About Karina Rhode


Posts by Karina Rhode:

The Rhode to the Pro Card

The Rhode to the Pro Card

“You’ve just won a trip to the most amazing place you ever wanted to go! Oh, and your plane leaves….NOW!”

Cue me with “deer in the headlights” expression as my brain tries to process, “Wait! I have nothing packed and none of my laundry is done!”


Photo by Dan Ray

That’s how it felt winning my IFBB Pro Card at this season’s Masters Nationals and then launching right into prepping for my first show as a Pro at the Pittsburgh Pro Masters this coming September. Well let’s just say that if I have nothing else packed, the first thing on my list is going to be my Beverly International supplements! I started this journey back in 2007 and many things have changed over the years. The one that hasn’t changed is that **Beverly International has been with me ever since I began and I’m not going anywhere without them!

(**The following article originally appeared in Beverly International’s No Nonsense Newsletter – an advertorial magazine for supplements I use.  I wanted to include the article here in my blogs as the information in the training and stretching sections I find to be beneficial for virtually anyone – competitor or non-competitor.  I hope you enjoy the story!)

I’ve always been very active and never had any real weight issues until I got married. The reality of getting a desk job coupled with matching eating habits with a husband blessed with a lightning fast metabolism scored me a weight gain I’d never experienced before. It happened slowly and I didn’t really notice it since I gained it symmetrically pretty much everywhere. So as a result, I didn’t think much about it until one day I nearly fell on one of my clients while doing a Thai massage. I was horrified. It was at that moment I realized how weak my core had become and how unaccustomed my body was to all the additional weight. My peripheral awareness for balance with these two factors in play had become seriously compromised! The nextkarina-before day I hired a trainer and never looked back

I never had any intentions to become a bodybuilder. When I started, I simply wanted to get back to a weight where I was comfortable in my body again. Not only was my balance off, I was also noticing premenopausal type symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings. I was only in my early to mid 30’s so I knew this was wrong. My first trainer worked with me on balance and beginning strength maneuvers and prescribed cardio. I started tracking calories and serving sizes and getting a better handle on what exactly it was to eat for myself rather than blindly matching portion sizes with my husband.

It didn’t take me long to master the basics again and soon I was on to trainer #2 who coached me in developing strength through heavy lifting and kettle bell training. I was fascinated by the connection between muscle function, development, and metabolic activity. My body was starting to do things I didn’t expect to see from a woman in her mid 30’s and I had to see if there was more to this.

I had gotten hooked on Oxygen magazine and admired the physiques of the gals on the pages. They looked strong and healthy. I started to realize that these ladies were Figure competitors and I had to know what it felt like to train like that. Enter trainer #3, an old school bodybuilder; she had competed in women’s classic bodybuilding and powerlifting. I told her I just wanted the experience of training “LIKE” a bodybuilder but had no interest in competing. Well that was enough of an open door for her. It wasn’t long before she was hounding me to compete. I had the symmetry and the drive so she encouraged me to consider it. I still remember the phone call I made to her one day while standing at the gas station filling up the car. “Are you just blowing sunshine up my skirt about me being right for bodybuilding or are you really being serious?” After she stopped laughing over the choice of words I had just used, she swore she meant every word so I gave in and we picked my first show. But I didn’t agree to compete because I wanted to be a bodybuilder.

If you’ve ever talked to me about famous bodybuilders or people in the industry, you may have noticed a blank look on my face (and the sound of crickets in the background as you wait in silence for my response). To this very day, the truth is unless that bodybuilder is splashed all across mainstream media, I won’t know who he or she is. I didn’t get into this sport because I idolized certain people. Being an anatomy junky, it didn’t take me long to realize how well bodybuilding fit with my profession. I’ve been a bodywork/massage therapist for over 19 years now. I love musculature. It’s this love and fascination of the human body that got me hooked on this sport. I don’t care who’s body those parts belong to, I just love seeing the human body develop! And where I’m concerned, I’ve been blown away by the changes.

My husband asked me once why I didn’t follow the famous women in this sport. Well, in my opinion, her body is her body. My body will never look like hers so I never took an interest in that kind of following. Show me a generic photo of some nameless person with great shoulders, glutes, legs, back, etc. and I’m all over the article connected with it. I want the education and the knowledge of how to get the best out of my own body. I’m more fascinated with how I will look if I implement a plan as opposed to chasing someone else’s dream physique.

In the process of chasing my own dream physique, I quickly realized I was going to need help. Preparing for a contest wasn’t your everyday style of eating and training. I was going to need help in metabolism and recovery (especially at 37 years old). I had a good trainer but I needed a nutrition plan. Suddenly I was facing uncharted territory: an ocean filled with protein powders, BCAA’S, pre-workouts, and fat burners. I knew enough about the human body to know that most of this at the local sport supplement store was pretty much flotsam and jetsam. I needed a company that actually cared about the people who used their product. Enter Beverly International.

The first supplement I had been introduced to by trainer #1 was UMP protein powder. To this day, it’s still one of my favorites! Between the taste and the fact I actually felt I could see changes as a direct result of having it as part of my diet, I contacted Beverly International directly. I was able to speak to a real human being who actually sounded passionate about the product from more than a commission standpoint. We spoke at length about what my goals were and by the time I was done, I had my first stack of supplements geared towards my specific training program!



Photo by Jeff Glasser – Nightwing Photography

Two years after this conversation, I won my IFPA card (International Federation of Physique Athletes is the professional level of natural bodybuilding’s amateur league, OCB – Organization of Competitive Bodybuilding). If I wasn’t hooked before, I certainly was now! I did one show as an IFPA Pro and pretty much got my booty handed to me. Up until now, I’d been writing my own diets and had gone as far as I knew how to go. It was time to get serious and hire a diet coach. In addition, since I’d scaled the mountain of that particular competing club, I figured, while I was at it and changing stuff up, I might as well go for what I considered to be the Mount Everest of competing organizations, the NPC/IFBB (National Physique Committee (NPC) is the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the United States and its professional level is IFBB – International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness).


Photo by Dan Ray

Now I was on to trainer (& diet coach) #4, Jason Theobald of Scooby Prep. I was a little concerned when I first hired him because I had a comfort zone with Beverly International. I knew it worked for me and I was a little apprehensive the diet would come back with a bunch of supplement garbage on it. To my surprise and relief, when I opened my diet document, there were a host of Beverly International supplements (including my beloved UMP)! Well, that made me feel really good about hiring my coach! Obviously this man knew quality when he saw it if he’d recommend Beverly International!

Four years after signing on with Jason ( my last and still my present coach), I finally claimed my IFBB Pro Card! Like I said, a lot of things changed over the years of this journey but one thing has stayed the same. Four coaches and two pro cards later, the core of my supplement program has always been Beverly International. Consistent and faithful. And we’re just getting started!





As a Figure competitor with short collarbones, my biggest challenge has been to create a great v-taper. Doing my best to widen my chest, back, and shoulders while tightening and narrowing my midsection has been a quest akin to hunting for the Holy Grail!


For me, every upper body workout begins with 30 wide grip 1-½ pull-ups as a warm up. Begin with hands set wide and overhand grip on the bar. Start in full extension and pull up above the bar. Lower your body so your head just below the bar and then pull back up. This is one rep. Return to full extension and repeat the sequence as many times as you can (no kipping!). Rest when you need to but get in 30 total.




As for the waist, I’ve stopped using weighted abdominal exercises. Instead, I’ve implemented two kinds of abdominal work that have made big changes for me in just under 10 weeks!



Abdominal Vacuum

Transverse Abdominus muscle shown here after removing rectus and oblique abdominal muscles. Photo curtesy of Visible Body.

Transverse Abdominus muscle shown here after removing rectus and oblique abdominal muscles.
Photo curtesy of Visible Body.

“Shhhh… she’s had a hard workout. She’s probably sleeping.” Ha! Nope. I am doing my abdominal exercises! The beginning of this prep season I found an article about how the old school bodybuilders such as Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger trained to get tiny waists. The technique is referred to as “vacuum training” and may be done lying down, standing up, sitting, or even on all fours. The muscle trained here is the transverse abdominis. It’s the body’s deepest of the abdominal muscles and its function is to hold in and support the abdominal contents. By pulling the belly button in towards the spine as hard as you can and holding it there for a duration of time, you’re training the transverse abdominis to become tighter and better conditioned. The result is a smaller waistline and it’s easier to hold your tummy in while you’re on stage.




25 basic
crunches concentrating on keeping belly button pulled in tight towards the spine

1-minute vacuum hold

Repeat sequence 3x’s without rest


Great thing about vacuum training is you can do it anytime and anywhere without folks knowing you’re doing it! I like to do it in the car on my drive home from work. I try to hold the vacuum for as long as I can or between certain major intersections just to make the drive home more entertaining.


Photo curtesy of Visible Body

Photo curtesy of Visible Body

Seated Twist

Another exercise I’ve found beneficial is a seated twist. This helps on two fronts:

1) it tightens the oblique muscles

2) it helps you get a better range of motion when you twist in your posing ostage which, in turn, contributes to the illusion of a smaller waist.


IMG_8638Sit on an exercise ball that allows your knees and hips to be at 90-degree angles.   You may do this just with your arms out or with a broomstick or dowel rod across your shoulders to support your arms. Keeping both feet on the floor and hips level, twist using only thepeat. I do 100 of these (50 per side). I also employ vacuum holding while I do so for the added benefit!
oblique muscles. Twist as far as you can and look behind you. You’re body will follow your eyes so the further you attempt to look behind IMG_8637you as you twist, the more range you will gradually achieve. Hold and squeeze at maximum range and then rotate to the opposite side and re






So here’s a basic anatomical lesson in recovery. The body requires nutrients and oxygen to grow. These substances are carried within the bloodstream. Better blood flow within the musculature of the body equals optimal success in recovery, growth, and injury prevention.

