Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Soft tissue work

One useful technique for warmup and for rehab alike is self-myofascial release. Sometimes also known as self-torture with a foam roller, lacrosse or tennis ball, or other implement. It hurts, but it hurts good like a strong massage. You feel tension and pain, but then it melts away into a general feeling of well-being and better movement.

How does it do this? You simply take a foam roller (a piece of foam 6" wide and either 1' or 3' long, possibly PVC-cored) and put your weight on it, allowing it to act as a masseuse. The pressure is said to help break up muscle adhesions, release tension, break up scar tissue, and "improve tissue quality." Unlike stretching, it doesn't attempt to lengthen a muscle and thus avoids the issue of subsequent muscle weakening - static stretching before exercising has proven to result in weaker muscles during the exercise! Foam rolling avoids this.

This video from Cressey Performance in Boston, Massachusetts, demonstrates a routine you can do with a lacrosse ball and a foam roller prior to working out. Or for general rehabilitation on off-days.


The video only demonstrates one side, you'd want to do both sides for each technique. That is a fairly complete roller/ball warmup.

Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson also co-authored an excellent article on T-Nation about self-myofascial release called "Feel Better for 10 Bucks." Link warning: T-Nation contains some NW/FS (not work/family safe) images.

The foam roller they use in the video appears to be a Perform Better Foam Roller Plus; I personally use an identical roller at home as well as at my gym (DeFranco's Training Systems in Wyckoff, New Jersey).

If you have never tried any self-myofascial release before, I would suggest giving it a try. It is painful but becomes less so as you do more of it. At least for myself, it has proven to be a useful tool for breaking up bruises and swelling, improving my range of motion, and helping release built-up muscular tension.

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