Friday, August 20, 2010


Meb recently wrote about the importance of day-to-day maintenance for runners in this article.  The bottom line seems to be: skimp on the little stuff, and you will find yourself either injured or at least not running to your potential.   So, I thought I'd mention one of the things that has been the key to me staying healthy and out on the roads.

Jenner asked in a recent comment what the deal is with the TPMassage Ball.  The manufacturer's website has a lot of information about their line of massage tools, but I thought I'd explain how I use the set.  I basically work on my legs with the toolkit and follow the instructions in the booklet that comes with the Ultimate Six Kit.  I do my rolling in three steps.

Step 1:  I work on my calf muscles in three ways.  I start by using the Footballer and Baller Block to roll straight on the achilles and soleus as shown in this picture.  I start at the heel and work all the way up my lower leg.  The motion, as described in the instructional materials, is a quick and short roll back and forth to slowly inch up your leg.  I then turn my lower leg slightly so that I am rolling the inside of the calf, targeting the gastrocnemius again starting at the heel and working up the leg.  Finally, I turn the leg slightly out so I'm working the outside of the soleus and gastrocnemius.  When I hit a good knot, I always settle in for a spell to try to work it out by just rolling back and forth.  Every 10-20 seconds I spread my toes apart and roll my ankle which seems to get the blood flowing and help release tension.

Step 2.  I use the Quadballer to work on my quads and IT band.  I do this in a similar was as the Footballer in that I start off straight down the middle of my quad (top photo), moving from the knee to the hip, slowly inching my way up.  I then position myself part way between the two positions shown above, so not quite straight on but also not completely sideways.  I work the roller from knee to hip.  By far the most painful roll out for me is on my IT band.  You pretty much work directly on the band again from the knee up to the hip.  When you get it right, you will yelp with pain.  A good kind of pain, of course.

Step 3.  I don't always use the ball that comes with the kit, but lately I've had a knot in my piriformis that this little monster can really dig into like nothing else.  I basically just plop my butt down on it, starting out like the woman pictured above and try to find the spot that's knotted up.  Sometimes, I recline onto my elbow so that I can get better leverage.  I don't think there's a right way to do this one.  You know when you've hit the right spot.  I can't explain why this ball works better than a tennis or other kind of ball, but it does.

All of this rolling takes me about 20-30 minutes depending on how much I have to work various body parts.  I usually do it at night, after I'm done with all of my running for the day and typically while watching TV or listening to podcasts.  I've had the kit for 3 years now, and I can safely say that the $140 investment was well worth it.  I would not be running as well or as consistently as I do with out.

A question for you

Finally, I wanted to ask a question of others.  When I first started running I had a personal trainer that also did massage.  I would get massages about once per month from him.  I haven't had a massage since I stopped working with him, about 3 years ago.  I have always seen the TriggerPoint system as a cheap, but effective alternative to massage.

So, I ask you, what are your experiences/feelings about the importance of massage?  I recognize that the right massage therapist is key, but I wonder if I am missing something by not getting them regularly.

I look forward to hearing from you!


  1. Thanks for the blog post and for the photos; very helpful! As I'm miles away from your performance levels I'm not sure there's much relevance. Nevertheless, years ago when first starting running I had no idea how to properly stretch out my own soleus and IT band, so I frequently received sports-massages focusing on those problem areas and my lower body in general. While these were very helpful, once I learned some self-administered post-run stretches - which I do immediately after running while my muscles are warmest - I've felt better than I had post-masseuse, so haven't been able to justify them except as a rare luxury. Conversely, my Kenyan Way coach Sean Wade feels strongly that without his receipt of frequent massage that he'd not be nearly as fast as he is - so I suspect that top performance at near-elite levels requires far more maintenance. I'm curious of others views' as well...

  2. I've never gotten a massage (except at a couple of quickie post-race deals). Sean Wade is a pretty fast guy though. Maybe I should give it some thought.

    I use the roller periodically for my upper legs, particularly when I had an ITB issue, which it seemed to take care of.

  3. Very interesting. I have to confess, I don't do anything but run. I am trying to do more upper body/core work. Maybe massage will be my next step.

  4. Thanks for the info on the TP kit - it's something I'll look into. Having just read Julie's blog, it looks like something that could help her too.

    I haven't made use of massage, except for when I've had a particular injury. At the elite level, I know the AIS use massage a lot, as well as regular ice bathes after hard sessions.

