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Release me…and let me ride again

It takes more than good lube and proper tools to enjoy the ride.
It takes more than good lube and proper tools to enjoy the ride.
p.gerrard©2014

With apologies to Engelbert Humperdink, sometimes even the teacher has to ask for help to solve a problem that's beyond a "just Goggle it" solution or increasing one's budget for large quantities of Advil.

Dave Jordaan, aka Cyber Cycle Coach, is one of the OC's top cycling coaches and bike fitters. Dave got entangled in a wreck on the 405 a while back. He walked away. But months later he was still sore and more than a little creaky.

A very hands-on person, "Coach Dave" mentors training rides for UCI's Anteater Cycling Team and cyclists who want to up their skills and fitness. Now he had a problem: he could "talk the talk" but saddling up for the long Saturday rides was increasingly frustrating.

"I'd start out, but have to bail part way through. I just couldn't pedal through the pain." The usual tweaks to saddle position and stem angle offered only temporary relief. And even time, the great healer, gave him no improvement.

A man with a reputation for solving even the most nagging bike fit issues was beginning to wonder if he'd be able to continue cycling. It was time for a new approach.

"I called Kathy Flippin. She's expert in Active Release Therapy. I've known of her skill and have referred riders to her."

Jordaan continued, "It wasn't a painless treatment program, and I knew that going in. But it works. Without Kathy I'd not be riding. Or at least not with any degree of power, comfort or enjoyment."

I caught up with Kathy at a local bike shop, where she was dropping off her bike for a few adjustments. Aside from being personable and having Dave as a reference, Flippin also cycles…which in my estimation means she has a better understanding of what bike riding does to the body than therapists that don't.

Here's a brief look at her take on massage, sports massage, and massage that specifically targets injuries.

It seems that "massage" is a term that has many meanings, and massage studios are becoming about as prevalent as coffee shops. Many offer a "Sports Massage." In your experience, is this effective for athletes and us weekend warriors? What do you get from this kind of "Sports Massage?'

There isn't one kind of "sports massage", just like there isn't one kind of "training ride", and as you so eloquently put it "the Eskimos have 27 words for snow". An athlete in training has more sophisticated needs. A serious athlete has different phases of the season, such as strength building, power generation, speed work, and endurance. Most people use sports massage as a general tonic to reduce soreness from workouts—which is VERY effective, and most entry level massage therapists are pretty good at providing this service.

But beyond getting a moderately firm overall massage of the large, superficial muscles, there is a lot more that an expert massage therapist can do. If you have restrictions in range of motion, or muscle pain, then you may need a deep tissue sports massage from a more experienced and knowledgeable sports therapist. (I consider Active Release Therapy (ART) one of these, along with trigger point and neuromuscular therapy). But deep tissue can hurt (some people brag about how much deep pressure they can take), and if it hurts while it's happening, it is probably causing inflammation. My philosophy is "less is more". Think of scratching an itch- if you scratch too hard or too long, you're going to create redness, or even cause bleeding. Some athletes get a "hangover" or are left with bruises after having a deep tissue massage- they actually need more time to recover from the massage than from the workout! I think this is counter-productive. The different types of sports massage should be applied as appropriate to the training cycle. Just as you know that you should build strength and endurance separately because they counteract each other, you should be very choosy about when you apply deep tissue techniques. Understand that deep and firm are different- deep refers to the deep layers of muscle, the small gristly ones underneath it all. Firm massage can be broad and superficial.

What's Active Release Therapy?

Active Release Therapy is a hands-on technique that can release muscles, tendons and nerves from tension, adhesions, and entrapments. The body's musculature is constructed in layers from deep near the bone, to just under the skin—like an onion. But different from an onion, our layers need to slide above and below each other. When they don't slide right, due to inflammation, tension or scar tissue, we feel pain, stiffness and restrictions in movement. ART can help by pressing on the muscle while stretching the other layers around it to release the things that are stuck. It's used mostly for injury management

How does ART differ from massage?

