When I was 12, I was introduced to bodybuilding methods of strength training. My first exercise was a pull-up. A man at the gym where my family friends play tennis told me “once you can do it 10 times on your own, come find me and I’ll show you something else.”
Needless to say I was determined to achieve this great feat of strength so I could learn more. I insisted my dad buy me a pull-up bar. Each night after dinner I would try to pull myself up repeatedly. Sure enough, after just a few weeks I was managing 8-10 underhanded gripped pull-ups on my own.
Over the course of one year, I added push-ups, squats, lunges, bicep curls, and dips. The next year I went from being cut during tryouts to being a varsity athlete as a sophomore. Although the team aspects of sports was more compelling than the competition, I learned strategy, timing, and ran drills both on the field and in my head everyday. I became quite a multi-sport athlete.
But the injuries…
Then, junior year a knee injury, then sprained ankles, and feeling sore became seasonal issues I managed each year.
I became a good, yet frequently injured, athlete. By the time I was in my 20s I’d been in the Albany Emergency Room so often the doctors would remember me saying “what happened this time?” Being injured sucks but what’s great is the body’s ability to heal itself over time… sort of. However, what I found was after my first ankle sprain, I more frequently re-sprained that ankle or my knees and hips would ache regardless of what sport I played.
Had I known then what I know now, I would’ve been injured far, far less. So what is it that I know now that I didn’t know then? Well, quite simply, becoming a great athlete isn’t just about how hard you train, it’s also about how well you recover and reboot after training.
It’s all about the connective tissue again
If you have a son or daughter who plays sports but seems to get injured each season, I have some advice for you. There’s a missing link in sports performance today to improved performance and a reduction in chronic pain and frequent injury. The issue is in your connective tissue. When an athlete trains for a sport, repetitive movements cause stress and strain in this supportive tissue (comprised of collagen, proteins, water, cells… lots of stuff) creating physiologic changes in its quality and integrity. Two researchers I greatly admire, Carla and Antonio Stecco, have studied deep fascia and the connective tissue layers that support and connect muscle cells, fibers, and bundles allowing communication and performance to maintain optimal efficiency.
What we now know is that deep fascia is considered a source of pain, secondary to nerve pain receptors becoming enmeshed within fascia that has undergone physiologic changes. Densification and fibrosis are among such changes. Both issues modify the mechanical properties of deep fasciae and damage the function of underlying muscles or organs. Diet, exercise, and overuse syndromes are able to modify the viscosity of loose connective tissue within fascia, causing densification, an alteration that is easily reversible. Trauma, surgery, diabetes, and aging alter the fibrous layers of fasciae, leading to fascial fibrosis.
Let me simply define the two issues so you can understand how training hard can be a very finite part of your life if you don’t care for your fascial tissue as part of your training protocol.
- Densification: this is caused by repetitive movements and postures causing an increase density modifying the mechanical properties and performance of fascia but doesn’t necessarily alter the general structure. Densification is truly a lack of fluid flow in fascia or what we call in MELT, stuck stress. Cellular dehydration is a natural cellular process occurring to everyone, everyday, regardless of age, activity, or nutritional habits. MELT reduces this thickening and can reverse the effect if you just restore the fluid flow of this tissue daily. Good news, it takes all of 10 minutes a day to keep this tissue in a better state than training alone.
I always say, we have all felt cellular dehydration – that stiff feeling you get after sitting for long periods of time or after a long run, when you decide not to MELT right after and about 6 hours later your joints feel like someone put glue in them. You are feeling the viscosity or thickness increasing, causing a low grade inflammatory effect, which ultimately causes densification. Add poor diet and overuse syndromes many athletes end up developing and you are increasing your risk of trauma, surgery, diabetes, body fat, and accelerated aging, further altering the fibrous layers of fascia. Keep that going and you are slowly causing tissue to become fibrotic.
- Fibrosis: Repair/reactive process causing increased amounts of fibrous tissue altering the fascial structure. Scars are a great example of this. So let’s say you sprain your ankle, you say 6-8 weeks and you are healed I say, think again. Although you might be able to walk without a limp, for those who have had a sprained ankle, the weeks you hobbled around, not slowing down as you should have, you also cause compensation, further causing densification of tissue in other areas. Although, yes, your ankle heals, the scar tissue can cause a breakdown in communication on the sensory level.
Pathological changes in fascia can inhibit, irritate, and alter nerve pain receptors as they become enmeshed in fibrotic, dense tissue. Fibrotic tissues can modify the mechanical properties of deep fasciae and damage the function of underlying muscles or organs. So long after you think you have healed, inside your body, it doesn’t really look that way. The end result is an increased potential for injury, poor motor patterns, neurological weakness of muscle timing and control, joint damage, sprains, stiffness, and ultimately and end to your sports career or recreational fun.
How MELT can help
So why don’t you say you listen to me, a 45-year-old athletic body that loves to train hard but does the recovery work so I don’t pay the price for my love of looking and feeling strong, fit, and healthy? Let’s add MELT to your life.
In our recently completed low back pain study, we found significant reduction in fascial thickness, increased flexibility and stress/relaxation time in myofascia in only 4 weeks. This easy to do self-care program is the very best place to being restoring this stability system so you can play hard and feel great at the same time. Good news here, it only takes 10-20 minutes a day, you can do it just before you go to bed and for most of the treatment, I don’t care if you watch TV or listen to music while you MELT, as long as you MELT. If you add MELT pre-training you will find immediate improvements in control and movement, and if you MELT after, you can reduce some of the negative effects repetitive sports performance demands.
If you are a fan of foam rolling, MELTing for just 5-10 minutes pre-your deep rolling treatment can reduce sensitivity and you can actually gain more benefit with less pain. I get the idea that if it’s not hurting you it’s not working but self-care and restoration doesn’t have to be and really, it shouldn’t hurt. Why would you cause more pain to get out of pain in the first place? Does that even make any sense? Not to me.
So from recreational athletes to CrossFit junkies, if you are looking to stay fit and pain-free at the same time, you need to know about MELT. Your performance depends on it.