Mike Papciak: Muscle Hygiene and Bodywork Clinics

  |   Posted in , ,

So many of us have those nagging aches and chronic pains that seem to come with the territory of climbing hard—but is there a way to keep pushing our limits without wearing down our bodies? Mike Papciak, a.k.a. the Bald Sensei, is here to say YES, absolutely! Read on to learn the secret to strong, healthy muscles and check out his upcoming bodywork clinics. 


I’m a climber, a bodyworker, and a Touchstone member. I started climbing in 1983 in Atlanta, Georgia and arrived in Berkeley in 1992, where I’ve been based ever since. I did my first 5.13 25 years ago, and my first V10 20 years ago. About ten years ago, I changed careers and became a bodyworker. I have a full-time private practice in downtown Berkeley where I work with clients one-on-one, and I also teach groups of people how to loosen up in workshops like the one we’re doing at Dogpatch Boulders on April 5. I’m also presenting at Hollywood Boulders on April 26 and at Great Western Power Co. on May 24.


Just what it sounds like: working on bodies. Usually the term “bodywork” refers to clinical massage therapy, but your chiropractor, your acupuncturist, and your physical therpist are also bodyworkers. They have different toolsets, but each does therapeutic work on the human structure. My training is as a massage therapist; however I rarely use the word “massage” because it carries some baggage—new age music, candles, vacationing at the spa.

Three customized lacrosse balls, used for muscle hygiene. Photo by Caydie McCumber.


It’s the same idea as dental hygiene. We know that we need to brush and floss our teeth daily, or eventually we’ll have problems. Everyone’s absorbed that lesson, and we know the consequences. However, many climbers don’t take care of their bodies. They approach the sport in a lopsided way—all strengthening, no maintenance or “prehab.” So most climbers are super tight and hobbled with aches and pains. Being tight all the time steals your strength, slows you down, inhibits your movement, ruins your posture, and predisposes you to injury. I bring the good news that you can address this! On your own! Our tool of choice is the lacrosse ball. It’s like a better, more precise, more portable foam roller. The formal term for working on your muscles on your own is self-myofascial release (SMFR).


Consider what you do for your teeth: see the dentist twice a year, and brush and floss on your own every day. Good hygiene for your muscles would be seeing a practitioner at a regular interval that works for your schedule and budget—the classic model for a serious amateur athlete is once a month—and also doing your own maintenance every day, brushing and flossing your muscles for at least a few minutes, using the tools and moves I’m going to show you at the workshop. You can also think of it as taking out the garbage: the more regular you are, the fresher and healthier your muscles will be. I do 30 minutes or more of self-myofascial release with a lacrosse ball pretty much every day. I haven’t had an upper-body tendon problem or injury for over a decade. But I’m nerdy. If you do ten minutes a day of self-myofascial release, consistently, it’ll be a huge improvement in your comfort and your performance.


Loosen your hips and your thighs every day. Not stretching! Loosening. If you focus only on your shoulders and arms, you’re blowing it. Hips and thighs are where the shoulder and upper back trouble starts. Many upper-body athletes have a hard time with this concept. You heard it here first. Come to the workshop to find out more.

Mike Papciak working with a client’s quadriceps muscle. Photo by Caydie McCumber.


Functionally, you are one muscle. Not a bunch of little independent parts. When you really understand this, and work with experts who understand this, it will revolutionize your structural health and your athletic achievement.


You want this! It will massively help your tight, tweaked body. Here’s a special invite to the many folks who have lacrosse balls, including my friends and acquaintances, and…can’t really see what the fuss is all about. If you have a lacrosse ball, and fuss with it, and it doesn’t seem that helpful or amazing, you need the beta. Nonclimbing friends, roommates, relatives, etc. are welcome. Space is limited and we might sell out. One more thing: long sleeves. Wear long sleeves, or bring them to the workshop. You’ll be glad you did. LONG SLEEVES—you want them. Psyched!


Dogpatch BouldersApril 5th, 8-9pm

Hollywood BouldersApril 26th, 8:30-9:30pm

Great Western Power CoMay 24th, 8-9pm

Advanced signup encouraged. $20 for both members and non-members. All proceeds go to the Bay Area Climbers Coalition (NorCal events) and Friends of Joshua Tree (Hollywood event).