The human body is absolutely incredible. Time and time again, we are presented with choices: some that will bring us closer to the life we desire, while others drag us down the mountain, sometimes ending worse off than we began.
You can embark in a positive direction through intense bouts of physical and mental challenge to upgrade your potential…or in a negative direction with a night on the town followed by a morning IV of caffeine to even make it through the morning. Whichever spectrum you lean towards (and I really hope it’s the first example), there is always room to explore new ways in finding what you as a human are capable of.
Adding Tools to Your Toolbelt
We are given the ability each day to learn at least one new thing. Things such as developing the hand for woodworking, a word in Swahili, funky song name, fun fact on a celebrity, a recipe for Vegan-Gluten & Dairy free-Non GMO-Organic-Paleo meatloaf… it can literally anything you come in contact with! On a quick side note, I personally use a daily journal to help keep track of what I have learned or experienced each day from reading, listening, or communicating. That way I can go back in a few years to re-learn some things I may have left drift from me! Today, I am going to share with you a tool that will tilt the scales in the positive direction!
Entering the Realm of Myofascial Release
If you’ve never heard of that before, I guess that is the 2nd learning of the day, woo! Although that word might get the wheels spinning in your brain to decipher it, let’s break it down real quick.
Myo: of muscle
Fascia: A band of connective tissue beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs.
Release: Allow to move, act and flow freely
So let’s connect the dots with these three little fancy words; Myofasical Release is when we gain the ability to freely move the connective tissue beneath our skin, specifically where muscles are present. Awesome! But how is that going to help me become fit, healthy, and look sexy? Oh, trust me it will, keep reading.
You may have seen those cylindrical tubes that people lay on or roll around with. Those are foam rollers, and soon enough will end up being your best friend. When used in the right areas and in the correct way, they can provide acute/chronic pain relief, improve your range of motion, and alleviate muscle soreness and perceived tightness. But don’t think this is some mindless rolling around like you’re making a pie crust. Just like any other part of a fitness or training program, there is the “right” way, and the “wrong” way to foam roll. Let’s highlight 3 actions to pay attention to.
First, BREAHE and RELAX. I don’t have a hierarchy of rules to go by, but if I did this would be on the podium.
The whole purpose of myofascial release is to allow our tissues to be in a relaxed state, where manipulation of the deeper layers beneath the skin can occur. When that tacked down tissue, or the knot in the muscle is discovered, our natural inclination is to tense up and hold our breath. DON’T DO IT! Just like when getting professional massage, even if its uncomfortable, tensing up will only prolong the process, plus set back any relaxation you wish to achieve. Plus, our ability to breathe is what helps naturally allow oxygen to enter our system, into our blood, which is then diffused through our muscles; so consistent breath will allow the muscles to obtain what they need.
Second, you never want to directly roll over major joints! Your joints and ligaments are responsible for structure support and integrity, NOT freedom. To give a visual, let’s use the leg as our demo model.
The knee is a synovial joint, which in normal english designed to hinge forward and backwards. Think of your knee acting just like a door hinge; it is designed to move in *one pattern around a fixed point.That’s why walking and running are most natural feeling, while quirky tweaks from getting in and out of the car, or wearing heels on gravel aren’t so nice.
Now, if you are rolling down the outside of your thigh (the IT Band) and make your way over your knee joint, what direction is it now being forced into? Yep, you guessed it…Exactly the OPPOSITE of what it is meant to do! Although usually an issue during higher speed impacts, to the right is a diagram of what can happen with applied force from the outside of the knee (moving the joint left to right, rather than forward and back). Yes, I know, it can be a bit dramatic since this is one of the worst case scenarios and won’t happen if you accidentally let the roller slide a bit lower than intended…but why put unnecessary stress if there isn’t added benefits?
Third, TAKE YOUR TIME. If you just roll back and forth without intention over your thigh looking to move on to the next agenda, you are basically wasting your time. Sure, that will bring you some pain relief for a few moments, but for the opportunity to mitigate long term pain, knots or tightness, and muscle stiffness, the amount time spent on the area will be your greatest ally. If you only have 2 or 3 minutes, dedicate that time to one or two particular sports, rather than trying to hit every muscle in the body like you’re in ludicrous speed. (for those of you who get the reference, bravo)
Have you ever seen a steamroller compacting pavement? It goes at a painfully slow pace to ensure no spots will be uneven, untouched, and to be sure it won’t have to go back to redo what it missed. Imagine if they went fast? Simply imagine your foam roller is a human steamroller; combine those three tools and you shall be a pro in no time.