I know a lot of athletes who seek out training programs but have no idea that understanding recovery is vital to the success of their building new muscle and injury prevention! Challenging workouts and lifting heavy causes controlled damage to the musculature. That’s the goal. When the body repairs, it rebuilds using stronger, thicker fibers and voila, bigger muscles! BUT what many athletes don’t realize is that good blood supply is essential for this process. Stretching following your workout is necessary to stimulate the body to lay down tissue that requires oxygen. It lets the body know you plan to use that range of motion again. Failure to do so results in the body laying down scar tissue (a cellular form that requires little oxygen). This scar tissue is less pliable and has very little blood supply. So for a bodybuilder, this is not desirable.

The more oxygenated tissue in our bodies, the better pump and more size we score. Musculature riddled with scar tissue isn’t as pliable, risks injury, and will have difficulty achieving pump and growing in size!For me, I’ve noticed how effective stretching has been in preventing injury as well as supporting growth factors. Legs in particular tend to take quite a beating between HIIT workouts and heavy lifting. If you’re noticing knee or hip pain, there’s a good chance you’re sporting tight quads. I am not a fan of foam rollers as they tend to be too hard and folks tend use them with all the finesse of a person who doesn’t know the first thing about making pastries wielding a rolling pin in a pie shop. A much more effective tool to help soften leg muscles is actually a 2-4# medicine ball (especially if it’s slightly underinflated). They have some amount of give to them that allows the body to softenand not armor itself against the attack of the rolling pin.

Ball rolling

IMG_8648Using a 2-4# medicine ball, place the ball on the mat, and using your body weight, position the ball in the thickest part of the muscle. Slowly roll on the ball allowing your body to relax into it while you roll. You can even trace individual muscles or between muscles. Now this part is key! You must follow this rolling with a stretch of 30 seconds to 1 minute. You may even maintain contact with the ball while stretching in order to intensify the stretch. Stretching following rolling increases blood flow and range of motion limiting how much scar tissue the body will use to repair the damage done by your workout.


IMG_8649Also, if you’re incapacitated, you certainly can’t get the most out of your gym time. Workouts can cause a myriad of problems if you don’t take time to stretch afterwards. For me, a hard back or shoulder workout can quickly translate into a migraine. To prevent this, I need to take time to stretch my neck and traps after these demanding gym sessions.




Shoulder/trap/neck stretchIMG_8630 IMG_8633

Head to the squat rack and position the bar so you can press up into it. Weight the bar at both ends so you don’t knock it off the rack while you’re stretching.

Put the muscle into a lengthened state and engage the bar.

While engaged, put the muscle into a contracted state and sink the bar gently into the softened muscle belly.

While engaged with the bar, gently traction the muscle using the bar toward your shoulder.

Slowly lengthen the muscle and stretch while the bar holds the muscle in place to maximize the stretch.

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Reposition bar and repeat the length of the muscle as many times as needed for post workout relief.






IMG_8147How you pose and your suit can make or break you in a second! Don’t believe me? The two photos taken were shot within a week of each other. How is it I look like I’ve made massive developmental changes?

If you take a look at the two photos, you’ll notice how much higher I’m holding my chest. In the photo on the left, I’m not standing up as straight. In the photo on the right, I’m pulling up hard like there’s a string attached to my sternum and pulling me up. The result is an arch in the low back and stretching out the abdominal area that, in turn, lends to the illusion of a narrower waist!

As for the suit, a prime mistake most competitors make is not pulling up the sides of the posing trunks high enough or, even if you do pull them up, failing to glue them in place so they don’t slip. Look again at the two photos. The left photo shows trunk sides below the belly button. This makes the legs look short and the waist look thicker. The right shows them parallel in line with the belly button. This adds to the illusion of an accentuated v-taper, longer legs, and smaller waist! Let this be a lesson. Glue those suckers so they stay where you put them!



I got into competing to see what my body could do and man, have I learned a lot! After every contest, I love going over the elements of the journey. I learn something new about myself every time and I’ve grown not just as a competitor but also in life in general. Win, place, or show, I encourage you to enjoy the ride. Take the time to look at where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished regardless of if you have hardware in your hands for the effort. My ultimate goal every time has been to learn something about myself that helped me to grow stronger in life. If you can do that, you’ve won!




Fortunately for me, I like to arrive early for a lot of things including Peak Week. As a result, I don’t do a traditional Peak Week because I’m already stage ready. I just stick to my weekly prep.

I stick to the basic meats and starches. For variety, I swap out my veggies. I use onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, celery all for good crunch and satisfaction. Another trick for changing up my menu is the vast variety of spice mixes I have on hand. Broccoli, rice, and chicken can go Mexican, Cajun, or Asian quickly with just the shake of a spice! I also love quantity, which is why I save carbs for popcorn. I love eating it one piece at a time and I split a bowl of it almost every night with my husband. It gives us both the feeling of something normal when we can share a treat in my contest prep! And as for sweets, thanks to Beverly International’s protein powders, I’m never at a deficit!

All values are pre-cooked with the exception of the rice.

Meal #1

70g Steel cut oats with a mini pack of Sunmaid raisins, stevia, cinnamon, & pinch of Penzeys Spices sweet ginger bits

150g raw egg whites & 18g raw egg yolk scrambled

Meal #2

Chocolate Muscle Provider Sweet Potato Cake (see recipe)

Meal #3

150g Chicken breast and 50g brown rice over cabbage salad (served warm with salsa and Cajun spices)

Meal #4

150g Chicken breast

Meal #5

130g Rare beef cubes with oven roasted onions and asparagus

2.5 ounces Air popped popcorn sprayed with olive oil from a Misto bottle

Meal #6

UMP soft serve ice cream (see recipe)


Chocolate Muscle Provider Sweet Potato CakeIMG_8575

130g raw sweet potatoes

35g Beverly International chocolate Muscle Provider

½ tsp baking powder

2 pkts Stevia in the Raw

5g Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4-1/2c brewed coffee


Spray foil with cooking spray. Seal sweet potatoes & one ice cube in foil packet & bake at 400 degrees for 55 minutes (yes, they’ll burn a little but that’s ok – you want them to caramelize). Leave sweet potatoes sealed in foil pack until they cool (keeping the moisture in the packet will help release the caramelized potatoes from the foil). I’ll prep 4 pkgs of these at a time & keep them in the fridge to make one batch of brownies each day.


Mash baked sweet potatoes thoroughly then mix together with Muscle Provider, baking powder, stevia, cocoa powder, & vanilla until blended well & no hunks of sweet potato remain. Add in enough coffee to make a pourable batter. Pour mixture into a dish sprayed with cooking oil. Put baking dish in a cold oven & set temperature for 375. Bake for app 25-27 minutes.


Eat the whole thing! It’s one serving for your meal! If you want to share or save some for later, just split the macros below.

Macros for the entire recipe:

Carbs 34g  – Protein 29g – Fat 3g – Calories 268

You can make this with as little as 125g of sweet potatoes or as much as about 175g. More or less than that and it tastes a little starchy or consistency is a little lacking.

Off-season you can add a little more fun:

Add 15g Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter before baking and top with fat free whipped cream just before eating!

I’ve made 4 batches at the same time when traveling and just cooked them all in a 9×16 pan. Then did my best to cut them into 4 EQUAL serving days (refrigerate unused portions). You’ll be testing your willpower with this approach, however, trying not to mooch some from the next day because they’re that good!!!


UMP Soft Serve Ice CreamIMG_8594

35g vanilla UMP

9g sugar free Jell-O instant pudding powder (butterscotch is my favorite)

2 pkts Stevia in the Raw

½ c crushed ice

½ -1 c water

½ c frozen cauliflower


You’ll need a beast of a blender to pull this off. I have a VitaMix so if you haven’t invested in one yet, you might want to consider it.

Put all ingredients in the blender. Start blending speed on medium-high and use plunger to keep pushing ingredients towards the blades. Use more water if you need but this mix should be VERY thick and will take a little time to work into the blades. Keep mixing until smooth and a steady vortex forms. You will also notice the mix doubles in size (let’s hear it for increased volume – HOORAY!).


Using spatula, scoop out ice cream. Eat right away or freeze for up to 2 hours for a firmer set.

No blender? Skip the ice and cauliflower and add just enough water to get the mix to a pudding-like consistency. Blend all ingredients using a whisk and freeze for 2 hours.


5g carbs – 20g protein – 3g fat – 120 calories



Morning Cardio – 6 GH Factor + 3 Lean Out

Meal #1 – Super Pack + 3 Joint Care

Morning Lifting Session – 2 scoops Muscle Synergy Powder + 1 scoop Creatine Select

Meal #2 – Muscle Provider as a shake or cake

Meal #4 – 2 Lean Out

Evening pick me up drink – 1 scoop Glutamine Select + 1 scoop Muscle Synergy made into a slushy (Hey! You can never have too much recovery support!)

Meal #6 – UMP ice cream + 2 Lean Out

Bedtime – 6 GH Factor



During off-season, we try to build and spare muscle as much as possible so my cardio is relatively short – 4 20-minute sessions per week. 2 HIIT & 2 LISS


In prep, we’ll go as much as 6 sessions per week alternating HIIT & LISS. 3 HIIT sessions at 15 minutes (including 5 minutes each warm up and cool down for a grand total of 25 minutes) and 3 LISS sessions for 40 minutes (where I’ll feed my spiritual self inspirational literature while reading on my recumbent bike!)




Age: 46

Occupation or Education: Owner/Operator of BodyWorx by Karina – Massage/Bodywork Therapist

Family: Husband – Tony, Fur baby (sheltie) – Zephyr

Current Residence: Noblesville, IN

Years training (total): 9     

Height: 5’5”

Weight: Off Season: 134, Contest: 125

Favorite Bodybuilding or Fitness Meal: If I’m in a savory mood, beef cubes with roasted asparagus & roasted onions. If I’m in a mood for sweet, Chocolate Muscle Provider Sweet Potato Cake (see recipe)

Favorite supplements: By far my favorite supplements are the Muscle Provider & UMP protein powders. They not only satisfy my need for sweets but they incorporate into numerous recipes so you don’t feel like you’re missing out! The added bonus is you’re supporting your gains and recovery while you’re treating yourself to something delicious!

