Friday, January 10, 2014

Marathon Recovery - A conversation and session with Brad Vaillancourt

After my first marathon, Brad Vaillancourt, an old friend from high school who has been following my fitness journey and who works with a number of athletes, offered to give me a recovery treatment in exchange for a blog entry about the experience.

Brad provides a range of services to athletes from all over the world – from physical rehabilitation to strength and conditioning coaching for high performance athletes. He’s worked with athletes from all over – including the Swedish Women’s Hockey Team – and provides services both in person and through Skype. All you have to do is chat with Brad and you quickly come to realize how knowledgeable he is about all aspects of sport conditioning. The couple of times we’ve chatted in depth – I’ve come away with lots of food for thought with respect to my own progress and potential.

If you’re recovering from an injury, have niggling issues or just want to get some advice or help on how you can improve your performance, check out his website:

To add more flavour to the post (and so I didn’t get the details of what he does wrong) - I decided to make this an interview. I asked Brad a series of questions about what he does, why he does it – and more specifically about what he was doing during my treatment, and what tips he could offer to people training for a marathon or other endurance event.

So without further adieu…say hello to Brad!

::sound of applause::

How would you describe your work?

The best way I can describe my work is the symphonic use of amazing modalities that help athletes to perform by tapping into their full potential.  Sometimes I’m asked to assist in directly bolstering their sport performance. Other times, it’s to indirectly help them achieve their goal(s) through physical rehabilitation.

How did you get into this field?

I’ve always had an educated interest in the human body.  When I was eleven, I read articles about human performance.  By the age of twelve, I was exercising regularly to help my sport performance (hockey, lacrosse, football, and track).

In 1998, I was approached by the University of Windsor hockey team to become their Strength & Conditioning Coordinator.  At that time in my life, I was an industrial firefighter/EMT.  To my surprise, my education in my hobby had come to the forefront.

What do you like best about what you do?

The human body is so fascinating.  When I see an athlete go from being a mediocre player to not only one of the best of their team - but also a leader - it warms my heart.  These high performance individuals work their tails off, day in and day out, so they can be their best.  It warms my heart to see them succeed at what they truly love.

So, getting into the session we did. You made me do a bunch of tests at the beginning (e.g. bending, reaching, stretching my feet/toes) - what do these exercises tell you about a person? Feel free to comment about me in particular if you remember.

When I’m testing my clients, it’s mostly to use a visual to see where they are, and the difference that gets made by the end of their session.  Sometimes, I will use photos or videos to show them where they once were, and the progress they have made.

Brad took videos of everything he had me do – both before and after the treatment itself. Other than the fact I hate seeing myself in pictures (especially a few days post marathon) – I found it extremely eye opening in terms of range of motion, flexibility, posture, and the way I moved.
It was also a pretty visible show of how treatments can impact these positively very quickly. The "after" videos really showed quite a difference in terms of range of motion and flexibility....and, ore importantly, I just felt looser than I had before hand.

You showed me something called ART (Active Release Technique) - that really seemed to help the next day. What is this, and when should people consider getting it?

Active Release Technique (ART) was developed by Dr. Mike Leahy.  It’s used to rid the body of scar tissue, adhesions, and nerve entrapment.  The result:  increase in range of motion, boost in strength, and significant decrease in pain (particularly with those who’ve suffered Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, and who’ve had one or more strokes).  Think about how quickly it helped you.

In looking up ART after the fact, I found out it’s actually quite a well known treatment for athletes – although the wide usage for other rehabilitation was something new to me. Overall, I found it hurt a little (mind you, I was already sore from running a marathon) – but the next day I was feeling significantly better. I was still weak, but a lot of the stiffness was gone.
Definitely something I’ll look to line up next time I do a big race.

