In the last decade you may have noticed foam rollers appearing in local gyms. The other day I saw someone writhing in pain on the floor at my gym and wondered what he had done to experience such anguish. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he had a tennis ball under his hip, which he was using to relieve tension and improve form in his squat. What may seem to be just another fad not only improves movement quality and removes pain in lifts and daily activity but also plays an essential part in any balanced training program.
While static stretching (that is, holding a stretch for 30+ seconds) has received a lot of clout for being ineffective and even injurious when used improperly, the question arises: What do we do to improve flexibility? Mobility is a crucial component of fitness that determines your capacity to attain performance and stay pain-free. To that end, a combination of foam and ball rolling, trigger point therapy, and hands-on techniques are foundational to improving flexibility and releasing immobilized tissues before they cause injury or hamper performance.
Regardless of your aim or approach in training, start by learning some basic techniques and applying them consistently, initially after and between training sessions. If you work with a trainer, make sure he or she is implementing this into your training regimen. You can also find videos on YouTube as well as booklet guides. As a general rule, you would be wise to listen to your body, and while discomfort is a natural by-product of releasing stuck muscles, stay within what is fully bearable. If a muscle is particularly sensitive, try a gentler approach with less movement, open up your breathing, and relax the muscle. After three seconds or so, try doing a movement that uses that muscle, and if it feels looser, you’re headed in the right direction!