What would you recommend to someone who has never used Beverly supplements before? Start with the protein powders. They’re the best tasting protein you’ll ever encounter and you’ll see the results you want for your investment in the product. The proof is in the pudding (or cake, or ice cream, or pancakes, or whatever you want to make with them!)

Music: I listen to classical and new age music all day so when I hit the gym or am in my car, it’s heavy metal for this girl!

Most Inspiring Book: “The Power of Right Believing” & “Unmerited Favor” both by Joseph Prince

Hobby or interests outside bodybuilding: Gardening and cooking

Words to live by: “Life is the proper binge.” Julia Child


Look, Ma, No Squeem!

Look, Ma, No Squeem!

“The only way to get your waist more narrow is to start wearing a squeem.” For those of you who don’t know what a squeem is, it’s a corset. Think southern belle, Gone With the Wind waspy waists cinched up until you can barely breathe. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it since I’ve been competing but I never bought into it. Reason being, I’ve studied enough to know that such deliberate deformation of the human body is a lousy idea. If you look at articles that dispute the

L0038404 Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk https://wellcomeimages.org 2 Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset and how it cripples and restricts the bodily organs in women. Engraving 1908 Published:  -  Printed: 10th October 1908 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

validity of a squeem, often you will find an accompanying photo which depicts the internal contents squished upwards and downwards like a tube of toothpaste being crushed in the middle. Some competitors may be cavalier enough to think that’s not a big deal and things will go back to “normal” after their done with this phase in their lives. Think again.

The toothpaste tube crushing effect is more than that. If you’ve ever studied any of Jean-Pierre Barral’s Visceral Manipulation work (which I have), you’d find a squeem will also hinder two key components vital to internal organ health (mobility and motility) as well as create scar tissue within the viscera which will NOT go away once the squeem phase is over. The result? Lifelong damage that not only can impede future visceral function but also create a snag in the very fabric of your body’s facial matrix. Scar tissue is your body’s version of a snag in a sweater. Pull that string tight and you’ll see the entire sweater distort. Create scar tissue within the viscera and you can suffer pain of any number of combinations as a result of your body being distorted from within (and you will find very few bodyworkers trained in this style of complicated work to fix the problem).


Add to that another structure which becomes severely compressed you may not even know exists is the greater omentum. The greater omentum is a fatty netting that lies over the intestines and is rich in lymphatic vessels and nodes. One of the functions of the greater omentum has been found to be infection and wound isolation as it has the ability to migrate within the abdominal cavity and can be often found wrapped around areas of infection or trauma. Compressing the abdominal cavity by using a squeem may impede this function restricting circulation and the ability for the structure to intervene when needed to prevent the spread of pathogens.

So based on that evidence, I had ruled out the possibility of ever messing with a squeem. So what’s a girl like me with short collar bones supposed to do to get that waspy waist?! Well lucky for me I got into this sport to see what the human body is capable of doing.  Since I first got involved with this sport back in 2009, I have paid close attention to what is it that influences “the look” we all try to obtain.

So what is “the look” exactly? Well in Figure Bodybuilding, it’s that martini glass silohette. Wide at the shoulders and back v-tapering down to a tiny waist and narrow yet rounded hips. Over the years, I have found there are three things that contribute to this: training, smoke and mirrors, and alternative therapies.


Ever since I got into this sport, I have been hammering lats, chest, and delts. Your waist does need to be narrow but if you’re back, chest, and shoulders aren’t wide, no amount of cinching is going to make your waist look smaller by comparison. These training methods take time. It was about 5 years of hard core training on these body parts before I started seeing the size difference so keep in mind that if you’ve just started your journey in competition bodybuilding, it’s going to take you some time and conditioning before your body does what you’re waiting to see.

Images curtesy of Visceral Body

Images curtesy of Visceral Body

This season, however, I stumbled upon an article on “vacuum training” for abdominals in the T-Nation forum (https://www.t-nation.com/training/best-exercise-for-a-smaller-waist). It discussed how the old school bodybuilders would specifically train the transverse abdominus muscle (TVA).

Why is it effective? Well the TVA is your body’s girdle! Matter of fact, most squeems or girdles you’ll see do what the TVA is supposed to do!  So why would you need an external version of this when God already gave you one?

At the beginning of this season I set about adding TVA training to my workouts and eliminated the weighted abdominal training I’d been doing. The only regret I have in doing this is I didn’t take a waist circumference measurement to prove actual size reduction. I can tell you, however, that it was much easier to manipulate my waist narrowing after having implemented TVA training after only about eight weeks!


How you pose and your suit can make or break you in a second!

IMG_8278This season, I made it a point to get even more posing coaching and make time for more posing practice. If you take a look at the two photos, you’ll notice how much higher I’m holding my chest. In the photo on the left, I’m not standing up as straight. In the photo on the right, I’m pulling up hard like there’s a string attached to my sternum and pulling me up. The result is an arch in the low back and stretching out the abdominal area which, in turn, lends to the illusion of a more narrow waist!


IMG_8277As for the suit, a prime mistake most competitors make is not pulling up the sides of the posing trunks high enough or, even if you do pull them up, failing to glue them in place so they don’t slip. Look again at the two photos. The left photo shows trunk sides below the belly button. The right shows them parallel. Let this be a lesson. Glue those suckers so they stay where you put them!





Your gym time and diet aren’t the only attention you should be giving your physique. Invest as well in alternative therapies to help your body recover, repair, and prevent injuries.

I started receiving chiropractic care in January of this year to help with reoccurring migraines. The chiropractic adjustments certainly provided much needed relief from the migraines but the unexpected benefit was how it helped my posing! I didn’t realize how much my deviations were affecting a dropped shoulder and inability to flare lats symmetrically. After a few treatments, my husband was no longer correcting me in my back pose for uneven shoulders.

As a massage therapist who has worked with bodybuilders, I have also seen soft tissue work help athletes reach more of a pump and ability to pose with more fullness throughout the musculature. Massage therapy and scar release work helps alleviate restrictions as well as increase blood flow to the musculature. Blood flow may seem like a great thing for pump but it’s more than that. Blood carries oxygen. Oxygen throughout the body helps in recovery and growth. More blood flow = more oxygen and therefore healthier tissue and more gains!


Rarely will what you need to address be only a single issue in order to improve. Put in the work in training in the gym not only to minimize your waist but also to build size on your back, chest and shoulders to maximize the illusion that the waist appears smaller than it really is. Get coaching from masters in posing to help analyze how best to present yourself. Finally, take care of yourself outside of your gym and kitchen routines. Alternative therapies can help remove restrictions that impede your ability to train and pose your best! When it comes to the sport of competitive bodybuilding, THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS!  Anyone who tells you different is selling something you don’t need.

My Secrets to Staying Lean in the Off-Season

My Secrets to Staying Lean in the Off-Season

If you spend enough time doing just about anything, you’re going to get a reputation for something associated with it. Some reputations you strive deliberately to obtain, and others, not so much.

Depending on which aspect of my life I look at, I can pretty much find I’ve managed to garner a “rep” in quite a few departments. In my professional career as a bodyworker, I’ve spent 18 years studying modalities out of the norm for most massage professionals. And not meaning to brag, I’ve gotten pretty darn good at it. As a result, I’ve gotten a “rep” for being able to give unique and powerful treatment unlike other therapists in my field. This is a “rep” I deliberately worked very hard to obtain, and I am quite proud to have earned. In my hobby as a gardener, I’ve added my love for cooking and gotten a “rep” for making the best, home-grown hot sauce and pesto to ever tickle a taste bud. This is a “rep” I didn’t expect, but also enjoy. It’s my other hobby as a bodybuilder where I have gotten my biggest shock on what I seem to have a “rep” regarding.

Sure, there are the usual observations from fellow gym rats that I “work out like a beast in the gym – totally focused.” Ok. Yeah. I like the iron. Most bodybuilders do. Then there’s the “she’s so ripped she could beat the crap out of me.” Why everyone automatically assumes just because you have muscle that you’re pre-disposed to violence, I really don’t understand (thanks a lot, Hollywood). These “reps” never seem to shock me, as anyone who lifts with stage time in mind is bound to hear this at some point.

This year, however, I’m realizing I have earned the rep for “She is always so lean year round! How does she do that?!” I’ve had fellow gym goers, competitors, and hell, even my own diet coach comment on this seemingly miraculous ability I have to hold a relatively lean physique 24/7/365.   After I literally heard about the 20th person this year comment to me about how she wished she could do the same, I decided to take a good look at why and share my secret findings with you.

First off, know that I joined the sport of bodybuilding from a bodyworker’s perspective. What that means is, before I even lifted my first set to train to compete, I decided to turn myself into a lab rat and see exactly what the human body and mind could do when pushed to its limits, using myself as the main rat (or gym rat, so to speak). I wanted to study everything from how it felt when my body was under various training programs to the mental aspect of the game. In studying these, I would use the basic truths about the human body that I had learned in my 18 years of studying bodywork to guide me.

Keep in mind, I’m no super genius here. A lot of these epiphanies were hard earned. I made my mistakes. Point was, I never made a mistake without analyzing later exactly what went wrong and how I was going to fix it. Then I did my best not to make that same mistake again. This is what I’ve discovered in seven years of competing.


  • Once a competitor ALWAYS A COMPETITOR – NO OFF SEASON.


I know this sounds harsh but you need to understand something critical about the human body. Changes do NOT happen quickly if you’re doing things right. If you’re an impatient person, you have chosen the absolute WORST sport in which to participate (unless of course you want a constant lesson in patience, then congratulations, you’re in the right place).

The first thing you need to realize when it comes to the body is that whatever you did to it to put it at a disadvantage, it will take you the same amount of time or quite possibly twice as long to reverse this. This is a basic truth in bodywork. When I have a client with an injury or dysfunction, if the person has had the issue for 4 weeks, with consistent treatment, it will take anywhere from 4-8 weeks to correct it. If you need a more relevant example, think about how you lift before and after a contest. In the 7-10 days prior to stage time, many competitors cut back lifting. After contest, when you return to the gym, do you start lifting again at your max weight? Most likely not. It usually takes a week or so to start feeling back to your old self. If your muscles behave this way, what makes you think your metabolism is any different?

