Restoring the ability to perform fundamental movement patterns is the number one priority in our programming. There are several reasons why an individual may not be able to perform simple movement patterns, and Functional Movement Systems (FMS) breaks them down into two categories; mobility and stability. Mobility issues include tight, shortened musculature and tight joint capsules that prevent an athlete from moving their bodies and limbs in a full, unrestricted range of motion. Stability issues, on the other hand, can stem from poor motor recruitment sequencing or issues with poor positioning, and prevent an athlete from adequately controlling that full range of motion. Generally speaking, athletes need to increase their mobility prior to working on stability, so as to have the prerequisite range of motion to get into the proper positions to stabilize their movement. As we’ve touched upon before, having adequate mobility and stability has implications on injury prevention, performance, and recovery. In today’s blog, I will talk about the simple but effective tools that Anthony and I use for myofacscial release and soft tissue work to increase mobility, and also provide a quick review/buyers guide on each.
Before every one of my workouts, either with myself or with clients, the first thing I do is foam roll. Our roller of choice at Engineered Bodies is the Rumble Roller. At first glance, the Rumble Roller looks like a medieval torture device (it kind of is :P), and I’ve heard people refer to it as the “foam roller from hell”. As opposed to a traditional, smooth foam roller like the blue or white ones you see at the local gym, the Rumble Roller is covered with protruding knobs. These knobs manipulate soft tissue like the thumbs of a massage therapist would, and really target adhesions and trigger points effectively. Another benefit to the bumps on the Rumble Roller is that they allow you to not only roll up and down the roller in the traditional manner, but they also allow you to rock side-to-side on it, which is very helpful when dealing with areas that are very sore and/or awkward to roll over. It is because of these bumps that I find the Rumble Roller is superior to regular foam rollers and other “high end” rollers such as the TP Therapy Grid.
The Rumble Roller comes in two densities (blue or black, the latter being extra firm), and two sizes (full sized or compact). I wouldn’t recommend the full size version, just because all of your foam rolling needs can be met with the compact size. As for the densities, I would definitely recommend beginning with the less-dense blue version, especially if you are new to foam rolling. Just like you can’t stretch a tensed muscle, it is ineffective to roll over tense muscles. As a result, you must choose a roller that will allow you to relax as much as possible while using it to get the most benefit.
TP Therapy Products
TP Therapy puts out a great line of myofascial release products including the Foot Baller, Quad Baller, and TP Ball. The Foot Baller is used to work on adhesions in your calves, namely your soleus, the Quad Baller is used to work on your quadriceps and the IT band, while TP ball can be used on areas such as the piriformis, pec minor, and psoas.
All these tools are great at what they were designed for, but they are also relatively more expensive and more specialized (i.e. less versatile) than other tools that you can get. Therefore, if you aren’t serious about soft-tissue work yet, purchasing the whole line may not be a good investment. If I were to recommend only one piece from TP Therapy, it would be the Foot Baller as I find it the most effective and compact tool to work out trigger points in your calves. (An alternative to the Foot Baller would be to mash out the soleus using a barbell, as Kelly Starrett demonstrates here in his Mobility WOD website. However, unless you workout at a CrossFit box, not many people have a barbell laying around, and IMO it would be inconsiderate to take up an entire bar to do mobility work just in case someone else at the gym wants to use it).
Instead of the TP Quad Baller, I would recommend The Stick to work on the quadricep/IT band region. The stick is a long tool with several rolling segments that spin freely and independently, and you essentially roll it over your tight muscles like you would a rolling pin. I find that sitting up comfortably and “sticking” your quads is much easier than lying down prone and trying to awkwardly support and move your entire body weight up and down over a roller. Moreover, if you have very tight quads, The Stick allows you to ease up on the pressure so that you can relax through the treatment, because having your entire body weight onto a tight quad is painful enough to deter you from ever wanting to roll again. Finally, The Stick is a much more versatile product in that you can perform soft-tissue work on all other parts of your body, especially if you have a super friend who will do the sticking for you. Like the Rumble Roller, The Stick comes in a variety of lengths and stiffnesses (get your mind out of the gutter!), so choose the one that will best fit your needs.
Instead of the TP Therapy Ball, I prefer a regular lacrosse ball. Firstly, I find that the fabric material of the TP Ball causes it to slip out of position when trying to manipulate a trigger point, whereas a lacrosse ball is grippy and stays in place. Secondly, the TP Therapy ball was designed to mimic the thumb of a massage therapist (i.e. soft and fleshy at first, but firmer as you apply more pressure). I find that this feature actually takes away from the effectiveness, and I would rather just have a firmer product that manipulates tissues more effectively. Lastly, the TP Therapy Ball costs around $20, whereas a lacrosse ball costs $4. ’nuff said.
If you’re looking to improve your performance, prevent injury, or just feel better in your everyday life, you need to pay attention to the health of your musculature and soft tissues. Kelly Starrett mentions in his Movement and Mobility course that 80% of your mobility issues can be taken care of on your own. Sure, you could spend $100 per session on RMT, chiropractors, or physiotherapists. Or, you could invest the same amount of money into these products and take care of your own business. Your wallet and your body will thank you.