Article in Men’s Fitness Magazine, July 2000
Rolfing is deeper than the deepest massage–and sometimes more painful. Some athletes swear by it anyway.
By Ben Kallen
If you’re a sports-movie fan, you probably still remember Semi-Tough, the 1970s pro football satire that pokes fun at the era’s weirdest training techniques. Perhaps the funniest scene is the one in which Burt Reynolds receives an excruciating massage administered by a viscious old lady, after which he’s barely able to limp away. It’s almost enough to make you forgive the guy for Cop and a Half.
What you may not know is that the movie was satirizing a real technique, known as Rolfing, that’s intended to improve flexibility and balance, even to restructure the entire body. And despite its painful reputation, many athletes are still seeing Rolfers to recover from injuries or improve their performance on the playing field.
The technique was developed in the middle of the past century by a biochemist named Ida Rolf, who believed that fascia becomes thickened and inflexible as the result of past injuries, repetitive stress, or even working out. Once that tension is released through hands-on manipulation, people end up with a greater range of motion, stand straighter, and are sometimes taller than before. Along with the physical stress, emotions or memories that may be associated with specific events can also be released–so it isn’t unheard of for someone to suddenly remember a long forgotten injury, or even to start crying for Mommy right there on the table.
But here’s what you really want to know: Does it hurt? After all, this is no namby-pamby spa massage–these guys dig deep. The answer, which may not make you feel a lot better, is that sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. “There’s no question that rolfing can be painful,” sas Craig Swan, a former New York Mets pitcher who is now a certified Rolfer in Connecticut. “Still, would you opt for a little bit of pain that goes away immediately if it meant getting rid of your chronic pains forever?”
OK, we’re mulling over that one … Yet, plenty of people get through their sessions with little if any discomfort, especially since current training encourages Rolfers to use a lighter touch. “We teach a much gentler style now,” says Jeffrey Maitland, Ph.D., a Scottsdale, Ariz. based advanced Rolfing instructor and director of academic affairs for the Rolf Institute. Maitland who consults with the Phoenix Suns and has worked on such former and current NBA players such as Danny Ainge and A.C. Green, says wryly, “Pro athletes don’t like it when it hurts.” Charles Barkley–whom, one would assume, you wouldn’t want to upset–had no trouble with his Rolfing sessions, Maitland adds.