True story: I got into massage because I wanted to get better at CrossFit. I’ve been around CrossFit long enough to remember when you had to download the videos from the Main Site in either Quicktime or WMV. Other than my front rack position, though, I did not move well at first. I also discovered Mobility WOD around episode 10, which seemed like magic at the time. The desire to serve other people, my love of CrossFit, and my interest in how stuff works, led me to pursue massage therapy.
So, as someone who’s been around CrossFit for 11 years, and in massage and bodywork for 5, how can therapeutic massage and bodywork help CrossFit athletes? In my mind, there are three main ways.
Reduce your risk for injury
Want to hear a fact that blows my mind? If you are physically active, you are MORE likely to suffer injuries and chronic pain than someone who is sedentary. That is totally backwards, but is also avoidable.
The lifestyle of the average adult American results in very limited mobility in important areas of the body. These include, but obviously are not limited to the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine. Regular therapeutic massage and bodywork has been shown to improve flexibility. When you pair a smart training plan that loads all joints through their full range of motion, such as CrossFit, you can improve your mobility. Increased mobility, i.e., increased range of motion under load, improves what Gray Cook calls your “margin of safety.” CrossFit, and picking up your 2 year-old’s tricycle, carry less risk.
Why should you care about reducing your injury? Besides the obvious, I mean. When you’re injured, you can’t train, and training is how you meet your diet, body composition, fitness, and adventure goals.
Remember Karen? I sure do. Couldn’t walk normally for nearly a week. Research has shown that exercise creates a small amount of tissue damage. This damage causes inflammation, which stimulates the body to repair itself. It’s the repair of damage that provides the adaptation, not the exercise that induced the damage. Make sense?
Well, inflammation hurts, it’s why you’re sore after a hard workout. Pain causes the body to change the way it moves, so that it can avoid further injury. This is all well and good, but with a big training dose, sometimes the altered movement patterns that you developed while sore hang around for awhile. This limits your ability to move and train well.
Therapeutic massage and bodywork can help normalize movement patterns, so that you can move like your normal self again. Happily, normalizing movement patterns also tends to reduce the feeling of soreness, even though nothing metabolically interesting is happening. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s clearing lactic acid, or removing toxins, or any other nonsense. Maybe you get a bump in mitochondrial activity, but that’s it.
Set a PR every time you step into the gym
Ok, maybe not every time, but look, good technique is faster and stronger than poor technique, and improving mobility helps you have better technique. I guarantee your deadlift will go up if you can get into the start position effortlessly. Your snatch will go up if you can improve your overhead position with the barbell. Your Fran time will go down if it’s easy to keep your elbows up on the thrusters. Good massage therapists, like us, can help you get into position easier, so you can move heavier weights faster.
CrossFit is a really effective way to exercise. Constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity is an awesome recipe for improving fitness, and all the benefits we want from that. Partnering with massage therapists who have a combined 15 years of experience, both as CrossFitters and working with CrossFitters, can help you squeeze every last ounce out of that investment.
Scott Robison, LMT #12892-146, practices structural bodywork and massage in Madison, WI. His Rx’d Helen time is faster than his Rx’d Fran time.