I was in Lithuania this past month working with some professional basketball players.
While working with those players, I discovered that every one of them had some type of muscle tightness. Several of them had tightness all over their body.
It made my job more difficult and made me have to change my plan a bit because we had to do so much soft tissue work to help these players “loosen up”. Over the course of three weeks, we were able to see significant change in most of the players and they were able to perform many of the lifts I originally intended for them to do.
It got me thinking again that whether you are professional athlete, a weekend warrior or you just want to live as healthy as possible, you need to do soft tissue work daily in order to stay optimal. There is a widely known and very well-respected strength coach who makes his athletes do some type of soft tissue work every single day. I would take it even further and say you can't do the same type of soft tissue work three days in a row. This requires that you are doing other modes to keep the soft tissue in optimal working condition.
By soft tissue work I mean foam-rolling, stretching or massage. These are the three easiest and most well-known forms of soft tissue work. My clients know that I don't use the traditional foam-roller most of the time. I don't think that it can create change in the muscle & fascia (connective tissue) that we need. For this reason, I suggest you simply go to a hardware store and buy a piece of PVC pipe and roll on that instead of a soft foam roller. The hard plastic roller will help to smooth out some of the trigger points that are hanging out in your musculature as well as fascia.
It is the fascia that I am more worried about as this is what creates the majority of the tightness that you experience - not your muscles. It will be extremely painful at first, but after two or three treatments the pain will be reduced considerably. When rolling, make sure you roll the entire length of the muscle, roll in all directions and roll extremely slow. When you find a “tight spot” or trigger point, hold the roller on that spot for 20 to 30 seconds. This will help that trigger point to “break up” and the pain should go down considerably after the 30 seconds is up.
You will see greater gains with stretching if you stretch after rolling is performed. If you have time to do both, stretch after the roller to see greater improvement in the range of motion.
When stretching, I suggest at least 30 seconds per hold, but if you have really tight muscles - for example I see it's very common to have tight quadriceps - I'll recommend stretching for at least a minute and even two to three minutes to really see some improvement in the range of motion.
When talking about massage, look for a massage therapist who is well-educated in anatomy and biomechanical movement. The “feel-good” Swedish massages are fun to get and relaxing, but I suggest deep tissue massage. A massage therapist who knows how to correct pain and muscular deficiencies could be a great aid to your own wellness strategy and help to alleviate a lot of pain.
For those of you who don’t know what rolfing is, I suggest you look for a qualified rolfer in your area. Not that there are good massage therapists but rolfing, I feel, takes massage to a different level and will correct problems that you didn’t even know existed (or did know existed). This will take your exercise and your body to a whole new level of function as well as performance!
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About Phil Gephart:
Phil Gephart is a certified personal trainer with a Master's Degree (MS) in Exercise Science with a focus in Coaching & Athletic Administration, received in 2009 from Concordia University in beautiful Irvine, California. Phil’s passion for fitness is reflected in his involvement in sports throughout his life—in high school, he played basketball, baseball and soccer, in college he continued playing basketball and soccer. Phil also played basketball professionally for five years.
Phil Gephart is currently a professor in the exercise science department at Concordia University, where he teaches an Advanced Personal Training course to undergraduate students.