Do you hate to roll out those tight and painful knots and would do anything to get rid of them pain free? Does your massage therapist spend all their time in a limited area full of very painful knots? IT band or quads so painful you can’t even use a roller of them?
Yes to any of those questions then this blog is for you. Until I discovered a better method, rolling out my painful knots was a daily occurrence while training for an Ironman.
My Injury Story
I had all my major injuries in 2014 that just about ended my Ironman career. They started way before 2014 though. Many injuries, like my torn meniscus, occur at a fixed point in time however are really accumulated over time. That’s what happened to me. Having surgery on January 17, 2015 to repair my knee was a wake up call. I had to make major changes if I was going to continue to compete in Ironman triathlon.
I had lots of knots in my legs almost since the beginning of my Ironman journey in 2006. Like most athletes I just accepted it as “normal.” After all, I’d grown up with the “No pain, no gain” philosophy. There is nothing normal about a painful knot in one of your muscles. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is not right.
What are knots?
Our body is really amazing. It will work perfectly without injury and knots. A knot is really an accumulation of injury caused by excess stress. While the knots, the inflamed and tight muscle, may allow you to still function, at some point if you don’t address the cause of the stress you’ll sustain a major injury like I had to my knee.
An overused and/or stressed muscle usually causes knots. In my case and maybe yours, the knot in my right adductor that was the cause of my torn meniscus was caused because that muscle was being over recruited because my weak left glut and hip flexor. When I ran really hard preparing for Ironman Boulder Colorado in July 2014 the stress was like the straw that broke the camel’s back and I tore my meniscus.
Knots are caused by these primary reasons:
- An overused muscle caused by an imbalance of a weaker muscle,
- A muscle that was stressed under a high intensity and/or long workout without proper rest to allow it to recover,
- Poor nutrition, and
- Lack of proper rest, recovery or sleep.
The Better Way
I discovered from my mentor, Dr. Phillip Maffetone, DC, that the key to optimal performance is to have optimal health. You noticed I did not say fitness is a key. Like me in the past, many athletes are fit but do not have optimal health. Obtaining optimal health has to include the removal of stress on the body.
The four primary causes of painful tight knots listed above are all forms of stress. You have to remove the stress and your knot will go away.
Imbalanced Muscle Stress
A skilled sports injury practitioner like Dr. Robert Braden, DC, who’s in my corner, can diagnose and prescribe a training plan to overcome any imbalance you have. In my case the reason my adductor was being over recruited in my right leg was because my left glut and hip flexor were really weak. After my surgery I went to work in the rehabilitation of my core including a focus on strengthening my left side weakness.
The Right Training Intensity
Dr. Maffetone, DC has trained many endurance athletes to remove excess stress by slowing down with less intensity to ultimately go faster in a race. He recommends the use of a heart rate monitor as a biofeedback unit to make sure your intensity level as you work out is correct for you. He developed the 180-Formula (click here for the method).
In 2014 my training intensity was frankly to hard by about 12%. As a result I was not only tired and sore all the time, I had severe knots in all areas of my legs. When I discovered and began to use Dr. Maffetone’s heart rate method and slowed down, all my problems vanished. Not only did I feel way better and have a lot more energy, my knots went away and I actually improved my speed.
The heart rate method is not just for endurance athletes. It will work for many others as well. It will work great for spin class or a cardio routine. The heart rate method will keep you in an aerobic state and teach your body to burn fat as your body’s primary fuel source. Going harder, i.e., anaerobic, your body uses sugar as fuel and you run the risk of not recovering sufficiently and like me, become tired and sore all the time with knots.
The Right Nutrition
I don’t have enough time to go into all the detail of proper nutrition here. I will mention a few deficiencies I’ve observed in those I help. First, most people do not get enough good fat in their diet. Dr. Maffetone says, “These fats, when properly balanced, help one recover from a workout and racing, repair injuries by correcting inflammation, control pain, and perform many other critical tasks.” The low fat diet is a big fat lie!
Another deficiency is the lack of Vitamin D. According to Dr. Maffetone we need 4,000 units daily and the best form comes from being in the sun. When I started to acquire the needed units my sleep improved substantially!
The final deficiency I’ve observed in others is the lack of water-soluble minerals, botanicals and herbs in a diet. These nutrients are best obtained naturally from plants that are raw, like fruits and vegetables.
The Proper Rest
Americans simply do not sleep enough. And the sleep they do get is after midnight. Your body needs rest and if you’re working out and active, you have to insure you get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. To enhance your sleep experiences go to bed by 9pm and utilize your body’s production of melatonin for more deep sleep. Light is a killer of good sleep. Turn off the lights, including your bright smart phone, and sleep in the dark.
After a hard workout you need to let your muscles recover. The recover time varies with your health level, age and the length and intensity of the workout. Proper nutrition and rest are the best keys to adequate recovery.
My Results a.k.a. The Retirement of My Foam Roller
I started in earnest in March this year to follow Dr. Maffetone’s methods as described in his book, “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing.” I recommend the book for anyone who wants to gain better health and fitness. While the book addressed endurance athletes, there is a lot of great information for anyone wanting to gain better health and fitness.
Using all the methods in his book; training intensity, heart rate, better nutrition, improved muscle function and balance, and proper and enough rest, 95% of my knots are gone.
I was fortunate to race the Ironman World Championship on October 10, 2015. I was able to live and train in Kona, Hawaii, the race site, for two months prior to the race. I had hired a massage therapist friend to give me three massages while I was in Kona. One of them was the week after my most extensive training and another was two days after the race when I’m the most sore and stiff. She was amazed that I had very little muscle tension and hardly any really tight knots. The few that I had she was able to easily work out without much pain.
I’m hopeful this was helpful and you can also retire your foam roller. If you’d like a free brief consultation with me please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to talk.