When the natural stresses and strains of the workout of the day crop up, massage is the obvious remedy.
But massage at a CrossFit gym isn’t likely to be a soothing sojourn.
Intense training performed at tight intervals in an interactive group setting means that downtime is at a minimum. Massage therapists in a CrossFit environment must take an in-and-out approach.
CrossFit massage therapists at a studio in Raleigh, North Carolina, are offering what they call corrective bodywork to meet the needs of athletes.
To learn more about corrective bodywork and the CrossFit culture that helped foster it, MASSAGE Magazine caught up with massage therapists Vincent Bounds, LMBT, FMT I & II, and Stacey Meek, LMBT, CKTP, the co-owners of WODbody Sports Massage.
What’s the W.O.D.?
Corrective bodywork, as employed by WODbody, emerged to meet the specific needs of CrossFit athletes. And so a bit of background on CrossFit is in order.
CrossFit is a branded fitness regimen that was created by former gymnast Greg Glassman in 2000. According to WODbody co-owner Bounds, while CrossFit has been around for a while, it’s only been popular for about the last two or three years.
Considering that CrossFit has grown to include over 13,000 affiliate gyms worldwide, it’s evident that this new take on fitness has struck a powerful chord.
Meek offered a succinct definition: “CrossFit [comprises] group classes of high-intensity interval training that involve cardio and agility and weight training.”
According to competitive athlete Lindsay Shaw, the appeal of CrossFit lies in its variety.
“With CrossFit, you can literally do anything,” she said. “You have to be good at not just one thing, but everything. CrossFit constantly tests your limits.
“It makes you be able to do things both inside and outside of the gym,” Shaw added. “We run. We do gymnastics. We lift weights. We walk on our hands. We swim. You name it, we do it.”
In this high-energy, collaborative environment, a unique culture has emerged. “CrossFit has its own language,” Meek explained. “That’s where we got our name from, WODbody.
In CrossFit culture, WOD stands for Workout of the Day, she explained. “When CrossFit members show up at the gym, that’s what they want to know. What’s the WOD? What’s the workout of the day?”
On the date this particular article was published, for example, the WOD is: “For time: 100 wall-ball shots. Men: 30-lb. ball to 10-ft. target. Women: 20-lb. ball to 9-ft. target,” as posted on crossfit.com.
CrossFit Massage: A New Twist On an Old Technique
At WODbody, CrossFit massage therapists use corrective bodywork that forgoes the practice of prescribing rest after massage and instead puts the athlete immediately back into the action.
Think of a race car being tuned and then being sent back into the race.
“Most massage therapists, most doctors, most clinicians in general, will say you need to rest after each treatment,” said Bounds. This is different.
“We’re basically taking people off the table and putting them right back into action,” he explained. “They don’t have time for rest. We’re stimulating their tissues and trying to correct their tissues.”
Bounds is hesitant to divulge the secrets of his sessions.
“Without giving away our secret sauce, there are some treatments that are more effective than others, and those treatments are necessary to work with these types of athletes,” he said. “We like to say that we don’t necessarily do massage, we do corrective bodywork. It’s a new twist on an old technique.”
While Bounds remains tight-lipped about WODbody’s secret sauce recipe for bodywork, CrossFit athlete Shaw is happy to share her experience as a WODbody client.
“You could be doing a workout and you just got done and the workout was so hard that it tightened you shoulders up or your hip got really tight or you pulled a hamstring in the middle of a workout, and you go over to them and they manipulate your body into positions,” Shaw said.
“They’ll say, ‘The reason why this is hurting is because this muscle is tight, so let me work on this and get you nice and open for the workout.’
“They’re great,” Shaw added. “They talk to you about how you’re feeling. They ask you questions about what hurts. And then they work on it.”
Half the time, Shaw said, the massage therapist adresses a problem she didn’t even know she had. “But they find it and fix the issue,” she said. “They’re really good about that.”
Bounds said that one of the rules he lives by is, with vague goals you get vague results.
“You have to have specific goals in mind for each treatment,” he said. “You have to be in communication with your client, giving those specific goals and treatments … letting the client know exactly what the plan is and then executing that plan. If you do that, you’re as good as gold.”
A CrossFit Business Relationship
WODbody has three office locations inside CrossFit Gyms, Meek said.
