A gentleman I recently met who is doing the Crossfit program in Oakland, Ca recently asked me a simple yet interesting question. “What about strength? Can Rolfing make you stronger?” I thought about it a moment and asked him, “If you strapped on a bunch of weights all over a car do you think you would be getting full use of all it’s available horsepower?” He seemed somewhat satisfied but allow me to elucidate a bit further.
The Crossfit community are familiar with the idea of functional strength. I don’t know what terminology they prefer but in a nutshell these are methods that exercise muscle chains instead of isolative movements that will result in strength gains and bigger muscles but don’t usually approximate the activities for which we we actually use our bodies. This is where the term functional strength comes from. In terms of what I must know as a manual and movement therapist, anatomy is important but in terms of kinesiology, not so much. If we operated in a vaccuum (no gravity) the use of goniometers * and treating single muscle units would be more useful. A lot of environmental factors may change eg. walking surface, topography, temperature, etc. but gravity is the ubiquitous one. Gravity is the thing that makes movements happen from the base of stability through the skeleton all the way to to the gesture or action. If I were to toss you a ball guess what the first muscle to fire would be? Surprisingly it’s the the deep calf muscle called the Soleus. In Kinesiology these order/patterns are call schemas. Interestingly if I threw a Cinder block to you the schema would change drastically and your center of gravity would lower the anterior ams would have less tone, and muscles of the leg would ready themselves for more stability. Anything that interferes with what I will call a muscle chain is getting in the way of efficiency. Nowhere is this more relevant than in basic actions such as walking, breathing, picking something heavy up, reaching, looking around, swallowing (again think basic functions people because feeding is a basic function). Another important thing to understand is that muscles act in reciprocal pairs. When the biceps brachii muscle contracts the triceps relaxes. Except often there is a bias on one side. Without a balanced relationship the overall function of the joint that said muscles cross will not function optimally. Simply put manual therapy can help to change the bias of muscles crossing a joint. So if the question were “can Rolfing make me look ripped?” Sorry to say but no that is what the kettlebells are for. But if we are looking for “balance” and efficiency then this is an obvious goal that can be improved upon.
So yes we can improve on the effectiveness or function of the basic movements that we need to be strong, happy, and expressive human beings. Through careful assessment a trained Rolfer can look at movements that you have difficulty with and then build upon them through manual therapy and reassessment. A body that is in balance will train more balanced as well. Where we are tight we stay tight often. If you can’t bend those knees then your squats are not a productive part of your exercise regime. We want muscles to flex and extend with uniformity and brilliance.
* An instrument for the precise measurement of angles between joints.