The Daily Grind Mobility
Just about everyone I have ever met suffers from some sort of muscular imbalance. This can stem from a lack of correct movement patterns, doing a certain movement incorrectly and repetitively, or from some kind of injury. A muscle imbalance is where one muscle is stronger than the muscle opposite of it. For example, the bicep and the tricep are opposing or antagonistic muscles. When the bicep contracts, the tricep relaxes. The hamstrings and quads are antagonistic, the glutes and the hip flexors, you get the point. When one muscle is either stronger or chronically shortened, it can wreak havoc on not only the joint these muscles cross, but also the central nervous system, the muscles themselves and it goes on and on. The problem with these muscle imbalances, or muscle viruses you’ll hear me call them, is if you don’t fix them, they can cause sever chronic pain as well as dysfunctional movement. I would argue that 80% of all surgeries related to knee, back, shoulder, elbow, ankle, pretty much any type of joint pain, could be avoided by corrective stretching and strengthening. What we have to do is elongate the tight muscle by static stretching or foam rolling, and strengthen the muscle that isn’t being utilize.
Let’s talk flexibility. Flexibility is the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allows the full range of motion of a joint. You can see the benefit of having flexible muscles. Essentially, flexible muscles equals less pain, greater ranges of motion, and a stronger base for you to lift or exercise from. Going into the gym and hitting the weights without a proper warm up and corrective stretching is like building a sky scraper on uneven concreate. You are building strength on dysfunction. This will not only cause serious pain and injury in the future, but you won’t be as strong as you could be if you took the time to do corrective stretches. Don’t believe me? I had a client who loved to deadlift. He wasn’t getting as strong as he thought he should be so that’s why he came to me. In our first session, after a slight cardio warm up, I looked at his deadlift form. Everything looked good, but I noticed that his glutes weren’t firing the way that they needed to. He was using a little more hamstring than he should. I explained this to him, and had him stretch his hip flexors (antagonists to the glutes), and do a few hip bridges, and fire hydrants, to warm up his glutes. After just a few min of corrective stretches and movements, he was able to pull an extra 20 lbs with ease. Now that you are convinced, let’s talk about how to become more mobile.
There are a lot of things that go into mobility, genetics, connective tissue elasticity, joint structure, body composition, sex, age, gender, activity levels, previous injuries, you get the point. This being said, you can still push yourself to become more mobile. Just because you were dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean you need to stick with it. There are basically two ways of becoming more mobile. One is static stretching, which is holding a muscle to end range for a period of time, and myofascial release, foam rolling is a well-known form of myofascial release.
The benefit of static stretching:
- A slow, easy pace conducive to relaxation and steadiness.
- Static stretching is probably the safest form of stretch. You can take your time and push yourself to the limit easily without worrying about accidentally pushing yourself too far.
- Static stretching is the best stretch to use for aches, pains and cramps.
- It can be done by almost anyone, with little training. It can even be done by people who are very out of shape or very weak for whatever reason.
- It can reduce the brains signal to fire that particular muscle if held long enough.
The benefits of foam rolling or myofascial release:
- Increased Blood Flow
Myofascial release via foam rolling exercises stretches and loosens muscles. By applying force to your muscles and connective tissue over time, blood is squeezed out and replaced by a flood of fresh blood. Blood carries vital nutrients such as oxygen and glycogen to spent muscles. The greater amount of blood flow leads to various related and beneficial results.
- Improved Movements
Better hydrated and looser muscles move past one another with less friction. This means that during a workout, movements are smoother and muscles are less likely to be pulled or damaged. Foam rolling before a workout as part of a dynamic warm-up is especially effective for myofascial release.
- Better Range of Motion
Another related advantage to self-massage is the improved range of motion of properly stretched and lubricated muscles. A larger range of motion means that more muscle can be recruited in a given workout, leading to a more effective routine. Better range of motion indicates more flexibility, which leads to the fourth advantage of foam rolling habits.
- Decreased Injury Risk
As stated before, self-massage increases circulation throughout the body. Better circulation means a better range of motion and more effective body movements. Overall, myofascial release from foam rolling reduces the chance of injury because coordination of the body is improved. This means that the likelihood of an improper movement leading to injury is reduced significantly. On the flip side, if an injury does occur, self-massage techniques can be used to decrease recovery time.
- Decreased Recovery Time
Foam rolling is an effective means to draw blood to an injured area, but also decreases recovery time between workouts. This is especially true of foam rolling after a workout has been completed. After a workout, muscles and joints become sore because of the build-up of waste products such as lactic acid. When performed post-workout, a self-massage acts to wash the acid away by recruiting fresh blood and nutrients to the fatigued muscle groups. The faster that exhausted muscles can receive the adequate nutrients for recovery, the faster they can rebuild.
- Faster Results
All of the positives of myofascial release lead to a decreased recovery time and a lower chance of injury. If an athlete stays healthy over time while being able to exercise more frequently, then they will inherently produce faster results. Foam rolling is a simple solution to a complex problem with great benefits to practitioners. (Healthy Habits)
I personally recommend a combination of foam rolling and static stretching both before a workout as well as after. This will maximize each workout, decrease recovery time, and help fix muscle imbalances.