Moving Beyond Muscle

By Kevin J. Kula

In Medical/Injuries, Mobility

January 25, 2012

PDF Article

Kevin J. Kula asks why CrossFitters use muscle-based soft-tissue therapies. For chronic problems, he says fascially based therapies are the solution.

CrossFitters demand more from their exercise program than the average gym rat schooled in the outdated exercise science of the biceps and leg curls. Why, then, do we have exercise standards consisting of high-level gymnastics movements and Olympic weightlifting while relying on outdated muscle-based therapies like trigger-point therapy and deep-tissue massage?

Individuals partaking in an exercise program like CrossFit can benefit from understanding the difference not only between isolation exercises and functional movements, but also between muscle-based therapies and those that address the body globally in a functional way.

The poor flexibility and orthopedic imbalances many CrossFitters display aren’t a result of CrossFit—as some contend—but from poor work posture and old injuries. While movement patterns improve with CrossFit, it is my own experience from coaching athletes, teaching self-care and providing soft-tissue work to CrossFitters that some of these imbalances do not just go away with CrossFit but are chronic and continue to limit performance. It is these chronic restrictions that muscle-based therapies fail to resolve and only are addressed with a fascially based approach like structural integration, or SI.



18 Comments on “Moving Beyond Muscle”


Daniel Kallen wrote …

A very complete and relevant article for crossfitters at every level.

It is critical to give crossfitters the right tools and therapies -- ones that are effective and show results quickly. We still see so many members who fail to take corrective action soon enough, aggressively enough, and frequently enough.

Great article, Kevin!


wrote …

Structural Integration is such an amazing form of body work! I was wondering when an article like this would come up, considering how the public's awareness for SI is growing and how compatible it is with CF. I'm glad that when it did, it was eloquent and well done. Also an article promoting SI would not be complete without mention of Ida Rolf and Tom Myers. Good Job.

As you progress in CF and your hands get tougher, is it harder to feel subtleties during facial/soft tissue assessments?


wrote …

I was wondering what this "rolfing" thing was. You've saved me some Googling.
Very interesting, thank-you.


Oscar Manguy wrote …

Great article, thank you.


wrote …

I totally agree that fascial based therapies are the solution to chronic Muscular problems athletes deal with on a day to day basis. Now, Chronic structural issues can be addressed with Structural integration, and an array of bodywork/therapies such as Chiropractic, Physical therapy, Pilates. All in all. It takes an extremely long time for our structure to change. Just like crossfit, these therapies take a long time for our bodies to adapt too.I do believe that CF can improves movement patters like you mentioned in long term. And therefore we should all learn to identify these issues and try the therapy that works best and fits their budgets. As a massage therapist I love working on my fellow crossfitters and don't necessarily see trigger point therapy and deep tissue massage as outdated modalities. more like another form of fascial bodywork. Massage is part of my weekly recovery, along with chiropractic care and by weekly hot yoga for flexibility. I have been trained in SI and I incorporate it to my massage treatment with all clients.


wrote …

I want to piggy back off of Mariuxi's comment and say that the article is a bit derogatory towards message therapists. There are too many blanket statements there about how they are reductionist in their muscle-focus. It should be noted that many individuals who get certified in massage therapy have broad musculoskeletal training. For example, at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy, those graduating as LMTs have taken a variety of courses including kinesiology, accupressure, anatomy, etc. They also get a good dose of traditional chinese medicine (TCM). As such, the region of the body that the LMT works on is very often not the site of the pain. There is much understanding of how the body is connected and treatments are often applied to distant, causal sites of pain.


wrote …

I'm wondering how SI differs from Egoscue's methods? My impression is that Egoscue puts the ball in the subject's court by laying out a method for self-diagnosis & correction through a series of exercises (long term process) while SI focuses on treatment by a provider (shorter term, relatively). Anyone who can provide more insight?


