacity. Well, what does this actually mean Sara? This is your body's ability to produce work over different durations, intensities, and using different energy systems. Tap into other energy systems and grow your thresholds over different modalities. GPP. Read and educate yourself in these areas.
Again, these are not novel ideas, I hope it sparked something in your head of what you are currently doing and where you can tweak some things to live a better life, train hard, mitigate injuries, and actually recover. Shift priorities, especially now that we have the time.
Whether you know it or not, we demand a lot from our backside, especially the glutes and hamstrings. Hip extension, knee flexion, posture, smidge of rotation, speed, and well, power. Let’s us send a #blessup for our glutes and hamstrings for allowing us to walk, stand, and run.
Quite simply, myself included, most folks and even athletes have horrendous glute and hamstring development. This not only puts you at a MAJOR risk for INJURY in sport, but it also simply means you have a lot left in the tank you aren’t tapping into. If your glutes are weak and tight, they’ll tug on your hips tipping them forward (anterior tilt) and compromise functional movement and translating into sport. Nobody likes dysfunction (or maybe you do) and this trickles down, or up I should say, the stream leading to “swayback” posture effecting your spine, in which your lower back arches and shoulders round.
Simply put, a hot mess.
Let’s dive a little deeper into this, especially the beloved glutes. Yes they are important for all around aesthetics, no one raps about a small booty. There is actual function and purpose behind training them that goes well beyond an Instagram hashtag.
Most people think glute max when they hear “glutes”. While this is one strong dude and a powerful hip extensor, we can’t forget about your gluteus medius and minimus. These two are key in stabilization, abduction, rotation mainly. Huge movers for our bodies, so why are weak glutes so common? Well, we sit…a lot. Drive to work, then sit at work, then drive to the gym, move for a little, then drive home, then sit to eat, and then lay down in bed. Repeat. Due to our heavily sedentary lifestyles, many of us suffer from weak and under-active glutes. Unless you are a high level athlete or Olympian your standing to sitting ratio is probably heavily swayed. Because of this inability to develop our glutes effectively, they cannot properly engage and recruit during our training sessions, leading other part of our legs to compensate. This leads to growth and/or injury to other parts of our body such as low back, hamstrings, and glutes, leaving our backside falling short. I would bet that if you took 3 months to work on your backside, that low back pain would peace out.
How do I know if I have weak glutes? Most common symptoms or red flags I see are tight hip flexors, knee pain, low back pain, and weakness in ankles. Tight hip flexors are really an issue of weakness not tightness. A perfect example would be weak glutes causing hip imbalance. This may lead to aggressive rotation of femur, when in turn (see what I did there) can cause knee pain. So guys, your glutes are so important, I can’t stress this enough. You can couch stretch until the cows come home, but if you don’t get stronger butt, these issues will become chronic.
Now that we have stressed the point of a strong butt, where do you start? Whether you are a runner that wants to improve your 5k time or marathon pace, a weightlifter that wants a stronger lockout at the top of your deadlift, an Oly lifter that wants to learn how to generate more power in your clean, or just look good in your fresh in your new Lulu leggings, there is a program for you. Let me introduce you to my friend, strength coach, and glute connoisseur, Emilio Evans. He has developed a 3 month “Glute Program” that will get you to your goals, I promise. If you are interested in picking up this program FOR FREE, please connect with him via email or Instagram. His contact information is below.
If you are an athlete at any level, I am sure soreness is a part of your identity now, but do you know how to tell the difference in pain/injury and muscle soreness? Here is a simple overview of the difference of soreness and pain and when to rest and recover or take other measures to get to feeling better.
Time Matters- and not just in your workouts.
The huge thing to note when differentiating between soreness and pain is time. Natural soreness from physical activity has a much shorter duration of time- typically a few days. It will typically buff out, a lot slower if you aren’t recovering, stretching, bodywork, Epsom salt baths, etc. Soreness should last anywhere from one to three days, depending on the athlete. If you have experienced pain- you know that it can come on quickly, most of the times while engaged in exercise or shortly after. Pain will typically linger after 3-5 days and make it difficult or even impossible to partake in any exercise or daily activities.
Pain isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is our bodies “check engine” light and alerts us that we need to fix our shit.
After strenuous exercise, or exercise after a hiatus from physical activity, it is natural to experience muscle soreness- you may hear someone say they have caught the DOMS (we will get into what that is a little later) Usually, muscles are tender to the touch or burn slightly with movement.
Hello muscle soreness.
During workouts, our muscles are put to the test and face fatigue. This usually doesn’t hit until a day, usually two later…DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Discomfort will gradually go away but a red flag indicator of something more serious is when the pain is persistent, during rest or fitness. This is your sign, please seek help so you can start to move, live, and workout pain free.