Roller Movement #1: Quads
Start by lying one or both legs on the roller while positioned in a modified plank position (left above). You want to travel anywhere between 2 inches above the knee joint up to the base of your hip on the front of the thigh. Take your time making a few long, smooth passes up the entire quad to find any potentially ‘sticky’ spots that might be a bit more tender than others; that is where you will spend the majority of your time. Allow the roller to be stationary on that spot for at least 30 to 45 seconds, focusing on deep and steady breaths, allowing the roller to seemingly mold into your skin. After dedicating however long you need, you can shift your weight so that your shoulders become perpendicular to the floor, and the roller shifts to the outer thigh (right above). The same principles apply here. Stay above the knee, take your time in the specific spots that need it, and breathe. A good rule of thumb is to dedicate at least 90 seconds, or more if need be, to one leg before switching onto the other.
Roller Movement #2: Adductors
Roller Movement #3: Glutes
Roller Movement #4: Calves
Pressing a gas pedal, walking, high heels, and inadequately supported footwear are daily activities that slowly accumulate stress upon our lower leg muscles. Whenever the foot is asked to dorsi- or plantar-flex (the motion of walking), the 2 muscles of the calves are placed under repeated recruitment, meaning they can be worked pretty damn hard over time. The add in activities like squatting, hiking and running, and we’ve got some business to attend to.
To create more intensity, isloate just one leg by crossing your ankles over, as if you were lounging on an ottoman. If that makes you feel hot magma erupting in your lower leg, place the back of both legs onto the roller to make the change manageable. Rolling up from the base of your heel toward behind the knee is the area to focus for. About 1/3 the way up from your heel is where the Achillies tendom, Gastrocnemius, and Soleus all link up together, making it a hot spot for relief. Always pause there for a solid 45 seconds, but then you can resume exploring the back of the leg, and even shifting toward the inner our outer of your shin/calf as well!
Roller Movement #5: Thoracic Spine/Mid Back
For all of you desk jockeys, service employees, or heavy lifters this should be a staple in your everyday routine! Aside from the fact sitting is one of the worst things to ever happen to humans, pairing it with a stressful job and attention-less alignment can create a messy vertebra alignment. This is the key to maintaining the ability to comfortably and safely rotate, bend and support through our mid back. Things like swinging a baseball bat, washing your back in the shower, bending over correctly, throwing a football, or reaching in the car behind you are some off the brain examples of asking our mid-spine to remain mobile.
When getting into position to roll the muscles supporting the Thoracic spine, you want to keep in mind where your mid back reaches your lumbar spine, or lower back. Trying to roll the lumbar spine is a no-no for rolling because it is designed for stability, not mobility! As you can see from the fancy diagram to the right, the main area we are aiming to stay focused on is from in between our shoulder blades, down to just above where our belly button would be if it was a back button… *crickets*
Ahem, anyway, Place the roller at the bottom of your shoulder blades, and then give your self a big hug like I am above. This will create space between the blades, and expose those underlying, supporting muscles to get some foam rolling love. It is best to travel up and down slowly for a few passes to prep the area for change. While keeping your midsection engaged and head neutral, I recommend beginning to lightly shift weight from left to right so that the larger back muscles, the lats, are hit by the roller as well. To take it up a notch, you can press into your heels to lift your butt from the floor. Spend closer to 3 minutes here, especially after a long day of sitting or heavy lugging around. Oh, and just in case you forgot along the way, always remember to breathe 🙂
At Orca Empire, we take foam rolling, prehab, and body love extremely serious. It is a major determining factor not only in a training program, but in life! I’m willing to bet you don’t have the financial luxury to schedule a massage every 2 weeks (and if you do, I’m so damn jealous), but this is a great “poor mans massage” substitute.
Muscle and soft tissue health should be treated the same as you do your teeth. Everyday, you dedicate time to bush, floss and if you’re really good, mouthwash. It is basic knowledge to not want your teeth fall out of your head, so you always remember to take care of them almost innately. Then, every 6 months or so you go to the dentist where they give you a little extra spic and span job. But what would happen if you stopped brushing your teeth, let them become infested with grime, and then show up at the dentist with, “Well my teeth are bothering me, can you fix it”…
But we don’t think the same way about our bodies because either we don’t know, don’t have time, or never thought of it like that. If you just let stress, muscular damage, and faulty movement
And there you have it! Everything you need to start giving your body some love each day in under 15 minutes. This can be done while watching a tv show or movie, letting your nails dry, or as part of a pre/post training routine. Change might not happen in a few days or weeks, but that tension you developed didn’t happen that quickly either! When added regularly to your life, it can create an unbelievable change in avoiding injuries and overuse, as well as giving yourself an opportunity to understand your body a bit better. Because although it might just be a small amount today; a little, on top of a little, will eventually equal a lot!