Sports Massage and Performance
The other day, I had a long massage just before my workout, and I think it actually made me weaker. I always hear that massage is supposed to help improve recovery, so do I maybe need to seek out another therapist? Or should I avoid massage before workouts?
Don’t fire your massage therapist just yet! There are many different kinds of massage, and I suspect that the massage you had might have been more appropriate after a workout rather than for pre-training. The ideal type of massage for “pre-event” purposes is very light, most often done without oil, for about 20 minutes before an event. We use broad compression strokes, jostling and light friction at tendons to warm the muscles up, loosen them from spasms prime them with blood.
Massage has become an indispensable part of my work with athletes. My Los Angeles-based athletes are treated by Dianna Linden, MT, CFT (who may be contacted at diannal@netVIP.com), who uses a wide range of techniques and disciplines with her clients, many of whom are athletes. I asked Dianna to comment on your question, and here is what she had to say:
“Massage which is of a deep tissue style or sports massage of a clinical nature is used to release spasms or adhesions (old or new) from muscles and tendons. This type of work is more invasive and does require some recovery time before the muscles are ready for peak performance again. For this reason, this type of deeper tissue work is best done in the off season or as part of the athlete’s rebuild phase so that the tissues are ‘available for training’ without damaged or restricted fibers restricting their ability to fully relax and contract. After deep tissue style massage the muscles might even feel tender and weaker for that day and a day following the massage. After that, they should perform better, being freed from the internal restrictions of the erased adhesions.”
Dianna also cautions that If a large range of motion is important to the performance of the athlete’s sport or training (for example, deep squatting or dumbbell bench presses) the athlete should take it easy for the first workout and be aware that the synergistic functioning of the antagonists has been temporarily altered by the release of the adhesions. For example, if the hamstring has had a large spasm or adhesion in it and the deep tissue work relieved some portion of that spasm or all of it, the muscle might behave differently, the leg could go forward faster, thus affecting the athlete’s gait. This is ultimately beneficial for performance, but could be temporarily disconcerting to feel your leg moving faster than you are used to. This takes some re-orientation for the athlete and would hardly be noticed by the average person.
A well trained sports therapist should inform her client what to expect from the work and how to choose what kind of massage is appropriate for their immediate goal and how to best time the massages to be most affective to help the athlete achieve enhanced performance. So communicate with your massage therapist, and I’d suggest that you treat a deep massage almost like a workout – don’t make any strong demands on those muscles for a few days following the treatment.
Weight Training for Martial Arts
I read your bookwhich emphatically encourages weight training for improved martial arts performance. After implementing a few weight training cycles into my Tae Kwon Do competition preparation, I ended up slower and feeling unusually awkward. What do you think I’m doing wrong?
Simply moving your pawns, knights, and bishops forward on the chess board does not assure victory. Before you decide to quit on you resistance training program, let’s examine a few avoidable mistakes that can contribute to diminished results on “event day:”
First, timing is everything. Being undertrained or overtrained on contest day can spell disaster for any athlete; but if you time it just right you’re in the medal hunt. The proximity of intense resistance training to competition can even throw off a weightlifter – imagine how that effects an athlete who must cope with a highly technical skill element! In an undertrained state, an athlete has been away from his/her resistance training so long that they are suffering detraining effects. The more common obstacle is overtraining, however – something that martial artists seem to have a patent on. Intense lifting places great demands on the nervous system, so intense technical and tactical training (which also taxes the nervous system) should be placed on the “back-burner” while strength is increased. Because strength training debilitates skill temporarily, reduce and eventually discontinue the strength training program as the event nears. The closer the contest is the more refined and specific your training should become.
Sometimes the best intentions hit a pothole. It’s possible that the training was timed perfectly well; however, exercises selected and the muscles targeted were flawed.
One of my favorite tricks, which I initially learned from my colleague Charles Poliquin, is to emphasize the antagonists. For example – tae kwon do, which places great emphasis on kicking, encourages athletes to develop the quadricep, the muscle responsible for extension of the leg. In the mix, the hamstring, responsible for flexion (in this case retraction) of the leg is forgotten about. The quadricep and hamstring have an ‘agonist/antagonist’ relationship. This means one muscle lengthens while the other shortens and vise versa. When an agonist/antagonist relationship exists it becomes incumbent upon the opposing muscles to ‘protect’ each other by decelerating the force of the concentric activity. Therefore, one possibility is that your quadricep’s ability to deliver force with a kick might be limited by insufficient hamstring strength.