  5. jaymee, i LOVE massages, but i must confess that i have not gotten one since the year 2002! i also do think if you can get one regularly it can only be a good thing. if nothing else, it feels good, relaxes you, and i think a really good masseuse is able to dig in there and find certain areas that the roller may not work quite as well. however... i am almost never hurt... i don't even have a little ache anywhere for the most part. on rare occasions i might have a tight muscle that needs to be worked on, but in general i run completely pain free. so in that regard i really can't say that massage is a necessity since i have gotten by quite well without it for eight years! i did get that roller kit that you have from my mom last xmas and try to do at least a little of that stuff almost every night when i'm hanging out watching tv. i personally think that it's more important to have a good PT who you can go see when something does crop up. and perhaps it's smart to go in for a little tune up with the PT before you embark on a marathon training cycle or every once in awhile just to keep things in alignment. bottom line: even though i would love the luxury of getting a massage every night, i'm not so sure it makes that much of a difference, since i have lived quite well without them. oh, and to answer the question as to why i don't get them: because i always choose to blow my money on other things, like cute shoes or hair dye jobs! priorities! ;)

  6. Cris/Darkwave/AnarchaAugust 21, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    Last year, I got a weekly sports massage during my base building period, from a person with a good reputation. I would get the massage on Wednesday afternoons, after doing a hard workout on Wednesday mornings. I regularly felt very beat up and overtrained during the entire time.

    For reasons unrelated to my perception at the time of the benefits of the massage, I stopped getting them at the beginning of this year. I've shifted to daily use of a foam roller+the stick, and also a weekly session with a physical therapist. I'm recovering MUCH better this summer, despite the fact that I'm at the overall workload, but MORE intensity (3 workouts, instead of 2).

    My conclusion has been that sports massages do not facilitate recovery, but are like hard workouts, and require recovery. I think they're very valuable for injury prevention, and I don't hesitate to get one when I have a knot I can't get out on my own. But I now believe that my weekly massages were counter productive, and will not be getting them again.

  7. This is all very interesting to me. I guess I was expecting a lot of folks to extol the virtues of massage and tell me I was missing out on something that could really help me.

    My experience has been the same as everyone else's it seems, particularly Cris/Darkwave/Anarcha's. When I was getting regular massage I felt pretty beaten up and felt like I needed to recover from the treatment instead of the other way around.

    Unlike t-meat, I don't really enjoy massage. I'm not sure why, but it doesn't send me to a blissful state or anything like that. It typically makes me feel drowsy and worked over.

    Still, I am curious about the point that Mark U. and Joe bring up about the elites being so attached to their massages. I don't think I've heard of one that didn't get frequent massages.

  8. Cris/Darkwave/AnarchaAugust 22, 2010 at 6:28 AM

    I wonder if the difference between the elites and us working stiffs isn't in the recovery opportunities.

    Training effectively is all about balancing stress and recovery, and those of us with less opportunities for recovery have to be judicious about the stress we apply to ourselves.

    If I had more chance to recover from the massage, I might have found more benefit from it.

  9. Cris/Darkwave/Anarcha: I think I figured it out. I wonder if, rather than elites having more time to recover from massage, because arguably they are training more often than us, they get more frequent and shorter massages. Many elites have dedicated massage and physical therapists that probably work on them several times per week if not daily. Therefore, they can afford to have them just work a problem spot one day and a different spot the next. We have to get the full work over all at one time because we have limited resources and access to the treatment.

  10. Thanks for responding to my question on the massage balls. I am no where at your level, but I use to get massages because my hamstrings were really tight. I didn't enjoy them because they were really painful, but seemed to help. Now I do a lot more stretching on my own, and use the foam roller, which for me seems to go deep enough into the knots. I am going to look into the TP Massage Balls. I have seen them at Fleet Feet. Thanks again. Jenner

  11. Cris/Darkwave/AnarchaAugust 22, 2010 at 6:05 PM

    That makes a ton of sense. So now I just need to train my sig other so he can break down my muscle knots on a daily basis....

    (BTW, "Cris/Darkwave/Anarcha" is because I go by Cris, but use Darkwave or Anarcha as my handle on different sites)

  12. Hi Jaymee,

    I've been a "lurker" of your blog for quite some time now and always learn something new each time I swing by for a read.

    Here's my two cents on the whole massage thing. For me, I am able to take care of my lower body just fine with basically the same daily self-maintanence protocol you outlined in this post. However, I started seeing a PT regarding work-related upper body issues (specifically, thoracic outlet syndrome). It took it getting bad enough that it was affecting my running to get myself in for an appointment. Without going into too much detail, it is a long slow recovery -- a complete re-education of my upper body posture, alignment, muscle recruitment, etc.

    As a complement to PT, I've been seeing a massage therapist. I believe this is accelerating my progress, and I am able to run longer and longer without upper body pain creeping in and ruining the bliss of my run.

    However, this isn't any old frou-frou masseuse. This gal knows what she is doing. She really gets in there and works exactly what my PT says she needs to work.

    Anyway, if you are interested, she is in Folsom. She is experienced in kinesio taping and has crewed ultras. Kathy Ross: 916-628-3169.


  13. P.S. You may want to look into Yamuna Body Rolling as well. I have the balls and the book, plus an anatomy book to reference. Good stuff!