Jim Pascucci wrote …

Good article Kevin. I've been a Rolfer for 18 years and I own/train at Integral CrossFit in Boulder, CO. Tom Myers and Robert Schleip are friends of mine, Tom came to Integral in October of last year to present a Fascial Fitness weekend seminar.
While I'm as fascially oriented as the next SI practitioner, I think it's important to include more than just fascia release techniques into a session. The importance of the nervous system was brilliantly covered by Dr. Don Hazen DC, Advanced Rolfer, in his article "The Neurology of Posture". There's also the Cranial-Sacral and Visceral components to structure to consider.
I wrote an article about the benefits of CrossFit for people who have been Rolfed, it was published in the last Journal of Structural Integration. I showed Tom some of my ideas about this at the seminar--white boards are great! I also did a study on the benefits of Rolfing on CrossFit athlete's taking seven athlete's from four different affiliates through the first three sessions. We compared WOD performance before and after. Both articles are at (WFS).
Let me know if you're interested in Don's article. Unfortunately he died last year, a great loss to the SI community.


replied to comment from Jim Pascucci


I mentioned your affiliate in the article, because you are the first I know of to bring Fascial Fitness (and Tom's work) to CrossFit - remarkable. I just looked over your study and your article, both excellent, there are far too few of us bringing the best of both worlds together. I believe strongly in CrossFit and it is a natural progression to bring the new fascial research (Fascial Fitness) into the support and direction of CrossFit. Tom’s (Myers) curiosity is the source of his brilliance, ““If it is a deep art you can’t get to the bottom of it in 35 years” – I remember him asking me about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in class and showing him an omoplata and submissions on the floor, many people give up this beginner’s mind in the quest to become an expert. As for nerve work I have read Don’s article (I wasn’t aware he had passed), Tom talks about the three-legged stool (SI, Visceral, Cranial) which might actually have four legs Nerves the fourth). I look at SI as a shotgun approach that yields the greatest return to CrossFitters (organs will get shifted, bundles released, rhythm harmonized), SI is very complex but available, there are simply not enough nerve and visceral practitioners out there and I consider that work very specific. Similar to implementing a Paleo Diet to clear things up and then going to a Functional Medicine doctor for more in-depth blood-chemistry analysis for remaining problems. Like Tim Ferris I want to reach the greatest number of people and make it easy and accessible, I don’t think the community is ready for an article on nerve work, they need to know about fascial work first. I will say that a missing component (and you are probably more of an expert than I) is peri-articular and joint capsule related restrictions – I am talking to the co-creator of Fascial Stretch TherapyTM Chris Frederick about a second article about Fascial Stretching, which very thoroughly releases not only fascia but joint capsule restricitions. The joint capsule is affected by SI work, but for chronic and structural problems (as you pointed out) we need to dig into specifics whether it is capsular, nerve, organ or essence. On a personal and professional note, I have a strong distaste for the “R” and “R-ing” words. I am interested in promoting SI as a profession and neither Structural Integration nor “R” are helpful words, it is not about us, it is about helping spread information and changing people’s lives. My next article will be in the IASI yearbook, related to SI language and direct response marketing. I admire your work, depending on the reach of the article I have an idea for a forum, which we can discuss privately.


replied to comment from Claudio Ortiz

KJK Response 01.25.11


Thanks for the kind words. To answer your question #1: Good SI practitioners have developed elbow sensitivity which minimizes hand use - major changes in the body through fascial work involve a lot of septum work which in the lower body can easily be accomplished with an elbow (SI utilizes a lot of 2-handed work - above and below). #2: CrossFit (in my opinion) is the creative expression of Greg Glassman's vision. Personally I enjoy QiGong, Capoeira and Rubber Guard Jiu-Jitsu. Rubber guard minimizes hand use and relies on the legs to maintain guard, similarly I approach CrossFit workouts with the desire to improve weaknesses but I am not going to do 100 pull-ups if I know it is going to rip my hands. Your question is a good one, but compromised connective tissue to me is not progress, that is where Fascial Fitness and CrossFit intersect.