Feeling awkward could also reflect a neglect of skill retention during a strength training phase. Although you should certainly reduce the total volume of technical training during a phase designated to strength improvement, basic drills a few times a week for will help an athlete to adjust to increased muscle mass. I find that my martial artist clients who begin a weight training program for the first time must be prodded to keep up with their technical sessions, since weight training tends to make you feel heavy and stiff, at least during a hypertrophy phase.
So, before discounting the benefits of strength training specific to fighting, consider my advice, and also look at the trend: athletes such as Rickson Gracie, Lucia Rikert, and Evander Holyfield carry impressively muscular physiques while projecting an aura of invincibility around them in the ring.
Misconceptions of the effects of resistance training
I just joined a gym to lose weight and tone up (I feel very cliche saying that, but it’s true!). After filling out the paperwork, the sales guy introduced me to a trainer who showed me how to use aerobic and circuit training equipment. It’s not my intention to look like the female bodybuilders I see on TV, so should I keep the reps high on the machines, or just stick to the aerobics to slim down?
Without the backing of a statistic, I’ll venture to say you have most common goal among new fitness enthusiasts. As well, you probably have one of the most common misconceptions of the effects of resistance training on your body.
First, let’s clarify your goals:
1) Lose Weight- here we are invariably referring to reducing body fat. (not just weighing less).
2) Tone Up- I hate the term “tone,” (Tone is simply, a partial, involuntary muscle contraction, which is possible even if you’re obese) so let’s just say that we want to increase muscle mass (fortunately, you don’t have to wait nearly as long as a bodybuilder to realize your goals!)
“Slimming down and toning up” can be viewed as a stop on the route to bodybuilding. Take as many transfer passes as you need to get where you’re going – when you get there, it’s completely your decision to continue on or stay where you are. What I’m saying is – training like a bodybuilder, using the tools that the fitness instructor at the gym showed you, will steer you in the direction you want. Incidentally, you will see many gradual progressions in your body – in other words, you’ll never wake up one morning and find that you went “too far.”
Now, in the immortal words of Seinfeld’s personal trainer, “All aboard the pain train!”
First, get off to the best possible start by hiring a reputable professional trainer (Thewill be glad to help you find a great trainer in your area – just call 800-892-ISSA). With or without a trainer there are a few guidelines you should follow. Spend the next eight to ten weeks performing one or two sets per workout/per muscle targeting all or most of the muscles on your body (not just the areas you¹re primarily concerned about). By developing more muscle all over the body, your metabolism will elevate due to the fact that you have more tissue that requires fuel (this may be one reason why men usually have lower body fat percent); hence, you will be burning more body fat all day long. Not a bad deal, huh?
Be careful not to get too comfortable with the initial program, however. It’s not unusual to accomplish a great percentage of your training objective in the first couple of months, regardless of what program or system you’re using. Like a drug that makes you feel better, it is very hard to discontinue an exercise program that is producing results. However, realize that along with the benefits you are seeing, there is an accumulation of drawbacks as well. For example, squats can be a terrific exercise for the quads, hams, and glutes; however, prolonged squatting for months or years with no significant break could lead to overuse injuries in the joints. So don’t be afraid to change a few variables in your training every few weeks (after the initial eight weeks, rewrite your program every 3 or 4 weeks).
Another point to consider: Moderate amounts of aerobic exercise will elevate your metabolism, however, excessive aerobic training can have at least three major drawbacks: First, excessive aerobic exercise can exhaust muscles, most frequently in your lower body, leaving them unable to perform at the intensity you need to develop them to the point you desire during weight training. Second, the caloric expenditure created during the aerobic exercise can end up consuming the protein in your diet if you don’t eat just enough calories. In this case, there won’t be sufficient protein in your body to repair your healing muscles and provide enough energy at the same time. And whenever your body has to choose between energy and growth, energy always wins. Finally, studies have shown that large volumes of aerobic exercise can cause muscle necrosis (tissue death). Not very productive in my book.
So in summation, emphasize a constantly changing resistance training program, low to moderate amounts of aerobic activity, and please come back every month. I’ve got a lot of valuable information to share over the coming months!