Okay, so DOMS. No soreness, no growth?
DOMS can be a great sign of muscle damage cause by training and as we know the body “renews” the damage to our muscle cells so that we can endure more load and intensity. Aka “muscle growth” aka “gains”. So, now that we understand on the surface what DOMS is, let’s briefly go over what DOMS is NOT. It is not the buildup of lactic acid. High intensity exercise DOES lead to lactic acid, but soon after, during rest, lactic acid is excreted or burned off. DOMS is the result of the muscle damage, mentioned above, which leads to inflammation.
Even though soreness is inevitable, how can we try to stay a few steps ahead of soreness?
First, know YOUR limits. Not your friends, not an Olympian not your mom's…YOURS. Prepping your body pre-workout and recovering, stretching post workout. I will state the obvious here: REST, HYDRATION, and NUTRITION play major key roles in recovering. Switch up your activity as well. 21-15-9 and 1RM daily aren’t the best idea. Fun? Yes, but if you are in this for the long haul, be smart.
"Do your worst"
One of the biggest misconceptions about deep tissue massage that I have come across as a therapist, is that most people who walk through my door believe that if there is no pain, they have gained nothing, or when it is painful I hear "no don't back off, work it out." The term ‘deep tissue massage’ actually has nothing to do with the amount of pressure that is applied, but about working the deeper tissue layers of muscle and fascia in order to correct, and heal an area of dysfunction the client is presenting with.
As a bodywork therapist I treat a lot of athletes, and generally active people who have primed their nervous system to bare intensity. They come in with this fixed mindset of "no pain, no gain", and some even want the session to be painful because it feels like I am "being effective". Trust me, you can be effective without experiencing pain.
When someone comes to see me requesting deep tissue massage I often find myself educating them on my goals for the sessions and keeping the nervous system happy with me. Can it be uncomfortable? Sure. But, it is never my goal to make it painful just to please the person. A session with me should be slow and intentional, working through the muscle tissues layer, by layer. Giving an increased amount of attention to the dysfuntional area (typically not where you are feeling pain) and trigger points found along the way. Many therapists make the mistake of trying to ‘force the issue’. Any skilled therapist will tell you that they get much better results by allowing the tissue to respond on its own, and release under a slower, more focused approach as opposed to forcing it.
As with most anything, if you take the forceful approach, it is usually met with increased resistance. Muscles will have more of a tendency to ‘push back’ against a lot of pressure, and with that you aren’t really accomplishing anything with the treatment, except maybe some bruising and soreness the following day.
I am not saying that you won’t have any pain, or discomfort during a deep tissue massage. Working on the trigger points and already sore, tight areas will be somewhat painful. It is usually described more as the ‘hurt so good’ feeling though. It should never be unbearable to the point where you feel as if you can’t relax, or breathe through it. I always tell my clients that on a scale of 1-10, if the intensity of what I am doing goes over a 6 or 7, that I will need to back off. Everyone has a different tolerance level, so communication and attentiveness is key during a deep tissue massage.
And as always, remember to drink plenty of water after a deep tissue massage.
The front part of the upper arm is composed of a network of muscles, the smallest of these being coracobrachialis. Even though he is small, he can cause some pretty mighty issues.
The primary function of this muscle is to help bring the arm towards the body. A secondary duty is to help stabilize your arm when it is at your side. The coracobrachialis muscles lies midway up and on your inner part of the humerus. Along with all it's own responsibilities, it is also a synergist to the anterior deltoid and biceps in flexing the arm at the shoulder.
How do I know if I need bodywork done of this guy?
The pain will typically show up in the front part of the shoulder, and can even present itself in the back of the forearm/upper arm. Depending on how long you have been dealing with pain, you may have a shooting pain that feels more acute going down the arm. If put off for too long, you may experience loss of range of motion (raising your arm overhead/putting your hand behind your back).
Another very distinct referral is pain into your middle finger, specifically in extension.
Most cause of injuries to the coracobrachialis are physical/sports related: push-ups, climbing, throwing, or weightlifting. Most of the time, strains like these will go away on their own, with a little rest and recovery. Try this stretch out to target the coracobrachialis
Don't get punked by your body.
Seriously, your body is laughing at you when you chase pain. Just when you think you have tried everything, maybe it is time to think outside the box. There is nothing to lose except pain.
Rarely is the site of pain the cause of the pain. It may seem counter intuitive, but the part of your body that is yelling at you is not what I, or you, or any therapist should be focusing on. Pain is simply a way for your body to communicate with you. "Please change your habits" "Houston, we have a problem"
Recently, I have had a lot of new and seasoned clients approach me with knee pain so I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the good ole patella.
