I came home from my time with the Northern Arizona Elite professional running team last summer convinced that every serious athlete should carve out a little time each day for what I will loosely classify as physical therapy. I’m talking about foam rolling, mobility exercises, and other activities that help put the musculoskeletal system in balance, keep it healthy, and improve functional movement capacity. Very few athletes do this stuff with any consistently, nor did I before my fake pro runner experience. But my whole purpose in going there was to do everything the real pros do, including daily physical therapy, and I believe it made a significant contribution to the improvement I experienced in those 13 weeks.
I get it: We’re all busy. None of us has enough time for everything. Physical therapy seems like more of a luxury than a necessity. Plus, it’s not the sort of thing you can manage entirely on your own. You need to be taught what to do, as each body has distinct needs. The temptation to skip PT in favor of flossing your teeth is great, but I think it’s a mistake.
I speak as someone who has made this mistake even after he knew better. After returning home to California last October, I started slacking on the PT work I’d done so religiously in Flagstaff. Then I transitioned back into triathlon training, and soon afterward my body fell apart. Realizing my dream of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship at Ironman Santa Rosa next May might depend on it, I visited Revolutions in Fitness, an athlete-oriented physical therapy outfit and Palo Alto, and put myself in the hands of PT Meghan Taff, who gave me some new exercises to mix in with the old.
The total time commitment required by these exercises is small. Some of them have been inserted into the twice-weekly strength workouts I was doing. These include some unloaded movements intended to reconnect my brain with my lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles, whose dormancy, according to Meghan, is negatively affecting my swim stroke. Others I do as mobilizers before workouts. Specifically, I do some foaming rolling to open up my chest and mobilize my thoracic spine and ankles before I swim and some band work to open up my hips before rides and runs. The rest I bang out at night while winding down before bed. This takes about six or seven minutes.
I’ve been on this new regimen for less than three weeks and already I am noticing a difference. For example, my calf muscles no longer cramp when I swim, as they used to nearly every time I got in the pool. I credit the ankle mobilizations Meghan taught me for this improvement. I’m telling you, folks, this stuff is worth the commitment!
The hardest part is getting started. That’s because, as mentioned, the specific exercises you do need to match your needs, and also because many of these exercises are rather esoteric and/or require special equipment. For example, I do a couple of foot-strengthening exercises that require the use of toe separators. So it’s best that you begin by making an appointment for a functional movement assessment with a good local PT like Meghan who really knows athletes. There are some decent quasi-do-it-yourself alternatives to this, however. One example is the Saucony Stride Lap app.
As chance would have it, a writer friend of mine contacted me the other day asking if I could contribute a good runner-specific New Year’s Resolution idea for an article she’s working on. Guess what I told her.