6 Benefits of a Consistent Mobility Practice – AND – How Self-Myofascial Release Saved Me from Surgery
I’m writing this blog because I want to talk about how mobility work (specifically, mobility work focused on addressing muscle restriction) was able to transform the musculature of my upper body, and transform my shoulders from chronically tight and painful to mobile, flexible, and MUCH stronger.
I need to give a brief intro on my exercise history in order to tell this story properly, but I’ll be quick. I was a lacrosse player in high school and college. I did a lot of strength training, mostly in the form of bodybuilding. This practice severely neglected my flexibility. When I started yoga in my last year of college, I thought that this would fix the problem once and for all. While my flexibility did significantly increase through the flexibility-focused exercises found in yoga, my relative shoulder inflexibility became apparent slowly as I transitioned to an all-yoga training routine. At the peak of my shoulder pain, I was doing handstands on an almost daily basis. The breaking point came while I was demonstrating a pose while teaching a yoga class the morning after a night out (and thus, in a severely dehydrated state). While demonstrating a handstand press, I felt a painful twang in my shoulders while lifting my feet off the ground and transferring the majority of my bodyweight into my shoulders. “Ouch,” I thought. “Hopefully I’ll be okay tomorrow.”
I wasn’t. I tried a plank the next day only to experience shooting shoulder pain. It looked like my upper body was out of commission for the time being. At the time, I was training with a trainer friend of mine, Paul Monje, who was starting to work on my persistent hip and shoulder flexibility through non-yoga techniques. Much of his material that he used with me was influenced by his training through the Gray Institute and Kelly Starrett of Mobility WOD. It was something that I hadn’t been exposed to before, and as such it had a profound impact on me in a relatively short period of time. The exercises that we did weren’t active. Rather, we were focusing on mobility techniques to help remove knots from my muscles; knots that had probably been there for years.
After doing the mobility exercises, specifically those mobility exercises focused on releasing muscle restriction (getting out muscle knots), I was back to doing planks and push-ups again, but with more more bodily awareness, and much more attention paid to my shoulders. Pain I had considered a nuisance before was now something I recognized as a signal from my body that I was moving incorrectly, and slowly these pains started to go away as I focused more and more on mobility work, and addressing all of the knots through my upper body. I realized that I wasn’t nearly as flexible as I had thought, and that if I had continued in the manner that I had, I probably would have ended up needing surgery on my shoulders with a torn rotator cuff. (I’m actually somewhat convinced that I did indeed have a partial tear, but thankfully I’ve been able to avoid surgery by doing the proper strengthening and mobility exercises.)
What did the mobility work I was doing help me realize?
- There were TONS of unaddressed knots in my body, many that had probably been there for years but I had just not known about.
- These knots were severely restricting my ability to build strength and flexibility. It was like functioning at 80% of full capacity, or trying to do a job that required 5 people and have only 4 people show up.
- My chest was TIGHT from all of the bench press that I had done between the ages of 16 and 22. Even though I wasn’t doing anything other than push-ups for chest at this point, there were knots in my pectoral muscles leftover from my bench press days YEARS later.
- Certain muscles of my rotator cuff were in knots. The rotator cuff is an extremely important group of muscles that allows your shoulder to function normally, and is responsible for lifting your arm overhead (among other things). Within this group of 5-6 muscles, my teres major (a relatively thick muscle) seemed like it was one big, angry knot, which meant that the smaller muscles that performed the same function as the teres major were being overworked.
- Foam rolling was not enough. Foam rolling was good for getting larger, easily-accessible muscles, like quads (thighs) or glute max (butt), but the foam roller was not suited for targeting hard-to-reach or smaller muscles, like the hip flexor (psoas), pec minor (chest), rotator cuff (shoulder), rhomboids (shoulder blades) or forearms.
The main bulk of mobility work I was doing fell under the category of “self-myofascial release”, or SMR for short. SMR is a type of mobility work that addresses muscle restriction, which refers to muscle that is inactive because it is trapped in a knot. When you do a stretch or a pose, the fibers of your muscle that are pliable (able to be stretched – functioning the way that they are supposed to) will stretch. The fibers of your muscles that have been formed into a knot, however, will not stretch. It takes more than stretching to get these out. Aside from hiring a massage therapist or visiting a chiropractor on a daily basis, there is no better way to address these knots than by taking matters into your own hands in the form of self-myofascial release.
SMR has the potential to dramatically alter the character of your soft tissue (your muscles) for the better. SMR contributes to overall mobility in ways that stretching alone does not by removing muscle knots. It addresses trigger points, and allows the tight, locked-up sections of muscles in your body that are inactive to be usable once more. What’s more is that SMR helps to release these knots QUICKLY, and as a result, has the potential to increase your flexibility in relatively short period of time. The gains that I have seen with consistent SMR work have been nothing short of dramatic, not only with myself, but with my clients and with the participants of my 90-Day Programs.
When I started doing SMR work in conjunction with yoga, that was when the real magic began. Releasing trapped muscles is one thing, but unless you combined it with flexibility and strength work, then those knots would gradually reform. Putting SMR, yoga, and bodyweight exercise together into a single workout facilitated flexibility in addition to strength and mobility. As a result, strength increased because of increased range of motion. Joint pain decreased because muscles were longer and there was not as much stress on the joints. Muscles that were dormant because they were trapped in a knot became active once more. Soreness decreased because muscles were more flexible. We also know that because of these results the likelihood of injury was less as well.
Let’s recap. What are the benefits of mobility work (specifically, mobility work focused on muscle restriction) if done consistently over time?
- Flexibility – WAY UP.
- Increased range of motion for increased strength potential.
- More muscle activation.
- Decreased risk of injury.
- Decreased soreness and joint pain.
- More fluid movements.
Wait…don’t these benefits look familiar? Yes! They are very similar to what you will gain from a consistent yoga practice (minus the actual strength building involved, balance, and core strength). Adding mobility work to your yoga practice is like doubling (or even tripling or quadrupling, I’d say) the results of your yoga training.
If you haven’t done mobility work before, now is the perfect time to start. It takes a while for your body to adapt to new practices, which means that you’ll be able to get a lot of those muscle knots out and make some serious gains in your flexibility and strength before your body realizes what’s going on. The Mobility Project is a program that I’ve created that combines self-myofasical release (utilizing mobility tools, a lacrosse ball and foam roller) with yoga to help you receive the benefits of a consistent mobility routine. It includes 7 targeted workouts (head and neck, upper torso, arms, lower torso, hips 1, hips 2, and lower legs) to help you learn the specific mobility techniques involved in addition to their corresponding strength exercises.
Click here to sign up for the VIP early access list to the Mobility Project AND receive immediate access to the Upper-Neck and Head workout from the Mobility Project, in addition to 20% savings and VIP early access to the Mobility Project on April 15 at 9:00 AM CST, a week before the full release.
If you’d rather learn about mobility on your own, I encourage you to utilize my YouTube channel or my blogs on mobility (which contain exercises using the KnotOut, lacrosse balls, and foam rollers) to help you get started. When you are confident that you want to make mobility work a part of your routine, head over to manflowyoga.com/the-mobility-project.
Thanks for reading! Hope you learned something,