I've had the pleasure of working with hundreds of clients, and every so often I'll get one that wants to perform a certain exercise, but after their hour long consultation with me going over health history, exercise history, goals, etc. we finish up with a movement assessment. Personally, I believe this is the most important thing a fitness professional can do for their client is walk them through this type of assessment. This is where the professional can point out deviations from normal, movement dysfunctions, compensations, etc. and then build a specialized program for this client that addresses the things noted in the movement assessment and brings the client closer to their goals.
For fit pros, this movement assessment is a real game changer, and for clients - well, some think it's ridiculous because "they move just fine" and for others it's an eye-opening experience of just how limited - or not - they are in certain areas of their body. When you have some sort of dysfunction at a joint, it impacts the functionality of the entire surrounding system. Our entire body is connected by a network of connective tissue called fascia. It surrounds all your organs, bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. That fascia not only helps or hinders your movement, but it's like a super highway for sending messages throughout the body. When you have a knot, sometimes it's in the muscles and other times it's an adhesion in the fascia. In either case, you might find your range of motion to be limited.
Limited range of motion can be annoying for a few reasons. It impedes your ability to do certain things. Sometimes it causes pain. Sometimes both and then some. To ensure that your body stays flexible and mobile, you don't have to do hours of yoga every week (though that might help), but you do have to do something. Enter - self myofascial release. Self myofascial release, known as SMR, is a type of self massage technique that helps to improve your range of motion, speed up recovery, reduce pain and a whole bunch more. It's quick, fairly easy and is much more cost effective than a daily massage. For people who are active, these techniques are great for getting your body prepped for movement - and - also great to do after you've done some movement.
Just like most things that are good for your health, consistency is key. The impact of these SMR techniques will only last a few hours until your body has adapted (with repeated exposure). It's also important to strengthen the stretched position of these muscles so that the body has additional opportunities to create that muscle memory. So, the next time you use some SMR on your calves (or any part) you might consider holding a yoga pose or two where you can now stretch the muscles that you just manipulated.
SMR is different than stretching in a few ways. We are using compression (pressure) and lengthening (stretch) simultaneously to release tension from the muscles which also helps to create space in the joints. It can be done using multiple types of tools; foam rollers, therapy sticks, massage balls, lacrosse balls, a barbell, a metal water bottle - the list goes on if you are creative enough. But really, there's no excuse to not do it because even if you don't have these tools, you can use your hands!
The power of this stuff (SMR) is real. Back in 2014 I ran in the Nike Women's Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., not because I enjoyed running, but because I wanted the Tiffany's necklace. Anyways, I was in the prime of my fitness, so I didn't train, and went out that April morning to run 13.1 miles. It was miserable, and an excellent, humbling reality check. As I crossed the finish line at 1:59:58, my tears of misery were replaced with tears of relief, I received my necklace (handed to you on a literal silver platter, by a man in uniform), got my solar blanket, waited for the other 6 girls I was there with and booked it straight to brunch where we celebrated with mimosas to help numb the pain of running. Turns out, I should have taken three minutes to stretch and use a foam roller, because by the next day every time I took a step I winced from the excruciating pain radiating across my feet. Long story short, after working two ten hours days, on my feet, I made an appointment with a Sports Med doctor. And you know what that man told me "you need to foam roll your calves." I damn near lost my mind. I spent 3 days crying as I walked, and $200 out of pocket for this specialist to tell me to foam roll. I was so pissed. At myself. Because you bet your cute little ass that literally within minutes of foam rolling my calves the pain was gone. And that my friends, is why you should try SMR.
Check out the post "My doctor said to work on my flexibility..." to learn the difference between flexibility and mobility, and then sign up for Better Mobility - my self paced SMR workshop.