Whether you’ve just started your fitness journey or you’re a lifelong athlete, you’ve probably experienced either post-workout soreness or back pain, neck pain or general discomfort from daily life. Well fortunately there are a few pieces of equipment that can make a world of difference to prevent or reduce thee types of discomfort.
The types of fitness equipment, or recovery tools, that we’re going to talk about all fall under the umbrella of Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). SMR should be a staple of your recovery routine, both warm-up and cool down. Pre-workout it has been shown to increase total body circulation and flexibility. Post-workout, self-myofascial release helps to flush metabolic waste and reduce recovery time. SMR is done by using our own bodyweight as a tool to apply pressure to the desired areas by using Trigger Point tools.
While stretching is also very important, it is not accomplishing everything that your body needs for a proper recovery. When you perform a static stretch, you are creating length in your muscle fibers. While this has plenty of benefits of its own, static stretching does not in any way affect the tissue surrounding and weaving through your muscle fibers. Thus, this tissue will continue to become tighter and tighter. Causing a negative impact on your recovery, performance, and worst case scenario, lead to injury.
When compression is applied, blood in the area will become briefly constricted. Once the pressure is removed by the roller, new nutrient rich blood will rush to the area and enhance the healing process. Essentially, this self massage is manipulating your tissue in a way stretching does not. And unless you’re someone who has the time/money for a daily massage, SMR is a necessity for you.
Foam rolling is probably the most recognizable form of SMR. You’ve probably seen that person rolling around on the warm up mat and wondering what the point is. Other tools you can use are lacrosse balls, rolling pin, and even a HyperVolt (my personal favorite). These all provide the same benefits, just in a more aggressive manner for those more stubborn areas such as T-spine, piriformis, psoas, etc.
While performing a self massage is fantastic for your recovery, it can also increase your performance! In fact, in most cases SMR is more ideal to do prior to your dynamic warm-up than static stretching. This is because you receive those benefits of increased blood flow to prepare the muscle for your workout, without lengthening and weakening your muscle fibers, which can actually affect your strength and/or explosiveness.
Here’s a few examples of how to apply SMR to your movement prep on specific days.
Bench Press Day: Foam rolling all muscle groups surrounding shoulder joint(lats, pecs, T-Spine). Specifically, using a lacrosse ball to triggerpoint your pecs is ideal as well to provide a deeper release to the prime mover of the exercise.
Deadlift Day: Foam rolling hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves. Triggerpoint piriformis with lacrosse ball. Deadlifting is a hip dominant movement, so releasing these surrounding muscles will greatly aide you in keeping the movement feeling clean in your hips. Additionally, releasing your calves will help improve your ankle mobility, which is an often overlooked aspect of the deadlift. This will make it easier for you to get into your setup without compromising stability in your lumbar or hips, which lower your risk of injury greatly and increase your strength.
Now of course just like anything in fitness, there are exceptions to the rule. If you have any of the following conditions, you will want to get permission from your health care professional before applying SMR: Osteoporosis, Diabetes, High blood pressure, Varicose veins, Pregnancy, and any other time you are unsure of your condition. Outside of these medical conditions, another thing that can happen during SMR is guarding. Guarding is when your body is perceiving the SMR as a threat, typically an area that has experienced injury, and overprotects itself. In the process, this can cause a setback or even further injury that previously experienced.
A foam roller is perhaps one of the most important tools to keep you safe and relieve pain. Of the SMR protocols foam rolling is the most gentle technique which means it can be repeated daily, multiple times a day. This will allow frequent stimulation of blood flow throughout the day to support recovery.
Foam rolling allows your to reduce pressure on joints surround the spine to allow you to reduce overall tension in the affected area. As a safety note, lower back pain is the most common type of back pain that we see. When foam rolling it is going to feel very tempting to target this area and foam roll you lower back. However, this is not a safe approach to relieve low back pain. This is because the function of our lumbar spine is to remain stable, meanwhile SMR and foam rolling aid in mobilizing a given area. Therefore foam rolling your lower back can actually aggravate the area. Instead you would want to target your glutes and mid to upper back to reduce lower back pain.
Second only to lower back pain, sciatica pain is one of the most common complaints we see in our clients. To clarify sciatica is a more complex issue because there are 2 primary causes of sciatic nerve pain.
The most common cause of sciatic nerve is comfort is actually muscle tension. Specifically we’re talking about tension in a little muscle called your piriformis. This tension can result from either a tight and over worked muscle (shortened and inflamed) or a lax and over stretched muscle (long and inflamed). In both the muscle is tense and pressing on the sciatic nerve causing pain. This type of sciatic nerve pain can be reduce through foam rolling, trigger point techniques (look for an upcoming article on specific techniques) and either stretching or strengthening, respectively, the affected area.
The second cause which is commonly diagnosed as sciatica is the result of damage to the sciatic nerve. This type of sciatic can result from an injury or from allowing sciatic pain from muscle tension to go untreated for an extended period of time. This type of sciatica requires a medical diagnosis. In this case SMR will not eliminate sciatica, however, gentle SMR can reduce any accompanying muscle tension and alleviate symptoms. We do recommend you get medical clearance and work with a fitness professional if you fall in this group.
Below is a list of my favorite trigger point and self myofascial release tools. I’ve also attached a video of Cassie guiding you through one of many methods of self trigger point therapy.
Foam Roller - If you get nothing else on this list at a minimum we recommend a foam roller. Foam rolling is a part of all of our clients' daily routine to help them recover and keep them safe during their workouts.
Trigger Point Peanut – This is what we consider the most useful trigger point item & our clients’ favorite
Foot Roller – If you wear heel to work or you’re on your feet all day I would recommend this item
Grid Roller – Much more solid than a foam roller meaning more efficient SMR. As a note there are off brands of this type ofroller, however most of those have more space in the grid essentially creating "spikes" that can cause trauma to irritated areas
TriggerPoint Basic Kit – Includes peanut, footballer & yoga block
TriggerPoint Complete Kit + Guide – Includes peanut, footballer, quadballer, yoga block and guide (This is the kit both Cassie & I have)
HyperVolt – Our magic tool. This is certainly a more expensive tool but if you’re aiming for variety, time efficiency & a deeper release this is well worth the money.The HyperVolt is what we both personally have and the brand most fitness professionals trust however there are a couple of cheaper alternatives out there. There's now also a more portable version Hypervolt Go
If you're interested more trigger point techniques we have an article coming soon covering a variety of trigger point and recovery strategies.