This “How not to Stretch” guide is almost finished so I guess it’s time to stop yanking your chain about that short-cut to flexibility. Yes, there is one but as always, it’s a mixed bag. There’s a lot of benefit to the method but it comes at a price: pain.
I’m talking about Self Myofascial Release. if you already know what this is, you’re probably thinking “Gee, is that all you got?” and I won’t blame you. If SMR is new to you, you’re in for a treat.
A quick and dirty explanation:
The fascia form a layer of connective tissue throughout your body and one of the things it does is hold everything together. Over time, it can get messed up though. As a result, your muscles end up too tight and start pulling everything in different directions with loads of pain as a result. One of the symptoms is when you have “trigger points” aka “a knot in your muscle”: put a bit of pressure on those and you’re in immediate pain. The goal of SMR is to stretch out the fascia and work out the knots by doing specific exercises that allow you to put pressure on those trigger points.
I know I’m oversimplifying things and my explanation isn’t all that accurate but it’s good enough to give you the right idea without reverting to dry, boring, medical lingo. Have fun reading some text books is you’re into that, but I won’t do it here. :-)
What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that SMR gets your body back into a more functional state. It will take away unwanted tension in your muscles, which will allow you to stretch better. So it’s an indirect method of making you more flexible, but it is a potent one. With regular practice, you’ll have a much easier time stretching and as a result, you’ll become a lot more flexible. Just to give you an example:
I’ve been training full time for almost twenty years now. That means between one to four hours of training per day, six days a week. Over the years, I’ve also accumulated a bunch of injuries. Some chronic, others resulting in accumulated damage. As a result, many things I could do when I was younger have been out of the question for years.
Now I’d heard of SMR years ago and tried it then but I wasn’t impressed. Maybe I did it wrong, maybe my body wasn’t messed up enough, I don’t know. It just didn’t help me that much so I forgot about it. A couple months ago, I came across this pretty cool article that mentioned the “trick” with the tennis ball. It reminded me of SMR so I decided to give it another go…
Let’s just say that the results were mind-blowing:
- I regained an enormous amount of functional flexibility in less than two minutes of work. And I do mean, enormous. It’s not that I wasn’t flexible, I could to high kicks easy. But I had to stretch real good before doing them. Now, I hardly need any stretching at all (though I still do so, obviously).
- A bunch of my chronic injuries either went away or the pain they caused diminished big time. This alone is worth every ounce of pain the SMR causes at first (We’ll get back to that).
- I can stretch much better now, going deeper into stretches and with much more ease. It also hurts less when I stretch hard.
- I sleep better at night. Weird, I know, but ever since I started doing the exercises, I doze off much faster and am actually well-rested in the morning, even if I don’t get eight hours of sleep.
- All these things together have given me the most precious gift of all: I haven’t had this much fun training in a long time. Simply because it’s been so much easier to do so, my body doesn’t fight me anymore when I push it hard and I can do things I haven’t been able to for years. Life is good.
So I went and bought a foam roller and started doing the exercises almost every day. Since then, everything I just mentioned in the list above has improved and increased even more. If you haven’t used a foam roller before, here’s what it looks like:
A good roller doesn’t cost ll that much, so you might want to get one and start doing these exercises.
Where’s the catch?
Now you’re probably thinking “If SMR is so awesome, why doesn’t everybody do it?” The answer is: because it absolutely, frikkin’ hurts at first. It’s no fun when you’re not used to it and as many people can’t get past a bit of pain, they don’t do it. When you find one of the trigger points, you have to keep pressure on it for 30-40 sec. until it starts releasing and in that time, you’ll want to cry for your mamma to take you home because you don’t want to play anymore.
But if you can stick with it, you’ll be amazed at the results and how great you feel afterwards. When you combine SMR with a good stretching program, you’ll be off to new heights in your training.
Here are some guidelines to get you started:
- Don’t use impact. You have to roll and put pressure with the foam roller or tennis ball. Not just slam your body on top of it.
- Don’t go all out right away. Start with a bit of pressure and then slowly increase it as you get more comfortable with this type of training. It might take a few sessions before you can use your entire bodyweight.
- Don’t use equipment that is too hard. If you use a roller that is too soft, you won’t get much results but that’s easily fixed. If you use one that is too hard or go for the tennis ball right away, you can injure yourself in no time. Again, flexibility is not a competition. Take your time to build it up.
- Don’t fight it. Try to relax and breath smoothly as you roll your body on the foam roller. If you’re tensing up all your muscles, it won’t work very well.
- Don’t be surprised if you feel it elsewhere. Weird as it may sound, the limb you’re working on might not feel much different right away but another part of your body will. E.g.: Working on the fascia of your feet can have a direct impact on reducing your back pain. It did for me…
That’s it for part five of “How not to stretch.” In the sixth and last part, you’ll find a bunch of resources for all the information you need on how to increase your flexibility.