replied to comment from Michael Serrano


I am not an expert on Egoscue, I have been to the Phoenix clinic, watched videos and read a few books. In my opinion Egoscue is an extension of physical therapy, it shares principles of alignment with CrossFit and SI. Due to the varied nature of CrossFit (a good thing) you may need to repeat positions to correct imbalances - put your body repeatedly into non-workday or positions counter to that of restriction patterns. In that sense it does what CrossFit does not - repeatedly exposing your body to the positions your body needs to affect change. Yoga therapy can accomplish similar goals whereas yoga classes (random poses) will not. I wrote the article to expose CrossFitters to fascial therapies because chronic restrictions need specific solutions. A externally rotated lower leg - tibia/fibula induced through trauma may be hard to correct on your own (ligamentous tissue between the bones is affected). SI will provide a solution in minimal time (also looking at compensation at the knee and hip), so yes SI is time efficient. CrossFit on the other hand is a more effective tool for alignment through movement (long-term progression) than Egoscue or yoga therapy assuming that you fix the problem through SI, the mWod, yoga therapy or Egoscue itself. So the marriage of SI and CrossFit is inevitable, while recognizing that there is no one-true solution, find what works for you, while recognizing limitations in each approach.


wrote …

Would you be kind enough to address the issue of pain during SI sessions? I see that you don't like the term Rolfing, but I believe that's because it has long been associated with extreme pain. I've heard that patients are often black and blue afterwards. If this is a fallacy, please enlighten me. What is the pain quotient in an SI session, and how does the patient manage it? I'm sure I could benefit from SI but I'm extremely sensitive to pain and would not be willing to lie on a table for 90 minutes feeling abused. Thanks for your insights.


wrote …

I enjoyed the article and comments that followed. I am curious to hear if this methodology is effective in treating exercise induced compartmental syndrome. My daughter is a 15 Year old beginning cross fitter and high school athlete. She has experienced significant pain in her forearms during and after many workouts and so far the diagnosis is exercise induced compartmental syndrome. At this point the doctors we have seen can only offer rest and avoidance as a remedy. I would appreciate any insights you may have or suggestions to address this issue.


wrote …


Good question: Soreness, bruising and discomfort are a sign that the therapist is going too deep (or trying to affect deep layers) too fast. Soreness is generally minimal after SI sessions and SI is great for sensitive people or someone with fibromyalgia. One of the reasons I don’t like people using the “R” word is that the “R” Institute (one of many schools of SI) trademarked not only “R-ing” but also the word pain along with it – which is harmful not only to their school but to the profession. SI in the beginning sometimes had a “more is less” mentality (lack of sensitivity causing client discomfort), but it has changed and SI practitioners have a great deal of sensitivity – they know how to feel restrictions, and only apply enough pressure to allow for a release. I would argue that all current SI practitioners (regardless of school) are very well trained: sensitive, working from superficial to deep restrictions in order, communicating well and monitoring client comfort.

SI and “R-ing” are not synonymous which is why I don’t want CrossFitters using the “R” word. There are many good schools, the Guild, the Rolf Institute and KMI, which I attended. Some of the best practitioners are “R-ers” who do themselves a dis-service by using their school name (branding) instead of making their marketing and language client-centric (direct response marketing). This will benefit their business and their clients matching their solution to their client’s problem in an understandable non-esoteric way. I am not blaming “R-ers” or criticizing, I am merely pointing out how bad experiences from the past (70’s) have created flawed public perception about the present. I would also like to point out how much CrossFit has evolved in the last three years – unbelievable. I remember when there was no CrossFit Football, mWod or even a CrossFit Kids cert. Now apply that to SI over 30 years – an even greater advancement, SI being backed and directed by current research, like the Fascial Research Conference.

SI work feels very different than massage, the work is very slow and the discomfort is often brought on through the client’s movement (not forced pressure). The practitioner may be freeing up the hamstrings from the adductors and gently holding a space with an elbow (painlessly) but the necessary client motion will cause discomfort. SI work at times is definitely uncomfortable, but the client is always in control, there are more sensations than pain and no-pain, the level of intensity is relative to that person and within their tolerance. The sensations are different when you feel in control, have trust and understand that the discomfort is for a reason and only temporary (5-10 seconds).

