As athletes we put our bodies through such a great amount of physical abuse from vigorous training regimens, long, hard fought games, and hours of intense practice.  In my experience it’s amazing how little athletes do to repair their bodies from this abuse.  Remember, the body is a kinetic chain, all components of this chain exist interdependently.  If one segment is not functioning efficiently, then the other components must compensate, leading to tissue overload, fatigue, and faulty movement patterns.  In order to truly get the most out of one’s physical abilities, it’s vital to be at 100% or as close to it as possible going into every game, practice, or training session.  I’m a firm believer it’s not practice that makes perfect, rather perfect practice makes perfect.    I want to highlight several ways to help athletes competing in any sport to assist their bodies recovery processes in quest of Ultimate Human Performance.
It’s no surprise to me that massage therapy techniques are being incorporated by athletes at all levels of competitive sports.  Massage therapy is so widely respected in fact, that in 1996, it became an official part of the medical services provided for the athletes during the Olympic games in Atlanta.  The benefits of massage therapy are vast.  Here’s a few analogies that may help to better understand how massage can be advantageous to any athlete.  Your car gives off carbon monoxide as a waste product of running, when we exhale we breathe out carbon dioxide as a waste product of respiration, when we train and play sports our muscles produce waste products in the form of acids and unwanted stress hormones( most notably lactic acid and cortisol).  Massage therapy is an excellent way to directly create circulation within the target muscles.  This increase in blood flow is great for removing these toxins from the muscles which are ultimately eliminated (or neutralized) from the body creating a more preferred environment for growth and recovery.  Massage involves applying mechanical pressure to the soft tissues, and this is believed to result in improved muscle flexibility, increased range of motion in the joints, and decrease muscle stiffness.  Also through massage therapy we can increase the temperature of the muscle, as well as a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.  Many athletes report feelings of relaxation, reduced anxiety, and improved mood as a result of massage therapy.  Indeed, many athletes do find an edge as a result of these psychological benefits (physiological benefits are the aforementioned advantages).  In my opinion, the most overlooked and under appreciated aspect of massage therapy is the mind/muscle connection that is created by the neuromuscular re-education that occurs during deep tissue work.  It can become a little painful at times, however it’s an integral part of the recovery process for any athlete to regain balance, rhythm, and flexibility or you won’t be as quick and responsive on the field the next time out.  Thus far I’ve been referring to the benefits of massage therapy as it relates to a healthy, injury free athlete.  It’s important to note that the injury healing properties of a deep tissue massage are invaluable as well…simply put, massage therapy allows copious amounts of nutrient laden blood to saturate an effected area therefore decreasing healing time immensely.  **I purposely did not get into the affects on the Lymphatic system, I am however currently working on a future, in depth article on Lymph, Lymph Nodes, essentially the entire Lymphatic System!
Those who don’t have access to a good massage therapist, or just don’t have the extra money for a massage can still get many of the benefits of a deep tissue massage through techniques referred to as, self myofascial release and trigger point therapy.  Fascia is a seamless web of connective tissue that covers and connects the muscle, organs, and skeletal structures in our bodies.  Fascia is located between the skin and the underlying structure of the muscles and bones.  Muscle and fascia form the myofacia system.  Muscle fascia can be manipulated either directly of indirectly, allowing the connective tissue fibers to reorganize in a more flexible, functional fashion.  One of the most effective times to incorporate deep myofascial stretching is in between your sets while training.  Stretching the muscle fascia during bouts of hypertrophy can cause a cascade of anabolic activity within the body. This is great for maintaining the elasticity to the muscle and creating greater blood volume to the training muscles, not to mention the injury prevention aspect of this principle.  Remember, more blood to the muscle means more nutrient delivery.  Think of it like this, if you put an iguana in a restricted size habitat the animal is limited on how large it can grow.  If you allow it to develop in an open environment with plenty of space, it’s growth potential is inherently maximized.  The muscles are no different, think of the fascia as a housing structure for your muscles, the more you can stretch and expand the “cage” of the muscle fibers, the more you increase your bodies potential for growth and development.  Trigger Points are simply what we refer to as knots in the skeletal muscle.  Generally they are hyper-irritable spots associated with distinct nodules in taut bands of muscle fibers.  I believe that trigger points are a form of our bodies natural defense system.  For example, when we have any type of nerve impingement or a minor strain(which is not uncommon in sports) our bodies have a defense mechanism to lock around the injury as a protective measure.  Your probably asking yourself, what avenues can I as an athlete take to combat this and what role do I play in self myofascial release?  My personal favorite apparatus for self massage is any old rolling pin, simply put a good amount of pressure with the rolling pin on the muscle or muscles your targeting and roll it up and down as well as side and side.  Keeping in mind to stretch the muscle during and after the self massage.  Another household object I like to use is a golf ball.  You may either lay on the ground or use a wall to place the ball around the trigger point and by allowing your body weight to press against the golf ball you can really dig into the effected area.  With the golf ball therapy it’s not necessary to use any more resistance that your own body weight, press the ball into the knot for approximately 10 sec before releasing, then repeat several times before moving to another area.  Ideally you want to target each area for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes followed of course by deep stretching, this goes for the rolling pin concept as well.  If you attend a gym or health club you have probably seen long cylindrical foam rollers, they can be used in the same way as the rolling pin and golf ball, however the foam rollers do allow a little more versatility and has a larger surface area, which can be useful for larger muscle groups.

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