Massage in general is for soothing the nervous system (a massage that will put you to sleep), and reducing general tension and soreness that is related to our activities. It's for soreness that you would expect from the type of activity you've done. But if you're way too sore after a workout that wasn't very demanding, then you're injured, and ART can be a lifesaver.

Massage has many different aspects, but most styles, especially those we see in the US, are variations of Swedish massage, which uses a lot of flowing compressive movements and kneading and gliding over the skin. Aside from the light, slow pressure ones that rub a lot of oil on the skin and make you feel like a wet noodle. This is very calming and good for your head. But Swedish massage can also be more brisk and firm. These techniques are intended to increase circulation, which cleans out toxins and makes muscles more pliable. A regular massage lasts from 30 minutes to one hour (or 90 minutes if you're really tense!). ART has no skin-glide, so it doesn't really do much for circulation. It's a very specific pressure point associated with a very specific stretching movement. It's often done over the clothing, and can be done in 15 minutes. In fact, I'm one of the few massage therapists doing ART, it's mostly practiced by chiropractors and physical therapists. Massage is a broad treatment approach for overall tension, and ART is laser-beam focused for pain relief and restrictions in movement.

General massage can be done with very broad, basic understanding of anatomy, but ART requires very detailed knowledge of every muscle in the body and how it works, and what pain it can be causing.

What should a cyclist look for when considering massage therapy? And what does massage therapy accomplish?

Amta-massage.org is a great resource to find someone in your area. If you just need a basic, overall massage that will flush and renew your tired body, that's not too hard to find, and can be very affordable. At a minimum, a therapist should have over 750 hours of education and hold a valid license/permit in their area. But if you have pain that is holding you back, you need to find someone with more experience and education. Look for referrals from friends, coaches, and doctors for the best leads, or call before you go in and ask lots of questions.

Any tips for cyclists in terms of stretching pre-or-post ride?

As we get stronger, we get tighter. If you want to be both strong and flexible (both of which are required for optimal performance) then you'll need to spend 5-10 minutes stretching 1-2- times per week just to keep from losing what you've already got. But if you need to improve your flexibilty (can you touch your toes with a flat back?) then you need to stretch 3-5 times per week for 10-15 minutes. If time is limited, then cut your ride short and do your stretches. Those few minutes spent stretching will give you more benefit than if you spent them on the bike. Stretching both pre and post is ideal, but if you can only do one or the other, then afterward is best.

Anything else? Tips?

Remember, sore and injured are different- it's every athlete's journey to train hard enough to be sore, but not too hard to get injured.

You need to experiment a bit to find out what works. Make sure you work with a therapist that will take your feedback, so that you can coach them into the pressure that your body responds to best. Don't think your therapist can read your mind. NEVER let someone work deeper than your pain tolerance, you must speak up. Less is MORE!

Off-Season: Work on posture, flexibility and improving range of motion with deep tissue/myofascial techniques.

Strength and Speed Phases: use brisk swedish/sports massage with stretches to maintain flexibility (we get tighter when we get stronger/faster), and to reduce workout recovery time so you can train again sooner/harder. Deep tissue can be used sparingly as long as they don't cause soreness after the massage.

Power and endurance phases: use regular General firm but not deep massage to reduce inflammation and soreness on rest day of your higher volume weeks, and also prevent overuse injuries from muscle fatigue.

Post-Race- you don't have to suffer with sore legs for a week after that epic, podium-worthy performance. If you get a massage within 24 hours of your race, it may prevent the soreness entirely by flushing out the muscles with broad, brisk, firm pressure.

In terms of Injury management find a therapist that uses deep tissue techniques and is experienced in working with injuries. It's common (and somewhat expected) to be sore for about a day afterward, but there should always be pain relief, and a feeling that your problem is getting resolved.

Kathy Flippin can be reached at Dynamic Touch in Costa Mesa. 949-650-4240. Email: kflippin@msn.com