You were probably drawn to mobility tools, as I was, when your tight hips and shoulders kept you from performing your best during your workouts. You began searching for an accessible way to get rid of your pain and muscle tension. Having spent countless hours and dollars on therapies that haven't worked, you searched the vast interwebs for a solution. You searched WebMD, which seemed intriguing, but scary ("am I dying?"). Then you found "specialists" claiming to eradicate your pain with their fancy electronic devices - they were mildly convincing... but then you read the reviews ("If I could give zero stars I would!!")
"There must be a way to fix this myself," you thought silently to yourself while nursing the tension headache caused by your tight shoulders.
In your search for self-healing, you stumbled upon Self Myofascial Release. A fancy term for athletes and experts alike mashing all kinds of things into their sore muscles: lacrosse balls, foam rollers, tennis balls, barbells, knobs, edges of household objects, and my personal favorite: wall corners. mmm. You tried many of these without long-term relief and were left bruised and disappointed.
Enter: my favorite Mobility Balls. Unlike lacrosse balls, they are the perfect density to smush around your bony areas without causing injury. Unlike foam rollers, they are versatile enough to reach the dense fascia surrounding your muscles. Unlike barbells, you can carry them in your purse or gym bag. And unlike the edges of household objects, you won't have to make an insurance claim for any antiques that might be destroyed in the process of taming your taught muscles.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for getting the most out of your SMR practice with mobility balls:
1. Breathe. One of the big ways this technique is so effective is by activating your Parasympathetic Nervous System - your "rest and digest" system. If you are tense and breathing shallow into your neck and shoulders, you are in sympathetic, or "fight or flight" mode. When in this mode, your muscles are engaged and tense. When you are trying to release your muscles using SMR, the last thing you want is for your resting muscle position to be tense. Try breathing wide, down into the bottom of your rib cage. If rolling on the balls is causing you to hold your breath, that is a sign you need to back off on the pressure. The experience should hurt so good, not hurt so bad. Your breath is a really great way to gauge this.
2. Check-in. What movements are restricted? Are you having difficulty touching your toes? Reaching the bottom of your squat? Try rolling around on your mobility balls. Now re-check those positions. Can you touch your toes now? How deep is your squat? Take note of which techniques worked best to help you gain more range of motion and experience relaxation and ease in your movements. This will help you build your personal SMR arsenal (..SM Arrrrsenal. No? Okay then.)
3. Get creative. Experiment with different positions, pressure, and props. I incorporate yoga blocks and mats to help reduce pressure on a sensitive are or change the angle of pressure to reach the muscles I'm aiming for. Check out the Tune Up Fitness blog for incredible advice and ideas to reach all of your tender bits.
4. Use the correct tools. Foam rolling is wonderful for moving fluid, decreasing muscle soreness, and beginning to train your fascia to be able to handle additional tension. Yoga balls are small enough to zone in on muscles and their attachments in order to make a more significant change. There are many "yoga balls" on the market, many of which are too dense, not grippy enough, or otherwise not as effective as the Yoga Tune Up balls.
I stumbled upon Jill Miller's Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls while researching mobility techniques to reduce my clients' unique and often complicated mobility restrictions as well as give some love to my own overworked body. I ordered a pair, rolled around on the floor a bit to break them in, and was instantly hooked. They were able to mush into those places that foam rollers can't reach, effectively grip the skin over fascial adhesions, and allow a massage that was much less bruise-inducing (i.e. safer) than that of lacrosse balls.
I began using these balls to coach my clients through self myofascial release techniques. They experienced immediate changes in proprioceptive ability (balance, body awareness), parasympathetic nervous system activation (they finally RELAXED!), and myofascial integrity (bye-bye tight IT bands!). After a few weeks of witnessing such incredible success with my clients, my curiosity was piqued. I was committed to investigating the science behind these techniques.
Not surprisingly, much of the SMR research involves foam rollers, not balls. The Yoga Tune Up balls are very different from foam rollers in the way they work your fascia into submission. One of my favorite studies involves the use of a tennis ball, which is closer (but still very different) than the YTU balls. Something I had experienced anecdotally was confirmed with the aforementioned study: Self Myofascial Release increases mobility in body parts SEPARATE from those being rolled!
If you SIMPLY roll your feet, you might notice an increase in hamstring and back flexibility.
(Except, well... its not magic, its science.)
After all that researching, practicing, and coaching, I decided this method was too good to keep to myself. I designed and tested a 90-minute class intended to guide a group of unsuspecting victims through a moderately intense but majorly rewarding self massage practice, leaving them with this incredible set of tools to use forever. The wonderful folks at The Assembly were very interested in allowing me to use their space to host my first class. So then:
"The Release" was born.
The Release is a delicious 90-minute experience. Using mobility tools, stretching, and movement, The Release brings awareness to your entire body while addressing specific postural concerns.You will leave relaxed and rejuvenated with better posture, less pain, and a greater overall awareness of your body to help you move better, no matter what moves you.
Want to experience this bliss for yourself? Join me at my next Release class!
Check the latest events to book your mat.
Want your own pair of balls? Purchase them here.
As a scientist, you know I've got to give you the facts. Check 'em out for yourself:
1. Is Self Myofascial Release an Effective Preexercise and Recovery Strategy? A Literature Review
2. The immediate effect of bilateral self myofascial release on the plantar surface of the feet on hamstring and lumbar spine flexibility: A pilot randomised controlled trial
3. Myofascial Release