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Mobility tools are excellent pieces of equipment to have in your training arsenal. Mobility tools are usually foam rollers, lacrosse balls or bands, but can include household objects like rolling pins, PVC pipes, frozen water bottles, towels, two tennis balls knotted in a sock, sports equipment like softballs...the list could go on and on. Not to brag, but at our house, we even have a fancy water bottle that's both a water bottle AND a foam roller! I know...contain your jealousy! I'm a mobility nerd. (It's called a Mobot!)
What is Fascia?
Imagine if your muscles were covered by a thin, stretchy sweater, or a spiders web. Fascia is pretty similar. Fascia is the sticky, densely woven connective tissue that connects, supports and surrounds our muscles. When fascia is healthy, it is flexible and glides over your muscles. When we create trauma in our muscle, through injury, overuse, inflammation or inactivity, fascia can gum up the works, making some movements stiff or painful.
What is Myofascial Release?
Myofascial release is a technique that can be applied to many areas over the body where you apply gentle (or sometimes not) pressure to a tight area. Trigger points (tender areas of soft tissue) can be soothed and smoothed by applying pressure. If you've ever tried to brush a tangle out of hair, you can apply that same illustration to myofascial release. You are realigning the elastic muscle and connective tissues from a bundled, tangled mess into a straighter and smoother arrangement.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, if you are having nagging, frequent pain that just doesn't seem to go away or you think might originate in a joint, go see a sports medicine doctor, physical therapist or a trainer who has been educated in properly assessing an athlete. Sometimes the pain or discomfort you can feel originates in another location and a trained professional can give you the best guidance once they have eyes on you. If you have general tightness and are looking for another tool in your ruck as a preventative measure, let's get started!
How do I do this?
Select your preferred equipment. If you're interested in purchasing a foam roller and you've never rolled before, select a solid foam roller that has some squish. Softer feels better on tender muscles. If you'd rather not purchase equipment, a rolling pin or two tennis balls tied tightly in a sock will work. Get creative!
After you get comfortable with basic equipment, you can branch out and try other myofascial release tools. There are foam rollers with grooves that help get deeper into tissues and encourage blood flow, and you can also go to harder materials. One of the worst items I've ever used for mobility was a large hollow pvc pipe wrapped in tape at my old box - but it was "worst" in that way that I still daydream about. It was awful!
- Select an area of the body that you think could use some rolling. Some great locations are calves, hamstrings, and buttocks. You want to roll out the area until you find a "trigger point." What's a trigger point? The spot where it hurts! Yes, you're chasing the OWWW!
- When you feel that trigger point, stop rolling the area and instead, stay motionless on that painful spot. The pressure helps release the muscle and fascia.
- DO NOT roll on joints and bones! Keep to the fleshy bits!
- As you advance to roll out your back, keep only to the upper and mid-thoracic spine. Never roll out your lower back.
- Put aside some time every day to roll, especially during your training season or after intense workouts.
This video by BarBend has spotty sound, so make sure to listen carefully and maybe turn up your speakers. But the information and rolling techniques for calves is spot-on. This is the kind of rolling you NEED to know how to do.
This video is technically for runners, but I feel strongly that it applies to ruckers as well. We can often have the same imbalances, and this video explores a good foam roller IT band movement. But what makes this video super awesome for me is the time spent on how to correct IT band issues by using a single leg RDL. A kettlebell is used, but the same movement can be used by holding your ruck by the top handle. This exercise is key to strong and healthy legs and hips.
This is a short video by the Mayo Clinic on how to roll out your glutes. What this video doesn't show that I want you to keep in mind is remembering to stop and/or slow down as you find a trigger point. Rolling over pain rather than sinking into it doesn't do a heck of a lot. Pressure - even up to :30 seconds - can be very beneficial.
I don't know about you, but I HATE my ruck straps after a few miles. Regardless of ruck weight or size, and even with years of rucking under my belt, my traps get tight and I can't wait to throw it off at the end of my workout. If you're like me, or even if you aren't, your trapezius muscles need some relief. This guy's Australian accent is a little strong, but he has some killer moves with a trigger point ball around the 2:00 mark. (Don't forget - any ball will do here - tennis, soft ball, heck - your dogs toy.)
Lat Smash! No - really - Strong Athlete uses the smash technique on his Lats and Rotator Cuff, and this movement is ideal for every rucker.
This is a great little video on the use of a foam peanut ball for biceps and your shoulders. This can also be accomplished by two tennis balls in a sock. (I figured if I keep writing about that, you should probably know what to do with such a weird implement.)