To summarize – No you will not be black and blue or in extreme pain. Yes there are times where it is very intense and you wish the practitioner didn’t have your number, always knowing exactly where to work. Ask for a free consult and go through a session knowing that with SI today ”less is more”. I hear constantly from people that have never stepped foot into a CrossFit gym that CrossFit is dangerous, not realistic for the average person – it is no different, you have to experience it yourself minus the hype - I encourage everyone to do so.


wrote …

I enjoyed the article and comments that followed. I am curious to hear if this methodology is effective in treating exercise induced compartmental syndrome. My daughter is a 15 Year old beginning cross fitter and high school athlete. She has experienced significant pain in her forearms during and after many workouts and so far the diagnosis is exercise induced compartmental syndrome. At this point the doctors we have seen can only offer rest and avoidance as a remedy. I would appreciate any insights you may have or suggestions to address this issue.


wrote …

Compartment Syndrome Question,

I have successfully treated CS in the lower leg with a 12-Series of SI. This is definitely in the realm of SI, connective tissue restrictions are common, muscles and layers lacking clear separation. I have not personally worked on anyone with CS in the arms, I actually hadn't heard of or ever thought of compartment syndrome in the arms before, the arms are non-weight bearing (we are not walking on them) so CS there is definitely less common. Trainers and therapists should check out Tom Myers' interesting article in "Body3: A Therapist's Anatomy Reader", that compares arm and leg anatomy - very similar.

Just as an aside, I have also helped people who have in the past undergone a fasciotomy in the lower legs (a procedure for CS that cuts open the fascia). This, in my opinion should always be a last resort, but those who have undergone a fasciotomy and still have problems can benefit from SI. Any connective tissue disorder: plantar fascitiis, or any treatment for a disorder that involves altering the connective tissue (fasciotomy) is a indicator that a facially-based therapy can help.

As to if SI would help, it can, but it may or may not help in your daughters case. Sometimes rest and avoidance are the solution, SI might not help at all. If she had structural imbalances in the arms (most people have a lot of restrictions) exercise may be better tolerated after a Series of SI - that would be the scenario in which SI could help. It wouldn't hurt to set up a free consult with a SI practitioner. Behavior must be assessed/re-evaluated though, SI is great for people with bunions (bunions often return after surgery) but if certain behaviors are not changed (shoes, movement) they will return regardless of SI.

Hope this helps.


wrote …

Due to the interest in locating SI and FST practitioners in different states, education, and general questions that I have received in emails from CrossFitters, I have created the following site to support the article:

The site includes a state by state and international locator for SI and FST
Information about SI, FST, Fascial Fitness, and the Anatomy Trains
A forum for comments and questions/discussion
Recommended reading
Educational resources: short courses and workshops to full programs

I will also soon have a banner link that CrossFit gym owners can embed on their sites/blogs.

I hope this helps.


Hello Kevin;

Thanks for the email, I didn't realize that you had responded to my note, I'm really busy and only read articles in the journal, not comments.
As far as your suggestion that SI is a "shotgun" approach to the body, I think this is an appropriate view for someone fairly new to the work. One of the Rolf Institute faculty, one of the five Dr. Rolf selected teachers, told me he thought it took about 15 years for a practitioner to really start to understand the work. After 18 years, I'm still learning.
Many years ago Advanced Rolfer Robert Schleip Phd. told me a story that started me on a quest to find the most elonquent way to work with the body.
Don Hazen introduced me to his work by asking me if I would be interested in learning a way to get the results with a body that Rolfing produced but only with less "drama". I was, and I'm forever grateful to him for his training.
This is identical to my reasons for getting into CrossFit.
Your dislike for the term Rolfing is interesting to me, but I'll leave that discussion for private communication.
When I was the executive director of the Rolf Institute and during the years I was on the board of directors we made great strides in recognizing other schools of SI, especially since they all of their founders trained at the Rolf Institute.
I'll try and respond to your email in the next couple of days, we're all very busy at Integral CrossFit getting ready for the games.

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