Continuing our “Good Plan, Better Body, Best Athlete” series, this month’s article focuses on structural maintenance, specifically the benefits of massage and chiropractic care. As an athlete you can get a lot of benefits from regular massage including improved blood flow to muscles, improvement in nutrient absorption, clearing metabolic waste, reducing muscle and connective tissue tension, improving elasticity and stress relief. Chiropractic adjustments keep the body’s skeletal system properly aligned, greatly reducing the postural issues that are so common amongst cyclists. Endurance athletes in general are especially good candidates for massage and chiropractic adjustment, due to the long and repetitive training hours they put in week after week throughout the year. Because of the long hours required for endurance sports, recovery often falls by the wayside but, it is absolutely essential for improvement, performance and injury prevention throughout the year.
What all that actually means:
-Improved Blood Flow / Nutrient Absorption / Clearing Waste
Tight muscles restrict blood flow to those fibers, which reduces oxygen and nutrient supply to the muscles as well as the removal of waste products that are produced during exercise. In addition to simply feeling sore this also means your body’s efficiency during exercise is greatly reduced because your muscles are not receiving the fuel they need in order to perform. Deep Tissue or Sports Massage restores blood flow by pushing the blood back to the heart and stretching out that tightened tissue that is restricting blood flow restrict the returning blood flow. As tight muscle fibers relax the blood can now flow freely throughout, bringing in oxygen and nutrients and carrying the waste out.
-Reduced Tension and Increased Elasticity
Tension is due in part to waste build-up from lactic acid and also to tight muscles because of the fixed posture that is held during cycling. Muscles will shorten over time if they are not used in their full range of motion and the cycling posture is very restrictive (see last month’s article on stretching for more on this) Massage stretches out, not only the muscles themselves, but the connective tissue that surrounds them. Known as fascia, this connective tissue surrounds muscle fiber and bodies as well as muscle groups almost like seran wrap throughout the body. When the body isn’t properly stretched and hydrated, fascia begins to shrink and bind resulting in “tight spots”.
-Cortisol (the “stress hormone”)
Your body needs to be stressed to make performance gains but it also needs rest in order to ultimately achieve those gains. Intense training without proper rest can result in elevated levels of Cortisol. Cortisol causes your body to release stored carbohydrates and fats for immediate use enabling you to use all your body’s energy in one go. Cortisol can make you feel tired, rundown and moody, even after a day of rest. It is one of the hormones responsible for the “fight or flight” response our bodies undergo when placed in high-stress situations. Whether it’s an important job interview, race, or being chased by a pack of rabid dogs, the response is the same. In small doses this is a good thing. If your body is unable to lower the cortisol and it continues to build however, the results can be disastrous from a training and performance perspective. It has also been linked to reduced immune system function. Literally making you sick and tired through overtraining. Massage stimulates the parasympathetic response, the opposite of “fight or flight” and has been shown to reduce cortisol levels.
John Engelbrecht, D.C., is a chiropractor, cyclist, and triathlete in Tallahassee. His practice, Engelbrecht Chiropractic & Rehabilitation can be found on the web at doctorjohndc.com and by phone (850)668-7062. As a chiropractor, he has treated a number of cyclists from serious competitors to recreational riders and has found they all have common issues related to their sport. Here’s what he says about back pain and the benefits of regular adjustments:
“As a cyclist we’ve all experienced that nagging pain between the shoulder blades and the tightness that goes along with it. Maybe you are training for a triathlon and are logging hours in the aerobars. Maybe you are trying out new hand positions on your handlebars or did a long pull at the front of the pack. Either way, there is nothing quite like that annoyance.
Fortunately, chiropractic adjustments can help to relieve those symptoms in as little as 5 minutes. The thoracic spine, or midback, provides the structural support for our upper body and shoulder regions. When we stress that region through our various cycling activities, oftentimes the spine becomes misaligned and the supporting musculature tightens and spasms to protect the area. A simple and painless chiropractic adjustment to the misaligned thoracic vertebra can eliminate that pain and offer immediate relief. Regular maintenance adjustments during your peak training months can also help prevent that pain from occurring at all. Adding regular chiropractic adjustments to your training regimen leads to happier, more comfortable training and a better race day performance.”
Whether you’re training for a weekend crit or the Tour de France, receiving regular maintenance anywhere from once a month to once a week (pre and/or post event) can greatly enhance recovery and improve performance. Just like your bike, your body needs regular “tune-ups” in order to continue functioning at it’s best. Make sure your therapist is qualified to do the work you need, specializing in Sports Massage or Deep Tissue. Communicate your needs before the session begins and during don’t hesitate to ask your therapist and/or doctor to spend a little more time on a particular spot if you feel you need it. Your therapist and/or doctor will appreciate the feedback as it will help them give you the best treatment possible.