In 2005 I started an athlete training company. One small camp ended up leading to a cascade of events that would change my life. Most of my first athletes were middle-school aged soccer and football players. As many of them got older, the focus shifted to high school athletes, and later college and profesisonal athletes. In 2007 I was getting calls from parents asking me to help their child recover from muscle pulls. After many attempts with several massage therapists, I took action to learn from a person who knew better than nearly anyone out there, Charlie Francis.
I had communicated with Charlie for years about training theory, sprint development and various training areas. I knew he knew a lot about therapy, as his training groups in the 80s were decades ahead in terms of the therapy-training interaction. The group had a full time therapist, who saw the athletes throughout the week and when indicated, would notify Charlie the athlete should probably take it easy because the muscles were not ready. Charlie spent time learning from the therapists as well. One of Charlie’s therapists was Waldemar Matuszewski. In 2011 when I first met Waldemar, he recalled how he would work on one leg of the athlete, while Charlie would try to imitate on the other. The athlete would provide feedback on pressure, speed, and other sensations.
In 2007, I finally made the drive to Toronto to visit Charlie. That first day, he began working on one leg, and said “get some cream, and copy me.” I was very nervous, had very little coordination and felt really awkward. It was a real eye opener for me at how fast and how much pressure he used, which in reality is not much pressure compared to other techniques traditionally used. Those first days with Charlie gave me an incredible base of information. Charlie would often talk about “ideal” muscle tone, the amount of tension in the muscles. Muscles with low tone are too relaxed and cannot contract optimally. Muscles with high tone are often really tight and have les than optimal contraction ability. When you are a high performance athlete, this is crucial. It takes time to get muscles optimally toned and then constant attention to maintain it. One big workout can take an optimally toned muscle into too much tone. Often, areas like hamstrings will take several sessions to adjust tone.
A few years later, I brought a few athletes to Charlie. One had chronic knee pain and I had done many hours of massage on her. As he worked on her legs, he reminded me the need to continue to work into the deeper levels of muscles. Most of my work was superficial. As I have gotten better at massage, I have gotten better at reaching deeper muscles. This was another eye opener for me, and was very thankful for that opportunity to get feedback on an athlete I felt was getting great treatment from me.
Soon after this meeting, Charlie passed away to cancer, and at his funeral, I met a guy named Tyrone who had spent time getting treated by Waldemar. Waldemar is not easy to see, and Tyrone would later introduce me to Waldemar, something that would change my therapy practice forever. In our first weekend visit to Waldemar, we discovered his definition of ideal muscle tone! It is not easy to describe in words, but when you feel the muscles, you will know what is ideal. I had done a few sessions on Tyrone prior to our visit, and then later when Waldemar treated him, he commented his tone was ideal. Those who study Waldemar and Charlie often had asked this question, what is optimal tone? And now we had found the answer.
In the 80s, Waldemar was said to not use any oils or lotions and have an incredible ability of touch. Our sessions started with electrical muscle stimulation for about 20 minutes, with pads placed on strategic areas on the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and back. After EMS, he applied a muscle gel that would dry in a few minutes after application and then would proceed to work the muscles with a shaking and grabbing technique that lifted and separated the muscles. During treatment it felt like nothing was really occurring, as the “pressure” you might feel during massage was not there. At one point during the session, Waldemar pointed out, “see, feel this? I’m grabbing your bone (femur).” At that point, I couldn’t feel anything. In Tyrone’s treatment, it didn’t last long. Waldemar commented if he did any more work on the muscles the tone would be way too relaxed to run fast.
This was a huge lesson for me, as the traditional massage session is often 60 minutes. Sometimes more time is needed, especially when tone is too high, but it doesn’t have to be if the muscles feel good, or sometimes not much time is needed.
In the 3 years Waldemar spent in Charlie’s group, the group had one injury. The group achieved success not only because they had talented coach and athletes, but optimal training WITH optimal regeneration/recovery. Athletes in Charlie’s group would receive 2-5 massages each week, in addition to other therapy methods.
With my therapy focus mainly on athletes/runners, I feel I have done well to practice the principles and techniques of my two mentors. Being a coach and having access to athletes, I can say therapy is our “secret” to high performance. When I am able to get 2 or more sessions a week, I can improve muscle tone and it shows in the athletes races and training. I have at times used several treatments in a day to decrease muscle tone when it was too high. Waldemar had stated he might see an athlete several times throughout the day to treat something. At the time I couldn’t understand how this was possible, but when you don’t aggravate the muscles, additional work may be done.
I use a gentle approach, never applying so much pressure to cause tissue damage (one of Waldemar’s principles). Most sessions begin with EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) on targeted areas, or scattered placements to maintain muscle tone. Sessions are concluded with a stretching progression I have developed over time. I know the session is a success when athletes get off the table, move their legs around, and comment they “feel light and loose.” That is the phrase Charlie would tell me was the goal.
I strive to be a world class therapist, not just in massage, but overall recovery and regeneration. This is the least I can do, especially when athletes train really hard for their goals on the track, roads and fields of play.
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