You spoke to me about the range of different modality areas you cover in a session, depending on need. How would you describe these – and can you give some examples of what they can accomplish?
  • PIMST (Poliquin Instant Muscle Stimulation Technique) – is an excellent way to help athletes become faster, stronger, and more flexible…in 10 seconds!  I used this to blow away the 2010 Swedish Olympic Hockey Team by increasing their standing long jump distance by 7 inches!
  • Total Body Balancing – This technique was developed by Canadian Osteopath Dr. Kerry D’Ambrogio. It’s a special method of gently realigning the fascia tissue that, over time, twists and bunches.  This creates a loss of range of motion, early fatigue, and pain.  I compare this to wearing jeans that have been bunched and twisted from sitting for long periods of time.  In minutes, an athlete can regain true form and increased energy capacity.
  • Biosignature Modulation – This method was developed by Charles Poliquin. It is used to determine hormonal imbalances, and the best method(s) to regain balance for a leaner, healthier body.
  • Electromagnetic Pulsing – Another Canadian invention.  Using the magnetic pulses from the wand, fragile muscle fibres that have difficulty staying attached, form stronger bonds to allow faster healing to occur.
  • Strength & Conditioning – Utilizing cutting edge science, athletes develop the best when paying attention to the intricacies of training design and periodization.
  • BodyTalk – This was developed by two Australian doctors over 35 years ago. BodyTalk is used to help athletes break old pathologies that stop them from accomplishing their goal(s), allow them to recover faster, and help them perform better at times they usually find difficult to focus (or stay in the “zone”)
It’s kind of amazing all of the different modalities that Brad has experience in. While I experienced a recovery-focused session, he’s also worked with a number of athletes on game day (or event day) preparation and also on rehabilitation from injury. It’s the dynamic mix of approaches that allows Brad to create unique, tailored sessions that help his clients meet their performance and rehabilitation goals.

For my readers’ benefit – do you have any suggestions on what potential marathon runners could be doing to help them during training (outside of running).

Tip #1: Crosstrain. Use exercises that stimulate opposing running muscles. For example, Peterson Step Ups to keep knees healthy; Deadlifts on Podium to develop super strong abs, lower back, and postural muscles.

Tip #2: Recovery.  As sport specific training and racing goes deeper into the season, recovery is often hampered by a buildup of soft tissue issues. This will severely hamper one’s ability to compete at their best.  Some suggestions include: improved sleep, adequate food intake, using a far infrared sauna to help heal micro-tears and detoxify the body, specific soft tissue work to free up areas like IT bands, hips, etc., including ART, BodyTalk, and/or Total Body Balancing.

Tip #3: Regular Hydration. Staying hydrated every day is a small balancing act.  Keeping the body properly hydrated means consistency in your intake of water and electrolytes.  If an athlete is inconsistent with their fluid intake, the body doesn’t know how much to use and how much to flush away, leaving one feeling tired early and lowering testosterone levels.

Given I am now doing triathlons as well – with a goal toward doing another marathon in May and a Half Iron distance triathlon in September, I have to agree with these tips. It’s amazing how much cross training can help extend your endurance while also allowing for more active recovery.
I also continue to do strength training with Trainer Chris twice a week because I am sure those sessions are one of the main reasons I tend not to get hurt except through ridiculous moments of klutziness. On the hydration front…well, I am doing better than I ever have – although I am sure I could do more. This is a good reminder of how important it is – not just during a race, but every day due to training as well.

What is the most important part of recovery after a marathon (or any long endurance event)?

Doing one’s due diligence in prevention makes rehabilitation much easier and quicker to accomplish.  Start your recovery methods right away - beginning with a meal right after your activity.  Make sure it is compiled of fast acting protein (whey or chick pea), L-Glutamine, and Vitamin C.  All of these will kick start your recovery faster than a battery plug in a Saskatchewan winter.

In other words…think ahead! Just like your marathon nutrition plan, know what you’re going to do afterwards.

Any other comments/thoughts you want to share with my audience?

Using all of the modalities necessary during each session allows athletes to achieve their goals in the shortest amount of time so they can enjoy their sport, longer.

How can people contact you for more information?

The best way to contact me is through my website. I work all over the world - especially, with the advent of video messaging programs like Skype.  It’s really amazing to be able to provide the very same modalities while someone is all the way across the country or continent.