Training Alone and Home Gyms
I always (or usually, anyway) train alone in my home. For chest, I always bench inside my smith machine for safety because I don’t have a spotter. I’m well aware that top body builders don’t get big using machines, so could you recommend any changes that could increase the effectiveness of my pec workouts while keeping them safe?
Before I answer your question, I have to first say that the Smith machine isn’t completely foolproof! It IS possible to get stuck in one, because you can’t always hook the bar onto the pins. If this happens, you’re REALLY stuck! I strongly recommend using a spotter anytime you use this device.
Getting back to your question: I happen to train my clients (and often, myself) myself in private settings. This being the case, I am often in the same boat as you. Although implementing a training partner is superior for safety and motivation, I realize it is not always a reality, so I do have a few suggestions.
First of all, I would not necessarily look at machine exercises as inferior. As a matter of fact, machines often allow you to reach a higher level of exhaustion without fearing for your personal safety. In my mind, machines are only inferior when you use them exclusively. Relying only on machines is likely to minimize results because prime mover (the muscles primarily targeted) development is limited by your body’s ability to stabilize yourself during the exercise (this is why you can always bench more with your feet on the floor than on the bench).
Luckily, you don’t have to be an unstable person to incorporate unstable movements into your pec workout! Dumbbells are an excellent way to accomplish this. Try exhausting the stabilizers with a dumbbell bench press or flye as your first exercise. Having a greater tolerance to the unstable nature of this exercise, your prime movers (the pectorals in this case) will not exhaust as quickly as the muscles stabilizing your body during the exercise; therefore, when you cannot continue pressing the dumbbells due to the fatigued stabilizers, you will be able to maintain the same intensity for more sets, picking up with the Smith machine bench press where you left off with your dumbbell bench press. At this point, your Smith machine becomes a great tool for optimal exhaustion.
Most home multi-gym gym devices have an attachment for dips. Dips are probably the most effective pec exercise that can be performed without the aid of a spotter (if you have any know shoulder problems, I’d talk with a competent orthopedist who understands strength training first, however). Start the exercise from a sturdy block or support set high enough to easily return your feet to. Should you misjudge your ability to complete a set, you can maneuver your feet to the block and remove the tension on the pecs (and more importantly, shoulders). For more advanced trainees, the dip can create a safe environment for eccentric training. To perform an eccentric dip, you must again place a block below your feet, starting with the arms extended and lower yourself in a controlled fashion. As you descend to the end of your normal range of motion, place your feet on the block, assist yourself to the starting position, remove the tension on your feet, and continue until the set is complete. Particular attention must be paid to safety and control during the flexion of the elbow during dips. Note: it is preferable to position the block so that the feet are always above the block when not assisting in the movement.
Finally, I must point out that the bench press can be safely performed alone through the use of safety spotters, a device which can be set to catch a bar just past your normal range of motion, allowing you just enough room to remove yourself from a failed attempt. Using a power rack with safety pins can also be used for the same purpose. Either way, NEVER bench without a spotter!!! EVER! And one last point while we’re talking about safety – even though it feels better to have your thumbs on the same side of the bar as the rest of your fingers, never do so. One slip is all it takes, and the consequences are disastrous. It’ll only take a handful of workouts to get used to the new grip, and who knows – you might be eligible for lower life insurance premiums!
Bicep Curls Useless for High School Athletics
My football coach will not let us do curls he says they have no place in training, but I say they do. The biceps must be there for a reason, right?
Since the biceps is often thought of as a “show” or “beach” muscle, bicep training is often over-worshiped by young male trainees, but also excessively discouraged by well-meaning coaches. To say, as many coaches do, that the biceps has no function for a football player demonstrates a basic lack of understanding.
I understand your coach’s sentiments – he’s just trying to emphasize function over aesthetics. However, it’s kind of like telling school kids not to read the latest controversial book‹ it¹s the best way to guarantee that they will!
The biceps plays a pivotal role in the function of the shoulder and also in the articulation of the hand. It also balances the forces created by the triceps at the elbow joint. So I hope your coach will someday take less of an “extremist” position about this issue, but in the mean-time, see if he’ll allow you to perform more chins – a great bicep movement, but just tell him you are doing it for your back strength!