Active Off-Season 12 weeks after  the North Americans

Active Off-Season
12 weeks after
the North Americans

2014 North Americans 2nd Place Masters 45+ Photo by Jeff Binns

2014 North Americans
2nd Place Masters 45+
Photo by Jeff Binns

The average competitor will diet anywhere from 8-24 weeks (translation 2-6 MONTHS – yes

MONTHS) in order to prepare for stage. Ok. Take a minute to wrap your brain around that… Got it? Ok. Now consider this: let’s assume you have a great diet coach, and you do everything right

up until you step on the stage. You look great! Maybe you even win. What happens afterwards? The average competitor assumes all bets are off, and they get to be “normal” again. Beer, chicken wings, pizza, cake, cookies… Hell, if there was a vat of peanut butter backstage after a contest, I guarantee it would rival the attendance of a public swimming pool on a 120 degree day.  Here’s the problem. Get this through your head now.


Even a good competition diet puts the body at a disadvantage metabolically. It has to. Our goal is to strip away as much body fat as possible to show the muscle we’ve developed in order for it to be seen. In order to accomplish this, depending on your metabolic type, your coach has to cut carbs, fats, or protein in order to achieve this. So you spend anywhere from 6-8 weeks (maybe more if you have more body fat to lose) in the most aggressive part of a depletion phase.

Understand in that 6-8 weeks, the body gets used to metabolizing less and less of whatever is getting cut out of your diet. What is the first thing competitors do when the trophies are in hand? They eat everything they didn’t have for 6-8 weeks. Can the body deal with this? Well ask any competitor 48 hours after a competition how they feel. Bloated, sick, swollen, toxic, headaches, extreme weight gain… the list goes on. Besides just feeling like crap in general, persisting in the post-contest bingeing for several days after a contest, the body isn’t prepared to deal with the hyper load of macros you weren’t getting up to contest. As a result, the body of the competitor who continues to binge for days after contest starts to store this overage that it’s not used to metabolizing as fat.

Remember the basic truth in bodywork? If you put the body at a disadvantage for a period of time, it will take it the same amount if not twice that to correct it. Make no mistake. Pre-contest dieting puts the body at a disadvantage.


I wonder how many people would compete if they realized this. I believe it would be easier for most if they went in with this type of commitment to begin with. Many call this post-contest part “reverse dieting” – a term of which I’m not particularly a fan. It seems to imply there’s an end somewhere relatively soon. Personally, I prefer “active off-season,” as I never forget that everything I do plays a part for the next time I step on stage (even if that next time is a year away).

Post contest, a good diet coach will slowly re-introduce the carbs, fats, and proteins he took out of your diet to get you stage ready. During this slow re-integration, your body learns how to metabolize these macros again. You gain fat, but if you did it right, it’s not an ungodly amount. This is simply returning the body to a level of homeostasis. You need some fat back on your frame to allow your body to gain muscle again, but you don’t need to be 25 pounds over stage weight to do that.


  • The Active Off-Season Macro Bank


No matter in what game people compete, if they’re serious at all about it, there is almost always a strategic element to the game. Chess players think several moves in advance. Football teams will sometimes deliberately lose yardage just to get better position on the field for the next play. Baseball teams decide the best line up of hitters for a desired result. Distance runners pace themselves through the race with some miles deliberately faster or slower than others. And the list goes on. Why should bodybuilding be any different? The only real difference is that we strategize over several months and not just the 2 or 3 hours it takes to play the game.

Macros are basically dietary money. Your coach gives you “x” amount of macros of protein, carbs, and fats each day. Once it’s spent, it’s spent, but you are supposed to spend ALL of these macros each day. They are the way you invest in your physique so you get the most return for your efforts. There comes a time, however, when we want more than what our macro bank allows. I like to look at this as buying on credit. What’s true about overspending money though is also true about overspending macros. Buy too much on credit, and the interest is going to come back and bite you in the ass.

That being said, I consider my active off-season macro diet a strategy for the next season. The key here is consistency. I do my best to hit my active off-season macros the best I can every day. I use whatever foods I want, but I only eat until all my daily macros are spent. BUT I’m human as much as the next person. Just as with any other sporting team, my plans may not always pan out, so I have to have a strategy for those times I miss spending or overspend my macros.

I do my best to stick to my macros, but if I want to have dinner out with friends or the occasional beer, I pull out my overage strategy. I will simply combine a couple of my meals (mine are broken into 6 per day) to cover the macros I can’t count accurately. I eat as smart as I can, but I do enjoy myself. When I get hungry again, I pick up with the meal closest to the next feeding time.

In the event I’m aware that I have indeed blown my macros pretty badly for a day (yes, it does happen), I consider this “buying on credit,” and the next day I will actually cut my macros slightly to make up for this. I consider this paying back the macro “loan” I took out as soon as possible before it begins to accrue interest in the form of fat, or worse yet, a roller coaster ride of blood sugar spiking that creates an addiction to craving junkie food options. The faster I get back to the right macro numbers and a more balanced diet, the happier I know I’ll be.

This is NOT a strategy I enlist on a daily basis. Remember, I try to hit my macros most of the time. I might do this once or Loan-Sharktwice a week in the off-season but NEVER during the contest-diet phase. The key here is to be consistent with spending smart and not with overspending.

Another truth in bodywork is that consistency is key in order to progress. If a client wants to improve in flexibility or pain reduction, treating the body on a regular program is the best approach. Whatever you do consistently is the results you will reap. Stick to your macros consistently, and you’ll keep a tighter physique and can afford the random, brief “loan” on occasion. If you keep borrowing against the bank, before you know it, that bank will turn into a loan shark and your “interest” will accrue exponentially!


  • The mental diffusion (plan for post-contest release)


Your body is equipped with a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system deals with your body’s ability to relax and digest. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Your sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, processes “fight or flight” responses. It decides quickly how you will deal with a high-pressure situation or emergency.

With most sports, there’s a challenge which requires the body to react quickly. This stimulus triggers a flood of adrenaline and other electro-chemical releases in the body which enable the body to respond quickly and appropriately (fight or run away). Due to the sustained nature of activity in most sporting events, the body gets the opportunity to dissipate this chemical release that happens in the body that stimulates the fight or flight response. Not so in bodybuilding.

When we compete in bodybuilding, we build anticipation and excitement in particular for several days prior to stage time. Beginning the day before a contest, there is an increase in this anticipation as the competitor endures hourly scrutiny of the physique, tanning, registration, weigh-ins, etc. The day of the contest may present long wait times prior to getting on stage. Once on stage, the competitor must hold all this excitement in check as quarter turns and comparisons are assessed. Then everyone files calmly off stage, and, if you’re top 5, you have to hold composure until finals and possibly go for an overall. Then trophies are awarded. And then . . . (insert sound of crickets here) . . . .

I know that sounds cruel, but it’s true. What do we as bodybuilders have in order to release this chemical build up? Food & social media. That’s about it. The problem with this is neither of these help dissipate the chemical soup we’ve created in a sustained “fight or flight” state of being.

Another truth about the body is that a body in a constant sympathetic or fight or flight state will eventually begin to crumble. Anyone who has ever been under sustained stressful situations can testify to this. This can result in sickness, injury, or even WEIGHT GAIN! This weight gain is caused by a nasty little chemical in that soup you just stirred up called cortisol. If you don’t do something along the lines of “fight or flight” to help process this chemical, it will stimulate appetite and cause you to eat!

Once I figured this out, I realized I needed to arrange to do something thrilling IMMEDIATELY after a contest. Choosing an activity to engage in that stimulates adrenal release and keeps you active for a sustained time after a contest allows for this processing to occur.313671_2405815582118_1042397994_n

I’ve engaged in Krav Maga fight classes, raced karts, flown kites, and yes, even allowed myself to be chased by zombies (not kidding about that – it’s an adventure race called “Run for Your Lives”) to help expel these excess chemicals, and I can tell you it works like a charm! Giving yourself a real thrill post contest helps your body diffuse the sympathetic state you created. Go bungee jump, climbing, ride roller coasters, sky dive, run with the bulls in Pamplona – just DO SOMETHING EXCITING!!! (And the gym doesn’t count because you’re used to that – pick something you’re not used to for maximum impact.) Once this chemical buildup is out of your system, it becomes much easier to stick to your macro diet, and you and your coach can begin a successful active off-season.

These days I will actually schedule two or three exciting activities over a period of a few weeks post contest to give me several opportunities to expel adrenaline and cortisol simply because I spent several days building a sympathetic state pre contest. Now granted, I’m pretty sure after the first thrill ride that I’ve expelled the chemical soup, however, remember what I said in the beginning? However long it took you to put the body at a disadvantage, it will take you up to twice as long to correct it. For me, personally, I have found this is also true with my sympathetic nervous system. The more exciting things I plan over time after a contest, the less problem I have with wacky cravings and macro overages.


When it comes to competing, I’d say a good portion of how to stay lean comes from knowing what you signed up for and committing to a long-term strategy. Sure you can blow off your diet right after a contest and deal with your bulk next season, but I can tell you that the older you get, or the more you gain (or both), the harder this is going to be. Add to that the fact that your success or failure to stick to your macros will indeed impact the way your body develops in the off-season. For me, going completely off the macro wagon just isn’t worth it. I don’t know about you but I want an ACTIVE off-season. I’m no saint. I can have my beer & cake, but I have to be my own parent. I know enough about the human body to know that I can’t cheat the basic truths of how it works. I believe we all have that little brat on our shoulder screaming to eat the entire package of cookies. Before you give her the whole package, ask yourself, “Am I a competitor?” How you answer that question will determine exactly how many cookies that little stinker is gonna get!

