Learn how simple self-maintenance can save you a lot of time, money and frustration.
Homework was never the after-school activity of choice but if you wanted to excel in school, you had to do it. Distance running, much like school, requires that you give up some of your precious free time to do the little things necessary in order to excel come race day.
Beyond the usual protocol of stretching, icing and core work that most runners will do to help keep their bodies firing on all cylinders, massage or bodywork is also something that any runner should add to their post-run repertoire. But the treatment shouldn’t stop once you leave the therapist’s office.
“Regular treatment teaches you self-massage, which teaches you body awareness,” says Chad Fix, a licensed massage therapist in the Boston area. “Treatment is necessary to maintain length of muscle, blood flow to muscles, decrease fascial constriction (for greater flexibility and maximum contractions of muscles involved), and also decreases recovery time.”
The thought of regular treatment, and the cost associated with it, might not be appealing to some, but it doesn’t necessarily mean going into the massage therapist’s office once a week. Fix recommends that recreational runners only seek out treatment every 2-3 months, but maintain a thorough stretching regimen. If you don’t run consistently, chances are you aren’t pushing your body to the point where it needs the extra professional attention.
Competitive runners, Fix says, should consider a more aggressive, consistent approach to bodywork. “A competitive runner should try to get 30-60 minutes of massage work every 4-6 weeks,” says Fix. “This will help you to see the gains of your efforts and ultimately better performance.”
Professional treatment can get expensive, but incorporating self-maintenance into the mix can help reduce the amount of time and money spent on treatment. Runners should consider seeking out a massage therapist “as needed or based on a self-assessment”, according to Fix. This might mean popping into the office for a quick session between regular visits in an effort to keep a minor twinge from turning into a big setback.
Body awareness should be a skill that every runner possesses, but it’s not one that can be easily taught. “A good therapist should always show the patient the take-home exercises for self maintenance,” said Fix. “A good therapist will show you how to dig into your calf with your thumbs and show you how to apply pressure.”
A good therapist will also show you where your trouble spots are and how to work on them when you’re not in their office, which is a crucial element in bettering your own sense of body awareness. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: the more questions asked, the more you’ll take away from a treatment.
There are many self-maintenance tools available to runners. “[A] foam roller is the most utilitarian piece of equipment that any athlete can own,” says Fix. It’s not very portable, but allows you to get deep into a muscle and better target your tight spots. A massage stick can also be an effective self-maintence implement, and has the advantage of being portable for when you’re on the go.
There’s an entire host of extremely helpful household items that help with basic at-home treatment, too. Rolling pins, tennis balls, golf balls, and even an ordinary (frozen) water bottle are all easy to come by and cost-effective, and can help keep common ailments such as plantar fasciitis and sore muscles at bay. “The key is to find a tool that fits the circumstance, but don’t use an item so dense that it bruises the tissue,” advises Fix. “Jamming a golf ball into an inflamed area doesn’t always work, but a frozen bottle might help out a lot.”
Getting to know your body and learning how to alleviate distress takes time and energy. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and better understand your body. Knowing how to interpret any warning signs and performing simple self-maintenance can save you a lot of time, money and frustration.
About The Author:
Eric Narcisi is a freelance writer and runner based in Boston, Massachusetts.