The patella, aka knee, is embedded in the tendons of the anterior thigh muscles (quads) and forms the patellar ligament that originates on the tibia. Your patella lies over the hinge joint formed at the knee that provides flexion, extension, and very slight rotation of your lower leg. Your knee is very mobile and weight bearing for sure, but we can't give it too much credit. We must give attention and credit to what is going on above and below the knee. If the hip and ankle ain't having it, we know the knee is going to suffer.
Things to look at when experiencing knee pain:
A. Mobility and Stability in the hip: losing range of motion (ROM) in the hip can lead to the knee taking a beating. Spend time taking your hips through extension, flexion, rotation, ab/aduction.
Click here for a great dynamic hip warm up.
B. Ankle Mobility: decreased ROM, especially in the dorsiflexion plane, leads to the knee picking up a lot of slack. Dorsiflexion is crucial, because it allows your shin bone (tibia) to move forward freely and if our tibia is stuck in a vertical position, this will in turn decrease our ability to create force in the hips, and even create a "flow-on" effect up the chain to the knee, thighs, hips, and lumbar.
Everything is connected and everything matters.
Take Care. Move Better
You have all felt it: that burning, or sometimes aching pain between the spine and shoulder blade. We try to rub our traps fearlessly and dig into our rhomboids, but you might wonder why this doesn't bring lasting relief.
I introduce to you, serratus anterior.
Serratus anterior is one of many muscles that resides in the realm “sensori-motor amnesia”. It is compliant and gets the job done, but rarely begs for attention. The Serratus Anterior originates on the upper nine ribs and the fascia between the costals, then flows in front of the shoulder blade and attaches to the anterior vertebral border of the scapula. It's primary job is to help bring your shoulder blades forward aka "protraction" with assistance from pec minor and upper fibers of pec major. When this trifecta shortens, it can often result in stooped posture and rounding of the shoulders. Serratus anterior also rotates the scapula upward and also assist in breathing. Energetically it may be associated with movements such as: handstands, pushups, downward facing dog, and of course, we can't forget throwing a mean "big swing" in a boxing ring.
So what can strengthening and freeing up the serratus do for your body?
1. Solid deep breathes: who doesn't love breathing? In all seriousness, the serratus also acts as a breathing accessory muscle by helping the ribs expand back and out to the side, which means deeper breathes that makes our nervous system happy. This is especially critical during strenuous workouts. The body needs to process energy and oxygen quickly and if your serratus is glued down, those bigger muscles are going to have a hard time working.
2. Neck Relief: If the serratus muscle is struggling or slacking, guess who is picking up the work...you got it, the neck. This can lead to a number of problems, but what I see the most is forward head posture and compression of the cervical spine and all kind of headaches.
3. Range of Motion: who doesn't want better range of motion? Along with other muscles, the serratus anterior is a shoulder mobilizer. A healthy, supple serratus will provide optimal humeral and shoulder function, and this will allow the arm to articulate with much more freedom. Freedom is great
4. Better Performance: need I say more? golf swing? freestyle stroke? throwing a right hook? or do you just want to breathe better?
How do I build strength in my serratus? Great question.
there is more, but this is a great beginning start. Make sure that your shoulder blades don't wing out and don't let those shoulders round forward.
But how do I find or activate my serratus anterior? another great question.
1. Standing Wall Press: Stand facing a wall at full arm's distance, place palms shoulder height on the wall. Lean forward as if you were doing a standing wall plank. Now, without bending your arms, drop your chest toward the wall. You should feel your shoulder blades come together (retract) on your back. Now, push the wall away from you, and you should be feeling the shoulder blades go wide apart (protraction).
I truly believe in the power and change that exceptional bodywork can have. I also believe that nutrition and what you consume is not only a direct impact of your fascia and tissue quality but can extend the benefits of what we do in each session, unequivocally. Food is medicinal. I am a huge advocate for self care, but if nutrition is faulty, you are missing a big piece.
So does diet matter? Absolutely, But not nearly as much as how stressed we are about it.
Often, this stress comes from our why. Why we do what we do.
What we eat has become a source of stress for a lot of us, and we look to science and the latest studies to tell us what is best, healthiest, cancer-preventing etc. I wish we paid more attention, from a nutritional standpoint, to what gives us joy and pleasure, de-stresses our system and makes us feel good inside and out. If you eat healthy sometimes, say yes to french toast and pizza every so often, enjoy your ice cream with immeasurable joy and try not to obsess or shame yourself when you do indulge, then you probably have a relatively healthy baseline, your fascia is probably healthier than most and this is a recipe for “normal” or average amounts of pain.
Whether you’re preparing for or recovering from an injury, optimizing health, or working towards an athletic or performance objective, you already know how important nutrition is as you work toward those goals. Just orient your goals from a positive place of low-stress- your nervous system will thank you and your fascia will reflect this.