The Mystery Injury: Scar Tissue & ART

The Mystery Injury: Scar Tissue & ART

“Dear Lord in heaven!  Exactly how heavy WAS that piece of paper?!?”  low-back-pain

Now you’ve done it.  Although, you’re not exactly sure what it is you’ve done, or how you managed to do it!  You simply bent down to eradicate a seemingly innocuous scrap of paper from the floor.  As you began to stand back up, WHAM!  A sharp pain in your hip or low back alerts you that the possibility of standing up straight again isn’t going to be as easy as you had anticipated.  You spend a brief moment contemplating that sharing a room with Quasi Moto in a bell tower in France might not be a bad gig before you brave forcing yourself upright through the pain.  Although you’re now standing straight (which is debatable, but at least no one is asking you about your hump), you’re still in pain.  What happened?

The Problem:

Does this scenario sound familiar? When we think of significant injury that can sideline us for days or weeks, we usually think about it resulting from some form of aggressive trauma – a car accident, falling down stairs, banging a leg into an end table, the list goes on.  The thought that a significant injury could result from a seemingly benign act such as bending over and standing back up again borders on ludicrous, and yet how many times have you heard a story like this?

But what causes it?  The answer might surprise you.  The answer? Scar tissue.

“SCAR TISSUE?! Are you out of your mind? I’ve never been injured or operated on there.  How on earth can I have scar tissue in an area I’ve never injured?”

Well, brace yourself.  Believe it or not, yes, you can develop scar tissue WITHOUT the help of a scalpel or unfortunate happenstance.  First, we have to look at the cycle of injury and its instigators or aggravators.  There are actually three ways in which we injure ourselves:

  1. Acute injury
  2. Repetitive injury
  3. Constant pressure or tension

chartNotice how acute injury begins on the cycle with a tear or a crush.  This would be something invasive enough to break the skin, or a blunt trauma blow to the body.  This acute injury is followed by inflammation, in which the now-damaged area swells. In order to heal, the body repairs the area of trauma with adhesions/fibrosis (scar tissue). This new repair area isn’t as strong or as flexible as it was prior to the injury, and you may notice that, although the area has healed, it is weak & tight.  Because of this weakness/tightness, muscles adjacent to the injured area work harder to stabilize this weak area, causing friction / pressure / tension within the body.  This irritation, if allowed to persist into a chronic state, will result in decreased circulation, or even re-occurring edema (swelling).  Now the injury becomes a vicious cycle.

With repetitive injury, the cycle is the same, but it starts at the weak & tight part of the cycle and then progresses in the same loop that an acute injury would do.  The muscle or supporting tissue in this area is constantly becoming reinjured because of its weakened state.

“Ok, ok, blah, blah, blah.  I’ve heard this story before.  That doesn’t answer my question though.  How do I sustain injury doing nothing strenuous to an area I’ve never before injured?”

Patience, Grasshopper.  We’re getting there.

The third instigator of this loop is constant pressure or tension

“So this is the person who stands on his feet all day.  I can see how this would make a sore back or plantar fasciitis (sore feet). Right?”

You are correct.  But did you know that simply sitting at a desk also creates constant pressure or tension?

“…..” (Insert blank stare here)

When we sit all day, holding the body at a certain posture at a desk, this creates constant pressure or tension in areas such as low back, hip flexors, abdominals, shoulders, arms, neck (just to name a few).  All of these are sustaining an extremely limited range of motion for a very long time.  As a result, the amount of blood flow to these areas is greatly reduced.  Keep in mind, blood flow is how the body transports oxygen to the tissues in the body.back-pain-arrow

When we cease using certain ranges of motion for an extended time, there is less oxygen supply in those areas.  This decreased circulation will compromise cellular recovery as well as create an environment for poor repair process and altered function.  When the body goes to replace tissue in that area, it replaces it with tissue that requires a lower oxygen level.  Guess what kind of tissue this is.

(The light bulb goes on) “SCAR TISSUE?!”

Correct.  Our bodies are constantly renewing themselves.  The human body is a pretty smart and conserving mechanism.  Should an area experience low oxygen levels over time, the body won’t waste new tissue that requires oxygen in order to exist.  It will instead use a tissue form that requires less oxygen in order to rebuild.  This is scar tissue.

Unlike healthy tissue and muscle fibers, scar tissue tends to be thicker, less hydrated, and less flexible.  When we attempt to put a demand on that scar tissue, such as a range of motion or for strength support, the possibility of a significant injury from a seemingly benign act becomes reality.

bigstock-young-man-in-office-with-compu-29935619Consider the desk jockey who sits all day. His body is subjected to this restricted state 8 hours per day, 5 days per week – hip flexors and lower back building scar tissue, as he writes computer code while fixated at his desk.  Now, toe touches are not a regular part of his routine.  Since this is a range of motion rarely explored, there is a very good chance that he’s going to access scar tissue the moment he bends over at the waist to pick up something off the floor.  Now, in order to stand up again, this weaker, less flexible scar tissue has to help leverage his body upright.

“Soooo… let me get this straight.  An area of my body that I don’t use much develops scar tissue BEFORE I get injured, and because of that scar tissue, I sustain an injury?”

Yes.  In this instance, the scar tissue developed prior to what we would normally describe as injury.  However, this building of scar tissue really is in response to an insult to the tissue.  The injury is simply the result of the constant pressure or tension, depriving the area of oxygen.  You may notice the build-up of the scar tissue, but you simply term it “reduced range of motion,” and you learn to adapt to it over time.  It isn’t an issue for you until that restriction begins to cause pain.  This, my friend, is the answer to the riddle of “the mystery injury.”

The Solution?

Because of the nature of our jobs or lifestyle patterns, we may not be able to stave off the body making a choice to laystretches-for-chronic-back-pain down scar tissue.  We do, however, have options in trying to keep it at bay.  Take time during work hours for frequent preventative “stretch breaks,” or move your body in ranges of motion you’re not accessing while sitting confined at a desk. Sure it might look a little strange to your co-workers at first, but it’s far preferable to getting the nickname “Igor” in the break room.

“But I’ve already done tweaked myself.  So now what do I do?”

Like many people, I too have experienced injuries like this before, and it seems like it takes forever to get over them.  I’ve treated many people over the years and used many different massage modalities to effect a positive change for them.  Traditional massage is a fabulous alternative for restoring range of motion and circulation.

“Well, I’ve done those routes before, and it just seems like it takes so long sometimes.  Isn’t there anything faster?”

There was a time when I’d have told you that sometimes massage just takes time.  But I admit, although I’ve almost always gotten excellent results with the traditional routes, I too had a frustration point at which all the modalities I had in my toolbox were based on total body treatment.  Even if I knew for certain that the point of dysfunction was the mitigating problem, my traditional studies dictated that the entire body had to be treated as a whole in order to make a change.

Enter Active Release Techniques.

Recently, I have added Active Release Techniques, or ART, to my bodywork arsenal.  This modality is designed specifically to work with areas of adhesions and scar tissue lesions.  ART targets breaking the cycle of pain at the adhesion/fibrosis point.


After this release is achieved, muscles that were restricted by internal adhesions or stuck to other structures can now act-2become stronger.  As they resume proper functioning, adjacent tissues don’t need to compensate for the weakness, and the balance of body forces can be more easily restored.  By re-establishing a full range of motion, circulation to the area is now improved, and the tissue can once again receive the oxygen it needs in order to sustain healthy cellular exchange and renewal.

I’ve been quite excited by the results.  I’m accustomed to having clients be happy and pain-free after one hour or so of treatment, but it is truly amazing to me to have clients now be pain-free in as fast as 10-15 minutes!  Depending on the issue at hand, it may take a series of treatments to resolve the issue, but even in those cases, clients have noted marked progress and reduced pain between sessions.  In the event a client requires a treatment series, sessions are scheduled anywhere from two to four days apart to allow for the body to assimilate the effects of each treatment.

So before you book that flight to Paris to answer that “roommate wanted” add in the paper by Mr. Moto, why not try some ART to alleviate your new posture?  Sure, the view in France may be more interesting, but how much are you really going to see if you’re bent over looking at the street?









Thai Massage – The Athlete’s Answer to Power & Strength

Thai Massage – The Athlete’s Answer to Power & Strength

Part 3 – Thai Massage – Lazy Yoga

“So what is Thai Massage?” a friend asked one day.  Before I could give my most professional explanation, another friend chimes in, “that’s when she ties you in a knot and you feel better.”

(Insert sound of crickets here & bewildered expression on the questioner’s face.)

Ok.  So it wasn’t my preferred description, but if you’ve ever seen a Thai Massage session, I have to admit that some of the maneuvers do resemble exactly that. 

My preferred explanation is that it is affectionately referred to as lazy yoga.  Unlike a traditional massage, the client remains fully dressed, preferably in loose cotton clothing such as t-shirt and sweat pants.  The client lies on a mat on the floor and relaxes while the therapist administers rhythmic compression to the muscles and guides the client’s body through a series of stretches similar in posture to what they might do in a yoga session.

One last time, we re-visit the question that sparked this series:

“Just got a massage and my tight muscles were really talking to me. Planning to do that more often so they detox regularly and can get the optimal growth I desire. Do you get massages regularly and how has it helped your physique?”

Do you want to grow muscularly in size, strength or endurance?  Frequently on Facebook, I see my athlete buddies boast about the massive amount of weight lifted or hours of cardio completed in the never ending effort to develop physiques or athletic prowess.  Not long after that, I’ll see posts by the same folks reporting how they can barely move as if it’s a badge of honor to be so tore up they’re incapacitated.  Truth is, the longer this kind of behavior persists, the faster the athlete can loose strength and endurance!

Courtesy of Thai Massage: Sacred Bodywork
by Ananda Apfelbaum

“Well I’d stretch if I had time” or “I really wish someone would just stretch me” are probably the two most popular phrases I hear uttered among hard core athletes as well as the average gym go-er.  It seems that unless the person is actively involved in a yoga or Pilates class, stretching just isn’t on the menu of activity.  Unfortunately, skipping the flexibility component of the workout is cheating the athlete out of maximal gains.

