Sunday, March 9, 2008

Rolfing: Can It Help Your Running?

Rolfing, sometimes called Structural Integration, is system of soft-tissue manipulation that claims to realign the body. Each body part is aligned on top of the next to improve posture based on the bodies relationship to gravity. It works on the fascia, or connective tissue, to open up space inside the body that has become restricted at different depths. A person goes through 10 one hour of so sessions to work on all levels and areas of the body, head to foot.

I undertook the 10 sessions, actually I did 11 sessions, and found the process fascinating. You might think it seems like a massage, but it is much more as the fascia is relengthed. I liken it to feeling like my connective tissue was putty or clay being pushed or pulled slowly and I could feel the tissue slowly melt and give way. During the process I wrote this reply to on a message board concerning rolfing and running. I am TDF on

6/12/2005 In a response on to a person called "bold and beautiful"

I just had my 4th of 10 sessions and I am very impressed. I am a long time runner that has struggled with biomechanical issues lately. What chiropractic and massage never did (along with everything else I tried) Rolfing seems to do. It works with the connective tissues and fascia to get your body back into balance. It looks at the whole body not just parts (some movements seem an awful lot like ART). I am hopeful that the long term benefits stick. I like the fact that the 10 sessions are done only once. They don't look to get you back and keep at it, although I guess you can go for tune ups. SO far it doesn't hurt. I had a lit of imbalances and bad rotations throughout my stride that are balancing out. My 5k time has gone down over a minute since I started 1 month ago."

As I said the process was interesting and you could tell what body part would be working on next before even going in for the session. I was thrilled with the "changes" that were taking place.

However good I felt at first. Within months after the Rolfing my stride was falling apart and old familiar patterns and pains were taking place. I went back for a readjustment that Spring before the Boston Marathon and nothing changed. I tried a month later with a different Rolfer who uses a different system called the Rossiter System. In this process, the practitioner steps on you with their body weight and you them move your muscle against the weight: sort of a cross between ART (Active Release Technique) and Rolfing but done with a "foots on" rather than a "hands on" approach. It was pretty powerful and the next two runs felt fantastic. But as I was running I felt a shift in my back and it later went into a type of spasm that took a couple of weeks to clear up. I went to the starting line at Boston knowing I wouldn't be able to run and made it 9 miles before dropping out.

I went back later that summer for another session using the Rossiter System, but this time the practitioner said maybe he and I worked too hard the first time. This time he worked mainly my shoulders and arms and it had no effect on my running. I have the book and DVD for the Rossiter System and think it is a good way to get at the knots, but you need someone really attuned to what is going on to be precise in knowing what muscle to work on. My wife enjoyed stepping on me a bit at first but it was hard to know exactly where to apply the technique.

A year and 1/2 later I wrote this response to another question on

12/19/2006 In a response on to a person called "I'm rotated"

"I did the full 10 series (actually 11 for me) 2 summers ago. It was good while it lasted. I am very messed up with all sorts of bad rotations, imbalances, and compensations. I felt much better than I had in many a year. It did not last, however, as within months I was falling apart again, I went back for two tune-ups last Spring and that did nothing. A chiropractor did mention I was much looser and easier to adjust months after it was all done. This summer I was coming out of my problems much easier and am now getting to feel and run more balanced through the intelligent use of foam rollers and more targeted stretching as well as eliminating improper stretching. I have also been using an Egoscue Method video the past month which has helped with back tightness. I think that Rolfing has made it easier for my body to readjust itself. I am not sure if I will ever get perfectly balanced because it may be more structural issue with me. I did my best running in over 7 years this summer and fall and I do not get twisted out of shape for weeks at a time without relief like I used to. It was very expensive for my wallet but worth it in the sense that I had to try something new and although I do not feel as perfect as I did after some Rolfing sessions it was another step in the right direction. Don't just do your legs. I found that work on the shoulders helped my stride immensely so try to do the whole series if you go for it. One caveat: I think it balances the body standing at rest (which is helpful) but it didn't always address the "body in motion" questions I had. I don't' think it was that painful-except the work around the face and arms which was not used to being worked on. It was rather interesting to go through the process."

My final evaluation is that it was an interesting therapy that definitely had immediate results. I felt taller with a much younger posture as I was undergoing the process. No one, however, has yet been able to pinpoint what is wrong with my body. At times I think it is a skeletal issue that can never be helped. Whether it has made adjustments quicker and injures easier to heal, I don't know. I do know that my old patterns came back but maybe I am not as tightly wound as before.

Here is an abstract on a study that says their is no benefit from rolfing to male runners on running mechanics and flexibility.

Here is an article on rolfing from Trailrunner magazine.

Here is an article called "Can Rolfing® Help your Running?"
by Brian W. It was originally printed in Footnotes a publication of the Road Runners Club of America vol. 12 #6 Summer 1985.

If you don't want to undertake the full Rolfing program, you may be interested in a book called "Deep Tissue Massage, Revised: A Visual Guide to Techniques at a Glance". It uses some of the principals and techniques of a Rolfer. I bought it right before getting into the Z-Health and Joint Mobility exercises so I haven't given it the reading it deserves, but it looks like it explains things well.

Right now I am using a mix of Z-Health and the Ageless Mobility DVD to work on my joints, kettlebells to work on my strength, and the exercises, routines, and cues from Brain Training for Runners to work on my stride.


Anonymous said...

Greetings. I am now in yearII of a scool in Denver,co. My teacher,who has 25 years of massage behind him and is the founder of the school says that serious athletes should not get serious work while competing. It does not allow you to find a balance in your structure, and so you can cause more harm than good. I might suggest that you go to the Guild for Structural Integration, or the Rolf website and contact them regarding your predicament. They might suggest a schedule as well as practitioners in your area that would be familiar with working with serious athletes.

Deb said...

It may be true. We had a client, a competitive swimmer who started the Rolfing 10 series at the beginning of his competitive season. His first race after being Rolfed was horrible. His range of motion had increased so much that he wasn't used to his body. The way he described it, his arms and legs "were flailing all over the place" and he "had no control over them."

BUT... with that said, once he went through that first competition and realized how his body was moving differently, he figured it out. He continued the Rolfing series while competing and actually began not only winning them, but was breaking records.

Many athletes have pretty good body awareness and should be able to modify accordingly so I don't think it should be a rule to not work on athletes while competing. It's just that the athletes should be made very aware of how the work will affect their structure and range of motion so they can adjust their performance accordingly.

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks for the comments, Deb. I found out this week that I have a friend, non-athlete, that in the middle of getting the Rolfing progression done. Unfortunately, no one else in the room knew what it was.