“If you lay a piece of paper flat and put your palm on top it and use just your fingertips to pick it up, that’s basically what the tape is supposed to be doing to the top layer of your skin,” said the man who was smoothing a strip of it just under the waistband of the back of my compression shorts.
I’d seen it on TV in the Olympics on sand volleyball players, track athletes and even swimmers, but the place where I’d seen it the most was at CrossFit competitions. At Regionals around the world, athletes were deadlifting, snatching and rocking pull-ups while their arms, backs, knees and shoulders looked like a rainbow of tape strips running in tree branch-like veins of color all over their bodies.
So what is the deal with this stuff? And would applying it to my long-ailing lower back actually do anything to make the CrossFit experience better or different for a grinder like me?
This drove my curiosity as I decided to take a chance on one of the hottest and trendiest products in the CrossFit Community and answer the question: Does this stuff actually work?
I began with my regular chiropractor Dr. Michael Jones, a CrossFit athlete himself. I brought up the topic of getting taped after being adjusted one morning last month. Dr. Jones wasn’t the biggest advocate of the stuff and told me that in his experience with it (knee) he felt like it gave him a little support but had a problem with it in terms of staying on and didn’t notice enough difference to want to keep using it. Despite that, he had some in his office, and he taped up my lower back so I could have a trial run.
I didn’t notice much of a change and really in that first attempt I only wore it for a day or so and never really trained in it.
I decided that, before I wrote it off as a fad, I should talk with an expert and really put it through some tests. I contacted Dr. Bill Richie, who by his own admission is a certified “Rock Doc.”
Dr. Richie explained to me that he had attended a multiday training and certification for RockTape and that he had been using it for years on athletes.
“I actually began applying it to athletes — mostly high school but some college — several years ago, but it never really had much attention. Then the sand volleyball athletes and other Olympic athletes began to wear it, and it was very visible. Around that time I saw a big boost in people asking about it,” Richie says.
Now athletes at all levels are donning the rainbow of colors everywhere from local club volleyball teams to even the CrossFit Games. This training aid has become so popular that Dr. Richie was even brought in to the North Central Regional in Chicago this spring to spend the weekend taping up some of the top CrossFitters in the world.
All that aside, the question remained, would it work for just some ordinary grinder like me? I told Dr. Richie about my issues with my lower back. I told him what my plans were to test it out. He explained the purpose and process of the taping and had me bend over the table, taped up my lower back (two vertical red strips, and one wide black anchor strip) and away I went.
On the Pitch
The first place I really put it to the test was on the soccer field. At 38, I’m not quite Leo Messi on my best day. But as a soccer coach, during our optional summer open field sessions, I like to kick the ball around with the lads and show them that ol’ Coach Tol can still put it in the back of the net from time to time. I was skeptical that the RockTape would have any real impact on my back. Soccer had become excruciating throughout the spring season because of the impact of planting my non-shooting foot and driving my other foot through the ball to kick it. To my surprise, I could feel the tape pull and adjust as I played for more than an hour. I was impressed.
Running on Empty
Next morning, I took it to the track. The workout for our CrossFit-based endurance class was a combination of sprints and 400-meter repeat runs. I had had issues in the past with my feet and heels striking the ground incorrectly from time to time while striding out, causing occasional flares of pain in my lower-back and sciatic areas. At first when I began warming up to run with the group, I was stiff and sore and tense in my back, and I thought, “Well, at least it helped a little with soccer.” But the more I ran, the better it felt. Maybe it was the tape, maybe it was the fact I was just trying to survive the running WOD, but I felt more confident the longer I was on the track.
To the Box
Most importantly, I wanted to put it to the test with CrossFit training. Straight from the track I went in and did some strength work with behind-the-neck presses at various weights. I went into these without my usual “old dude” weight belt, and I was pleased with the support I felt throughout this movement.
The next morning, I grinded it out for a full WOD. I went at it with my old enemy: the deadlift. Even though I didn’t really go after a PR, I did notice that the pain I normally associated with this tortuous movement was less severe and that I was able to move around more freely afterward. The workout that day was a great test as well: seven minutes of seven box jumps (24 inch), seven burpees, seven kettlebell swings at 70 pounds). I finished just shy off five rounds in the seven-minute AMRAP at the prescribed weights and heights. I felt good (as good as one feels after this kind of WOD). Normally back-breakers for me, the deadlift, heavy kettlebells swings and the impact of box jumps would have left me crawling for the door, but today that was not the case.
Still on the Grind
The conclusion, despite my reservations, I noticed a marked impact on my back during training. After three days of putting the RockTape to the test in various ways, I liked it and honestly felt it helped with my training in all capacities. Will it fix my back issues? No, obviously not. I can’t say that placing a few strips of rubbery tape on a part of your body will make all your symptoms, aches and pains go away, but in my case, it helped. I can say this, I will definitely use it again. For a grinder like me, this stuff Rocks!
Do you have any experience with RockTape or KinesioTape? Share your grinder story with me at jtolgrinder @ gmail.com, on Twitter @Grindersgrind or on Facebook by adding Jtol Grinder.
Stay on the Grind.