Did you get full range of motion on that lift?  Are you sure?  If you’ve ever been to the gym and done a squat or a lunge, you know there is a difference between how it feels when you execute a nice, full range in your lift vs. a range that isn’t quite as deep.  A greater range of motion results in more muscle fibers being recruited to complete the move. Fail to execute a full range of motion and the domino effect begins:

restriction –> less fibers recruited –> you’re not getting the maximum bang for your time invested in the gym no matter how many hours you’re in there!  Add to that the fact that many injuries happen when muscles are tight or out of balance.

If you’re looking for someone to do it for you, then Thai Massage is just what the athlete ordered.  Just as we mentioned in the last blog (Deep Tissue UFC:MMA), when we tear up tissue in a workout, that muscular trauma can become a big, sticky mess that leads to restriction.  Think of it as tying knots in a rubber band.  Sure it will stretch but it won’t go as far thanks to the knots in it.

The compression component of Thai Massage works to soften and warm musculature as well as spread and break up sticky tissue.  Once the muscle bellies have been addressed, following up with stretching in several directions helps the body achieve new musculature length.

               “But I’ve heard that stretching can weaken the muscle.”

This statement is actually true, however, this is merely an initial reaction.  I would not recommend a Thai Massage for any athlete within a couple weeks of competition.  This is simply because the body is used to the pattern the athlete has created with the length of the muscles with which they’ve been training.  Speed, power, & muscle memory rely on this.  However, establishing a regime of regular stretching gives the muscles access to more fibers to train.  More fibers = the ability of the athlete to create more speed, power, strength, & size depending on his or her performance goals.

If you truly want to give 100% in the gym, you need to have a maximum range of motion.  Stretching or employing a modality such as Thai Massage may be just the silver bullet you need to gain an edge over your competitors. 



Deep Tissue UFC: MMA (Understanding Facial Crisis: Manual Myofascial Artistry)

Deep Tissue UFC: MMA (Understanding Facial Crisis: Manual Myofascial Artistry)

Part 2 – Deep Tissue/Myofacial Techniques

Why is it that best plastic wrap seems to have a mind of it’s own?  We’ve all done it: pulled the plastic wrap off the spool, severed it using the piranha toothed box blade, only to have the cellophane sheet instantly recoil into a wad more difficult to unravel than two MMA fighters grappling for the win in a title fight.  We pick and pull at it, attempting to make it flat again but eventually, the plastic wrap forces us to tap out & chuck the whole ball in the trash.

No matter who you are, from the couch potato to the athlete, we all have a matrix this tenacious running throughout our bodies and it’s just as sticky and tricky, if not more so, than the most intelligent of MMA saran wrap.  Every vessel, nerve, bone, organ, muscle is wrapped in our body’s version of plastic wrap. This extremely strong matrix of tissue helps either to hold all of these structures in place or provides support so they can slide or glide over each other without excessive friction.  Think of it as soft webbing that acts as scaffolding for our inner structures helping them maintain shape and/or position inside your body.  This web-like matrix is called “fascia.”

In a healthy system, fascia is normally flexible and elastic in nature.  Of course add the challenge of every day living to that and this internal matrix can quickly become just as sticky, hard, and restrictive as our balled up plastic wrap!  Injury, surgery, trauma (physical & emotional), repetitive movement, and poor posture can all take a toll on the health of the fascia.

To remind you about the question that sparked this blog series:

“Just got a massage and my tight muscles were really talking to me. Planning to do that more often so they detox regularly and can get the optimal growth I desire. Do you get massages regularly and how has it helped your physique?”

The way fascia impacts our range of motion and physical appearance is what immediately came to mind when I read this question (except the first blog in this series was already written so I published that one first).

Myofascial fibers within the muscle

When we get a massage, most people think our muscles are the only structures that require attention.  Unhealthy fascia, however, can distort the look, symmetry, and function of a body. That’s because fascia isn’t just present in the body, it is highly sensitive and reactive especially in stressful situations. Challenging the body physically can cause this matrix to become thicker and even scarred.  Even under emotional stress, fascia will become thicker as it perceives a threat – real or imagined!

In physical challenges, such as surgery or injury, the fascia can be severed.  Be it by scalpel or stress induced tissue breakage, a scar forms within the fascia creating restriction akin to a snag in a sweater.  If you’ve ever pulled the string in a sweater, you can get an idea as to how this impacts the body.  Right now, grab a wad of the fabric of your shirt.  Go ahead.  Grab it and twist it tight. Oh don’t worry.  No one is watching you (and if they are, just share this article and they won’t think you’re crazy – I got you covered).  You can feel the tension of the fabric where you’re grabbing your shirt it but you also can feel the line of tension it creates as the fabric is strained on other parts of your torso.  This is what it’s like getting a scar.  The fascia thickens in the area of the scar but that’s not the end of it.  Not only do you lose mobility around that scar, it creates a three dimensional strain through your entire body much like the shirt pull demonstrates!

Poor postural patterns and overuse syndromes can also cause fascia to thicken fixing our bodies into the very position we constantly repeat.  Do you sit all day?  Drive a car for hours on end?  Are you stuck in a particular position all day?  Wear the same restrictive uniform?  Do you use your body the same way over and over again (computer operation, factory line work, dental hygienist, photographer, etc.)?  If so, the fascia will adapt to support these very patterns you let yourself traverse day after day – like walking the same trail every day, you’re going to wear a grove in the ground on that path.  Where the fascia is concerned, it will, over time, thicken to support the pattern you repeat or even protect you from heavy clothing or gear.  Ever seen someone’s postural distortion, find out what they do for a living?  Suddenly, the way that person walks or stands makes sense!  You can tell which hip Mom carries her baby on even when she’s not holding the infant.  Maybe you can see the pattern in your body from how you sit on the couch every night.  And no offense to our law enforcement friends but I can pick out just about any cop off duty in a crowd by the way they walk and stand.  It’s amazing how 25+ pounds of gun belt can create a profound pattern of thickened tissue around the waist that will make them walk like they’re still wearing it even when they’re out of uniform.  As a result of these situations and more, our fascia can become much like ill-fitting clothing – the classic fascial wedgie, as it were.

Emotionally draining events ever leave you feeling really stiff and sore?  This is partly your fascia working to protect you from the stress – good or bad.  Because fascia surrounds everything in the body, even emotional strain can trigger your fascia to thicken around internal organs, vessels, and muscles in an effort to guard and preserve these structures vital for survival.  This is what is called “body armoring” and we’ve all done it.  During this emotional wear and tear, the fascial tissue implements intense guarding around structures. This may cause the entire body to feel too restricted to move – as if we bought clothing one size too small.  It may even thicken around a certain organ it perceives needs more protection in the situation – lungs so we can breathe, heart for vital circulation.  If it targets one area in particular, we can again have a similar “snag in the sweater” scenario simply from the tissue losing pliability.  No incision required.

In any of these scenarios, bound up fascia can make us look and feel distorted – one shoulder raised, hips and torso torqued in opposite directions, arms hanging uneven distance from you side, and even your legs and feet rotating in odd directions.  That’s because over time, as this thickened state persists, fascia becomes dehydrated, sticky, and shortened.    In the case of a bodybuilder where symmetry is a key component in winning or losing, a flexible, non-restrictive fascia is key.  Even for those not competing, restoring a healthy fascia can assist freedom of movement as well as proper body function overall.

As mentioned before, fascia covers EVERYTHING in the body.  Keeping this matrix flexible and hydrated is key not only in movement but also in cellular function.  If the body becomes scarred and dehydrated, nutrition carried through the tissues has a harder time reaching it’s destination if at all.  Without good nutrition, structures face potential weakening and disease states.  With a healthy, flexible and well-hydrated fascia, it’s much easier for the body to function in renewal processes required for living.

Myofascial approaches I practice work to restore pliability to these tissues so the body can operate more efficiently.  Slow, methodical tissue stretching with emphasis on the feel of the fascia slowly unravels this sticky mess.  After myofacial work, the client often reports greater range of motion and feeling of being free and even lighter.  I often encourage increased water consumption following a myofacial session, as the tissues are ready to receive additional hydration in order to flush previously static areas.

Myofascial techniques may have the potential of being a little uncomfortable.  Sensations such as burning or tearing sensations are sometimes reported as scars and bound up tissue are addressed. In these cases during treatment, I tell the client any discomfort you may experience should ALWAYS be within your pain tolerances – look for the “good hurt” sensation that says “this needs to happen for change” – if it’s anything but that, tell the therapist to back off into your tolerance zone.  I also describe the technique as “feels really good when I stop” because often time the pain associated with the restriction goes away after the adhesion is broken up.  Other times, myofascial work can be quite pleasant as the experience of tissue long stuck together becomes free and flexible again.  Restoring proper range of motion allows the body to move in more optimal patterns as distorted gaits and postures can be the cause of many discomforts we endure.

So the next time you pull that saran wrap off the spool and it decides to put up a fight, consider the possibility that it’s merely reminding you that it’s time to book your massage session.  The less you feel like that ball of saran wrap looks, the less of a chance you’ll be tapping out of living life to the fullest!!


Next blog – Thai Massage!

Happier than a bodybuilder directing traffic…

Happier than a bodybuilder directing traffic…

‘…Happier than a bodybuilder directing traffic.”  There he stands, in the middle of traffic.  Flexing magnificence while grinning ear to ear and signaling cars to safe traffic patterns.  We’ve all seen that Geico commercial.  The bodybuilder bulging out of his skin and looking like an Adonis or oddity depending on your personal physique preferences.

Although I don’t aspire to develop to this size, I too work to sculpt my physique as a Figure Bodybuilding athlete.  Recently, one of my Facebook friends posted this question on our Figure group page,

“Just got a massage and my tight muscles were really talking to me. Planning to do that more often so they detox regularly and can get the optimal growth I desire. Do you get massages regularly and how has it helped your physique?”