“Those are facilities that have their CrossFit space—usually some kind of big warehouse space—and they have separate office space, so we’re set up inside our separate office.
“In our other locations, we do a mobile setup, which means that one of our therapists will go to the gym with a table,” Meek added. “They’ll set up in a corner of the gym, or in a side room, or maybe a locker room.”
WODbody is able to provide its gym-friendly bodywork by taking a preventive approach to injuries.
“Vincent and myself and our staff therapist are all certified USA weightlifting coaches, so we have the ability to go in and look at a movement and say, ‘Oh that bar pass is wrong’ or ‘You’re pulling too soon,’” Meek explained. “We’re able to help our athletes before they do something wrong.”
WODbody’s preventive approach is bolstered by CrossFit’s policy of having new members take a foundations class.
Shaw described the CrossFit policy: “CrossFit gyms have a foundations class where you’ll meet one-on-one with a coach and you’ll go through the movements that you’ll do in the workout.”
Once the athlete passes the foundations class, the coach will create what’s called a scale, Shaw said. “We’ll make it to where you will be able to do each activity to the best of your ability. We will never tell you that you have to use the same weight as a person who’s been doing it for five years.”
Now WODbody is taking CrossFit’s foundations idea one step further by developing its own introductory session where therapists can assess the CrossFit athlete’s mobility and define clear limits of what they can and cannot do.
“This is where we can go in and assess the athlete’s mobility and figure out where their limitations are starting out, so that we can address those limitations moving forward,” Meek said.
The preventive approach is crucial, Meek explained, because a drastic change of habit is a predictable trouble spot for new members.
“A lot of people will do CrossFit and all of the sudden they’re lifting barbells they’ve never lifted before and they hurt themselves and say ‘Oh, CrossFit hurt me,’” she said.
“Well, no. Actually, you were probably messed up before, and now you’re asking your body to do weird things and it doesn’t know how to move that way,” said Meek. “So if we can work on their mobility when they get started, it’s safer for everyone.”
Although corrective bodywork is done with the aim of fine-tuning athletes and thrusting them back into the action, this objective changes when an athlete has an injury.
“If there’s a medical issue, there are other courses of treatment,” Bounds said.
When injuries do occur, a large majority of them are due to heavy internal rotation of either the hips or the shoulders, which can lead to a rotator cuff tear, or a rotator cuff strain, or bicep tendonitis, Bounds explained.
“Dealing with that type of injury typically involves the [massage therapist] running the athlete through range of motion or exercises to reverse that overtension or internal rotation,” he said. “We also use fascial release techniques to help loosen and open those tissues so they can go through a full range of motion again.”
Shaw said that before she started going to WODbody she was in constant pain because her shoulders and ankles were too tight.
“When I would run, my knee would blow up, just because everything was so tight,” She recalled. “So I had [Vincent] work on it and then I was able to run a 4K run without any pain at all.”
They Filled a Niche
WODbody has grown from two therapists—Bounds and Meek—to seven therapists in four years. Bounds said he and Meek simply siezed an opportunity.
The two were massage therapists who met in 2013 at a training on how to work on Iron Man athletes. Meek happened to mention that she’s been asked to help out at a CrossFit competition.
“I’d never heard of it, and this was the first time she’d ever dealt with it,” said Bounds. “I asked her if she needed an extra set of hands and she said ‘yes.’”
They worked the competition and were “blown away,” said Meek.
“We left that competition thinking, ‘We should look into this,’” he said. “We figured somebody must have already started to take care of this niche of athletes, but we looked around and saw there wasn’t anybody in our area.”
Meek said the pair likes to say they are accidentally successful.
“I don’t know that we intended for it to grow quite this way—not that we’re complaining,” she said. “It’s definitely worked out well and we owe it all to our members and our athletes. They really spread the word and helped us grow the way that we did.”
About the Author
Phillip Weber is a San Diego-based writer and co-founder of The English Adept, a language-learning website where he blogs frequently. He writes news and features for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Male Body Image: Massage Addresses Muscular and Emotional Tension” (June 2017, in print), “Massage Brings Peace to Torture Survivors’ Bodies & Minds” and “U.S. Congressional Caucus to Focus on Integrative Health Care.”
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