Photo courtesy Trigger Point Performance Therapy
When Brandon Bethke preaches the benefits of a foam roller, there is a sense of urgency in his voice that is directly channeled to a pivotal moment, albeit a painful one, in his personal history.
Bethke grew up in Orange County, Calif., and his first passion in sports was for soccer. His life as an endurance athlete at the time was ancillary in nature: He ran on the cross-country team in the fall to get in shape for spring soccer season.
Things changed in a wicked flash when, during a game early in his high school career, Bethke took the brunt of an opposing player’s kick. The kick was meant for the ball, but collided with Bethke’s lower leg. “He kicked me as hard as he could,” Bethke says. He fell to the turf and clutched his ankles, which he knew were broken. Coaches implored him to let go. Bethke resisted at first. “I can’t!” he said. “The bones will shift!” The coaches didn’t let up, and Bethke acquiesced, apprehensively letting them go.
The bones shifted. “I screamed in pain,” he recalls.
Surgery was required. It was successful—although the surgeon needed two screws to pin things back together.
It seemed like an end to his athletic career at the time, but now Bethke believes it was a blessing in disguise. Ultimately, he left behind soccer for running, and embraced every word that his sports physical therapists imparted. He went on to become one of the fastest high school milers in the country and eventually competed for the University of Wisconsin on a scholarship. Now 27 years of age, his personal bests include a 13:25 5000, a 3:57 mile and 8:48.66 3000-meter steeplechase. He has his sights set on the 2016 Los Angeles Marathon, which will be the site of the Olympic Marathon trials for the USA.
But before the trials, Bethke, who has returned to Orange County, is out to give back: He is in the process of opening an athletic rehabilitation clinic, West Coast Rehabilitation Specialists, that will be dedicated to runners, triathletes and the like. Says Bethke, “We want provide the kinds of services professional runners and triathletes have benefited from to anyone who walks through our doors.”
The competitive triathlete doesn’t have to wait (or travel to Orange County) to take advantage of some of the restoration/recovery wisdom that Bethke has compiled over the years. In addition to a progressive strength program that he abides by, Bethke reports that using simple restorative tools make a huge impact. Daily use of items like a foam roller allowed him to develop into a world-class athlete despite having, as he puts it, “two screws in my leg.”
Bethke also says that for any athlete trying to upgrade their running form, performing self-massage on the calf muscles is invaluable. “When I changed my running form during my senior year of high school, it was like I had rocks in my calves.” Performing constant therapy helped him get over the hump and also engrain the new running technique. (Bethke adds that the running form overhaul took a year, but it was worth it: the new running form helped him make huge breakthroughs in speed.)
For daily physical maintenance, Bethke’s basic routine is the following:
A foam roller, a massage stick and either a lacrosse ball or Trigger Point Therapy ball.
- Set a timer. Use your watch or your smart phone to set a timer so that it beeps every minute.
- The feet. Roll the ball under each foot for one minute. Hunt out any particular hot spots and apply good pressure.
- Using the massage stick, go after the calf muscles, one minute per leg. If you find an deep knots, spend some extra time with the ball digging in and across the knot.
- Quads. Put the roller on the ground and lay down on it so you can roll out your quad muscles, one minute each side.
- IT bands. Roll out each IT band, one-minute each. A minute doesn’t sound very long until you get to this one.
- Hamstrings. Using the roller, roll out the hamstrings, one minute per side.
- Glutes. Spend a final couple of minutes rolling out each hip and also the lower back. An additional tool can be a softball or softball-size mobility ball, which can also be used to work out any knots in the gluteus muscles.