This is a great question!  I personally use several different techniques to help improve the look of my own physique.  I have also been able to help other competitors gain an edge developing and maintaining their physiques by using a variety of bodywork modalities.  These modalities include Lymphatic Drainage Technique, Deep Tissue/Myofacial Technique, & Thai Massage.  All of these impact physique function and appearance in many ways.  In the next few weeks, I will be touching on how these modalities impact the bodybuilder as well as weekend warrior athletes.


Part 1 – LDT: The Transformer – More Than Meets the Eye

When we begin a session, the first thing a client will say is, “It’s such a feather light technique, how can this do anything?”  By the time we’re done, the client’s eyes are wide and filled with epiphany as the common reaction is, “Whoah!!  I would have never expected that to be this powerful!”

How indeed can a technique that targets the immune system be such a powerful tool in helping with the look and recovery of the body?  Well, let’s consider what happens in the body of the hard-core body builder:

When we work out, we tear up muscle tissue.  The body repairs these fibers, replacing them with stronger, denser fibers.  In the world of competitive bodybuilding, we lift heavier than the average gym go-er in order to encourage this process on a grander scale. What happens next day is usually a lovely case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  If you look at what DOMS really is, suddenly you can see the connection between it and lymphatic work.  Many think that DOMS is the result of lactic acid build up settling in the muscle.  Not so.  That chemical actually dissipates about an hour after exercise.  DOMS is actually caused by the localized SWELLING that occurs a day or so later due to the micro-tears in the muscle fibers! So now you have swelling, cellular debris from your workout, which destroyed weaker fibers so new ones can grow, and a healing process that needs to occur quickly so you can get the best out of your next workout.

Through a single lymphatic session, we boost these natural by 10-30x’s their every day capacity. Keeping in mind that the lymphatic system is responsible for regulating swelling, cleaning out cellular debris and facilitating healing to the injured area, that becomes a pretty powerful asset to workout recovery.

In the final days leading up to a contest, the bodybuilding athlete strives to minimize fat cells so that the muscle bellies and individual fibers can show through.  During this phase of training (approximately 4 weeks), any amount of
swelling in the physique is easily detected.  This swelling can obscure these coveted muscular separations and can even skew the visual line of the body’s symmetry.  By using LDT on a body builder, I have noticed that the work, especially in this pre-contest mode, is highly effective in removing the “watery” look we all strive to drop prior to stage time.  The result is a harder looking physique with more definition and better symmetry. 

Also consider nutrition.  I use a series of branched chain amino acids and fat burners in conjunction with lymphatic & deep tissue work.  As I clean out areas of stagnated fluid caused by intense workouts and break up the micro scarring that results as the old tissue heals, I know my body will be receiving the nutrition it needs to amplify the results of my recovery.  I find that the fat burners I use are even more effective encouraging fat mobilization and elimination.  A revved up lymphatic system works to compliment this metabolic process fat is one of the components it is responsible for transporting!

I have to say, the results I get doing this work on bodybuilders blows me away every time I do it. It’s incredible to see swelling disappear right before my eyes and be replaced with more defined muscle bellies. In some cases, I’ve had to make a concerted effort to prevent giving myself a high five or fist pump in mid session to celebrate (I usually wait until the client leaves the studio before engaging in my Victory Lymphatic Dance).

I’ve been doing my best to educate my fellow bodybuilders on exactly how this system works.  I’ve done my best to post a couple of fun blogs to my website in order to explain the basics with a little bit of humor.  (I figure maybe if they can’t have ice cream, heck, maybe a good laugh might help!)


Next blog – Deep Tissue/Myofacial Techniques.  Stay tuned!!

Rose’s Breast Kept Secrets.

Rose’s Breast Kept Secrets.

As the instructor zipped open the bag containing the body of our 74 year old female donor, my eyes took in the sight of feet, legs, hips, abdomen, arms, shoulders, head all softly and quietly at rest.  And yet, something was quite obviously out of place. Nothing screams implant like a 74 year old cadaver with perky breasts.

Surgical procedures are described and illustrated in detail in this post. Please be advised if you are sensitive to the subject matter.

Rose (our donor, as we had named her), was the keeper of many fascinating secrets we would soon discover: a pacemaker, spinal fusion, smoker’s lungs, enlarged heart, plaque-ridden arteries, and even a hip replacement.  Yet, I was most fascinated by the fact that she was the owner of a set of breast implants deposited directly below the skin.  These appeared to be one of her least guarded of all her secrets – that is until we removed them and discovered something quite unexpected.

Although we didn’t know exactly the year in which Rose acquired these augmentations or why she opted for enhancement, there were many indicators which hinted to the possibility that she’d received them possibly in her mid 50’s.  It was also possible she received them for elective cosmetic reasons.

The type of scar was a crescent shape under each breast.  This was a common way to implant about 20 years ago.  Today, preferred implant routes include through the nipple, through the axilla (armpit), or via the umbilicus (belly button).  Also, the scar was quite mature and well blended into the body.

The shape of the implant was round and appeared to be of the older, more volatile silicon solution.  This type of implant was discontinued due to the possibility of rupture and the silicon leaking into the body.  Newer silicon implants are more gel-like & do not leak if they are severed and more recently they have even developed a more teardrop shaped implant.

The location of these implants was directly under the skin.  Most implants these days are inserted under the pectoral muscle and not the skin due to the skin’s tendency to loose tensile strength over time which may result in the implant location sagging.

We can only speculate that Rose may have acquired these implants as an elective enhancement of some kind. The only thing present between the skin and pectoral muscle was the implant.  We rejected the possibility of cancer, as there was no evidence of radiation or chemotherapy.

Although the instructor had plenty to show us in detail around the neck and knee, I’m somewhat uncomfortable to admit to find I was obsessed with this 74 year old woman’s breasts.  I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on them (yes, you can laugh at that)!  Finally the instructor asked who would like to remove the left breast implant so the class could examine it.  I was practically standing in his surgical smock pocket before he finished uttering the invitation.  Thank God he gave me the scalpel.  I shudder to think what I’d have done if he’d have handed it to someone else.  Containing my jack russell terrier type excitement, I listened carefully to his instruction on how to use the scalpel, where he wanted me to cut and how to proceed.  I took a big breath and began a crescent style cut that skirted the original incision so the class could observe the underlying adhesion of the original surgery.

As I lifted the flap I had created from my incision, a round implant, encased in a facial compartment adhered to the posterior side of the breast.  I worked gently to release this from the skin and once it was free, the class took a moment to examine it.

The myofacial covering appeared quite sturdy, relatively unyielding, & slightly oval shaped with a flatter bottom side that had been next to the pectoral wall.  The entire structure, covering and implant, weighed about 1-2 pounds and seemed to be harder than a natural breast.  I had seen implants as well at cosmetic surgery open houses that were significantly softer as well as not nearly this compact in shape.  They tended to spread more than this.

The instructor requested I continue my investigation and suggested I attempt to free the implant from the myofacial compartment. Very carefully I attempted to pierce the covering without rupturing the implant.  The first few swipes revealed the sac was made up of two distinct substances styles. The most superficial was a fibrous yet flexible tissue.  The inner layer however seemed to be lined with something.  It became evident quite quickly that the implant itself was not adhered to in any way.  It was simply cocooned in this odd sac. Opening a large enough window to free the implant, the class was shocked to discover this myofacial cocoon to be lined entirely with a calcium style substance.  It was almost as if someone had painted the entire interior of the compartment with a thick milk paint.  As I turned the capsule inside out, the substance on the inside walls cracked and revealed it to be a calcium-like lining which flaked easily from the walls of the myofacial tissue.

Suddenly the class was a whirl of questions & suggestions as to what and why.  We broke for lunch discussing the possibilities.  Was the body attempting to reject the implant?  Is this why women complain of implants feeling hard after several years?  There was no rupture to the implant so the contents of the implant were not in question regarding contaminating the compartment.  Would women want these if they knew this would happen later in life?  Did the doctor know this kind of thing happened?

By the time the lunch break concluded my obsession regarding the implants had only increased. Over lunch, one of my colleagues had suggested that maybe the pacemaker might have influenced this calcium style lining in some way.  In addition, one of the anatomy lab owners said that the implants he had removed in other dissections never had calcium build up inside that myofacial compartment.  I had to see what the other implant looked like.  I was most pleased when the instructor suggested I remove the other breast and free the other implant while he and the teaching assistant opened windows in the rib cage.  Overcoming that odd sensation that accompanies carrying a disembodied breast across a room, I settled at the other table next to another student who was dissecting the lower leg and happily continued my investigation.

This implant freed quite like the other one had from the skin.  The look and feel of the encapsulated implant was very similar to it’s left sided partner & yet, something was different.  With the first swipe of the scalpel on the surface, the reason became clear.  Almost immediately, I had nicked the implant.  (This was the indicator as well that this was the older silicon model as the contents leaked but didn’t spill out through the hole I’d made in the implant.)  This cocoon was unlike its predecessor in that it wasn’t as thick.  Working even more carefully than before, I opened a window just large enough to slip the implant out.  The remaining sac was fibrous and flexible just like the first one except this one had no calcium built up on the inside!  When I turned the sac inside out, it was perfectly smooth and flexible.  You could even see the seams of the implant like a fingerprint on this inner wall!!!

If I didn’t have enough questions before, I now had a treasure trove of them.  Was it indeed the electrical current that had caused the calcium build up?  Was it a lack of circulation to the left breast?  Even more so, could integrated manual therapy have helped prevent the calcium build up?  Also re-occurring was the question of are the breast implants women complain about getting hard actually building this calcium lining or is it just a result of this tight myofacial compartment preventing the implant from yielding and spreading under pressure. 

I got my answers to these questions a few weeks later after I booked a consultation with a local plastic surgeon.  As it is difficult to get an appointment merely to ask questions about a dissection class, I went in under the pretense of wanting breast implants of my own but had concerns based on a recent dissection class I had participated in.  I was fascinated to get explanations to my findings.

It was indeed natural to find the implant encapsulated by tissue.  This is the body’s natural response to a foreign substance it can’t remove.  We also found a similar membrane around the pacemaker as well as the wire running to the heart.  The hip implant, since it was only a couple weeks old, showed no evidence yet of such a membrane.

Where the breast was concerned, however, Rose was most likely suffering from a case of capsular contracture.  Wikipedia defines as such:

In the case of the breast implant, collagen fiber capsule tightens around the breast implant and squeezes causing pain and may even distortion the appearance of the breast implant in some cases.  This was most certainly the case where Rose was concerned.  Although I can’t speak to the pain she might have experienced from it, the distortion was evident even as she was lying on the table.  Once the implants were removed, the tightness of the myofascial compartments of both implants was quite evident as well.

According to the surgeon I spoke with, capsular contracture may have occurred as a result of a bacterial infection.  “Back in the day,” as she put it, breast implant surgeries were often done in the doctor’s office and not in a surgical room.  The possibility of infection was greater in these incidents.  As the implants were clearly older, as she verified looking at the dissections photos I provided, this was a likely scenario for Rose.  An additional contributing factor to the capsular contracture was most likely the fact that Rose was a smoker as that is another suspected cause of this condition.

Although both breast capsules indicated capsular contracture condition, only one had the calcium-like lining. This was another indicator, according to the surgeon, that this was most likely an older procedure.  One method of treating contractures was the injection of certain steroids such as Kenalog.  This was one of the methods doctors would use to combat capsular contracture and would leave such a residue within the capsule.  Why she only had one breast treated and not the other is unknown but it was indeed interesting to note the differences.

The implants demonstrated beautifully one risk that exists for the person who receives implants.  Tissue appearance, relationships to other structures in the body, as well as condition of Rose overall can help provide clues to possible preventative avenues in manual treatment options.  The surgeon I interviewed stated that, although the procedures are indeed better today than when Rose had her implants, capsular contracture does indeed still exist and occurs on occasion.  According to Wikipedia, all prosthetic implants, not just breasts, may experience this phenomenon .  Germ contamination, placement of the implant above the muscle (still and option for breast implantation), infections, seromas, or hematoma are all suspected for contributing to capsular contracture.  Smoking as well as it decreases oxygen levels in the blood which can lead to delayed healing.

Thinking back on the findings, one wonders, if Rose had received integrated manual therapy pre and post surgery, would capsular contracture ever had occurred?  Now that we have a better understanding as to what could potentially go awry with implants, the answer to this question hopefully will be able to be demonstrated in the future.


The Lymphatic Traffic Jam

The Lymphatic Traffic Jam

If you’ve ever traveled in a big city in the summer, it’s inevitable you’ll run into the dreaded road construction. A road that was open for smooth travels just the other day is now blocked by orange barrels, preventing you from traveling your usual route. As traffic congests, incidents that could occur at any other time are made ten times worse due to the blockage: fender benders, cars over heating, drivers playing chicken over who will get the open lane. Traffic slows, crawls & then stops. Just as you realize traffic isn’t going anywhere for a while, your bladder begins to send you messages that the 7-11 Big Gulp you just finished probably wasn’t such a good idea after all…

Does this scenario make you uncomfortable? We’ve all been there. You know that frustration. Now imagine that same traffic jam occurring INSIDE your body. This, my friends, is Lymphedema.

So what is Lymphedema?
Much like traffic backing up due to a highway being shut down, Lymphedema is fluid backing up as a result of lymphatic pathways being shut down. Although in rare circumstances someone could potentially be born this way, the most common cause of Lymphedema you’ll see is when a normal lymphatic system becomes altered by medical intervention. The number one cause of Lymphedema in the United States is surgical intervention or radiation treatments to combat cancer.

Exactly how does lymphedema occur?
Well, think of your lymphatic system as a major highway system. In Indianapolis, IN, consider I-465. If someone removed several lanes on I-465, well then traveling becomes difficult if not impossible. Your body is a road map of sorts as well.

Brace yourself for a layman’s anatomy snippet! Inhale, exhale. Ok? Here we go.

Imagine drawing a cross on your body that divides it down the middle to create two halves. Now draw another line perpendicular to the first at your waist. This divides your body into four sections or “quadrants”. Each of these quadrants has a major receiving station – an armpit (axilla) or bikini line (groin). Just under your skin in each quadrant are several “highways” (vessels) of fluid traveling to eventually dump into the axilla or groin of its quadrant. This is a basic “traffic pattern” of your superficial lymphatic system.

If something were to happen to scar or remove one of these major receiving areas, then you would have an “orange barrel” scenario. In the fight against cancer, surgery is used to remove nodes or radiation treatments obliterate healthy tissue along with cancer cells. Both treatments create scaring that impedes lymphatic flow or possibly even removes an entire section of lymphatic highway that can’t be rebuilt. In the case of damage to the axillary (armpit) region, this leaves the arm, chest & back with no highway lanes in which to evacuate fluid. The result?  The area becomes just like you stuck in traffic having quaffed down an entire Big Gulp. All full of fluid the pressure begins to mount and the limb or thorax (or both!) begins to swell. This build up becomes very uncomfortable and there is no apparent way to get rid of it.

It’s very easy for the person to deny Lymphedema is actually happening because, in many cases, the swelling happens slowly and over time. It’s very difficult for the person to accept that the body may no longer be capable of finding a way to evacuate fluid. This becomes a potentially dangerous form of denial because the longer the person waits to help their system find a “detour,” the more complications can arise.

Just like the fish tank that doesn’t get cleaned, the fluid in a limb that is swelling due to a blocked lymphatic system begins to turn toxic. This toxicity leads to tissue break down within the area that is swelling. The area becomes hot and engorged and risks sores or infections developing from the inside. Exteriorly, a simple cut can abscess quickly because the area is already toxic underneath. In extreme cases, the swelling can be so challenging for the body that the fluid will actually weep through the skin.

At this point, this situation is extremely difficult to deal with. The client has to undergo a series of meticulous compression wrappings to reduce the size of the limb. Not only is this uncomfortable and inconvenient, it can be quite costly to the patient.

So now what? How do you fix it?!?
Well, what do you do when the road is closed on I-465? You take a detour or are “re-routed” by some nice guy in a bright yellow vest. In the case of a compromised lymphatic system, I get to be the guy in the yellow vest. Through a series of treatments, the body can be taught alternate routes to move fluid where it needs to go.   If the client receives treatment soon after the pathways have been altered, the odds of swelling decrease significantly.

Unfortunately, many patients do not pursue preventative Lymphedema treatments simply because they don’t get the guidance they need to do so.  The medical community and insurance companies often times have little idea how to deal with Lymphedema, who to refer to, and what constitutes adequate treatment to correct the problem.

Physicians are beginning to get on board in that they are more than willing to write the prescription for treatment when the patient requests it. Many times, however, the doctor’s duty stops after the cancer has been removed. This is understandable as Lymphedema is an area of expertise all its own. One shouldn’t expect the doctor to be able to speak in detail regarding this. Unfortunately, because of this limitation, the patient is left to research finding treatment on her own.  In addition, if the need for preventative lymphedema treatment is not stressed following surgery, the patient may be grossly unaware how severe the problem could become if neglected.

As for the insurance companies, they may pay for treatment but THEY DO NOT POLICE THE PEOPLE THEY PAY TO TREAT THE CLIENT. I have seen Lymphedema cases exacerbated by the very therapist the insurance company will reimburse but who has absolutely no business treating such a case! This is because the insurance company has decided that the only therapists they will pay to treat lymphedema are physical therapists, nurses or physicians. They assume the medical credential automatically covers the training required. Not so. The fact is that unless one of these people works in an actual Lymphedema clinic, rarely will you find someone with those credentials who is adequately trained in true Lymphedema therapy. Once the insurance runs out, the client is left worse off than they began. Then begins the merry go round of the client needs help but can’t afford it.

I stand on my soap box with this because this doesn’t have to be the case. These people need to know that the doctors do not necessarily know where to refer for treatment AND that the insurance companies do not necessarily know if the therapist they cover is qualified to help!!!!

If you or someone you know has experienced cancer treatments, please know and share this information. There is no reason you, your friend, family member or co-worker should ever have to endure the worst case scenario.

This is what you should know:

1. Immediately after the physician releases the patient, that person should be receiving lymphatic work to help the body detour or re-route fluid. Once the body is assisted with the re-route, the odds of swelling decrease significantly.

2. Find a QUALIFIED practitioner. (Especially if the problem is an existing Lymphedema requiring reduction!!!) LANA (Lymphology Association of Northern America https://www.clt-lana.org) is an excellent place to start to find someone qualified. LANA certified therapists required to have received extensive training and are retested at regular intervals to verify skill level.

3. If you can’t find a LANA certified practitioner, ask the therapist you choose what kind of training she has received to treat Lymphedema. A BASIC MASSAGE or PT COURSE TRAINING IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. Your therapist should have been trained in a system such as Vodder, Földi, Casley-Smith, Guenter Klose, or Chikly. If you require treatment to achieve a Lymphedema reduction, the therapist must be MLD/CDT (Manual Lymphatic Drainage/Combined Decompressive Therapy) certified.

As for me, I have been through Chikly’s certification training and was certified to treat Lymphedema. Although I no longer hold the certification, I am still qualified to treat post-operative clients, clients who have never experienced swelling, clients who are just beginning to experience swelling, or clients who have received reduction from swelling and are working to maintain their reductions. Outside of these, I help folks find the person they need to treat them safely.

I know this doesn’t sound pretty but the fact that Lymphedema is reversible as well as preventable by the right therapist. Recovery from cancer is difficult enough without having to deal with the side effects of inadequate or inappropriate treatment. Now, after reading this blog, you are empowered to help yourself or someone else and that is a huge step in the battle against Lymphedema. Please spread the word? The person you help will thank you.

So, what’s a Lymphatic System anyway?

So, what’s a Lymphatic System anyway?

So here I am writing the inaugural “blog” for my new web site. If you know me at all, you know the hamster is working overtime on that wheel in my brain. You’ll have to excuse me. I tend to use furry animal analogies to convey my levels of confusion when it comes to anything technical. Computer language especially is a nemesis of mine.   More