MFR: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That?

I remember the day I was first introduced to myofascial release. It was the day after a particularly difficult night of Randori (Judo sparring). I was unaware of this at the time, but my internally rotated shoulders caused an impingement in my shoulder which was exacerbated by the high intensity nature of Judo (gentle way my ass). Anyways, ever since I started Judo, I was used to having an excruciating pain in my right shoulder (which I brushed off due to the “no pain no gain” mentality). However, two days after that Randori session, the pain was still excruciating and I could not lift my arm. After skeptically trying myofascial release and learning how to (agonizingly) release my pectoralis minor&major, subscapularis and latissimus dorsi, I was surprised that I could lift my arms without pain simply after rubbing a $3 lacrosse ball on the right trigger points. This is when I converted to the religion of myofascial release.

Now I say myofascial release is my religion in a tongue in cheek way. I personally do not believe in blindly following dogma (live INTENTIONALLY, not habitually). HOWEVER, for the effects of myofascial release to be beneficial in the long run you need to do it religiously. This is especially important when first starting out since there will be a lot of internal restrictions in your body, and releasing them takes time. Your dysfunctions cannot be addressed through corrective exercise if there are internal restrictions present. This is why myofascial release is an important first step to any functional training regimen. Eventually, your body might not require as much time spent on myofascial release, but generally when starting out it’s imperative to dedicate time to it. Despite the fact that the trigger points are painful (I have witnessed huge, tattooed Mixed Martial Arts fighters scream like little girls when getting their trigger points released), it’s best to spend at least a couple of minutes on each trigger point. It’s funny how five minutes instantly seems like an hour when you are in excruciating pain. In general when starting out it takes AT LEAST an hour to get all the necessary trigger points released. I recommend focusing on myofascial release AT LEAST once a day when starting out. When I tell people this, their reaction is generally:
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It was honestly my reaction to myofascial release at first as well. Most of us are extremely busy, so adding one more regimen to our routine seems daunting. However, when looking at the cost benefit analysis, the physical benefits I received from doing myofascial release outweighed the time cost. I am not in pain and I am less susceptible to injury. Moreover, I feel like I get a lot more out of my workouts and training sessions if I do myofascial release before, since my body has less restrictions. Additionally, I found ways to multitask while doing myofascial release. I arrive at the gym 30 minutes early so I can myofascialize before training. I myofascialize when studying instead of sitting hunched over a desk. I myofascialize while watching tv instead of sprawling on the couch looking like Homer Simpson. And I am actually myofascializing my quadriceps on a PVC pipe while typing this blog up 🙂
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[PS: Before all you anatomy/grammar nazis get your panties in a bunch that I said myofascialize, I acknowledge that this is a word I made up and if you google search it all the links that come up are mine].

Whether you’re a UFC fighter who trains twice a day or an engineer who sits at a desk for 40 hours a week, myofascial release will be beneficial. It’s also beautiful that these techniques can be done by yourself utilizing tools such as the theracane, lacrosse ball, pvc pipe, foam roller etc. I believe that these are useful investments, especially since I hear injury rehab and pain pills usually cost money as well. Releasing the bound up fascial tissue in the body is important for pain management, optimizing movement when exercising and overall physical wellness (I’m 21 but I can only imagine what pain I would have felt at 41 if I never bothered to myofascialize). I am glad I implemented myofascial release into my training regimen, mainly because it allows me to keep training.

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Want a flat stomach for summer? DON’T DO CRUNCHES!

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People tend to get more ab focused in their workouts the warmer the weather gets. It’s understandable since it’s beach season and flat stomachs are culturally perceived as “sexy” (this is a whole other subject I will avoid ranting about). However, a lot of people go about gaining a flatter stomach by doing hundreds of situps/crunches and other similar variations of these popular abdominal exercises. The problem is that these exercises further ingrain postural deficiencies, as well as exacerbate pain by placing excess stress on regions such as the lower back. Moreover, popular ab exercises tend to work your rectus abdominis. However, in terms of specific core muscles to target when focusing on the abdominal region, the pivotal but often ignored muscle is the transverse abdominis (TVA).

I like to think of the TVA as a corset, since it is the innermost core muscle whose main function is to compress the abdomen, but also stabilizes the spine. Corsets were historically worn to hold in the torso in order to emphasize the hips and chest (creating a more optimal “womanly” figure). To me it’s crazy to think that on the quest to look skinny, people ignore the muscle that basically acts  as a natural corset. I’d like to note that I am not endorsing the notion that skinniness is the ideal we should all be chasing, but realistically skinniness is what a lot of  people go to gym to attain (hooray for skewed cultural perceptions of “sexiness”).

Many people tend to have a weakened TVA due to sedentary lifestyles and improper training of the core (focusing solely on crunches). A weak TVA can cause bulging of the abdomen wall which causes the pelvis to rotate into an anterior pelvic tilt thus contributing to an increased lordosis in the spine. From a vain standpoint, an anterior pelvic tilt is not good because protruding bellies do not look good in a two piece bikini.  But more importantly, anterior pelvic tilts aren’t good because they lead to lower back pain, lots of sub-optimal  muscle compensations, and increased risk of  injuries if you are an athlete with an anterior pelvic tilt.

Ever since learning this line of reasoning, I stopped doing crunches in order to solely focus on TVA activation. The easiest way to activate my TVA is by sucking my belly button into my spine while lifting my ribcage. The best thing about this is that strengthening my TVA can be done anywhere. I do it while walking to class, while standing in line etc. Optimal posture requires a strong TVA. Moreover having a strong TVA helps with bio-mechanical performance, whether you’re running, doing Muay Thai etc.  When I focus on TVA activation when doing padwork, I immediately feel like my punches have more power. Having a strong TVA is also key in helping reduce lower back pain, which is a connection that most people are unaware of. So while doing crunches can increase back pain and not necessarily make your stomach look flat, the TVA activation will reduce back pain while making your stomach look flat.

So, from a superficial limbic brain train of thought, activating the transverse abdominis seems like a better alternative since it helps you attain a slimmer looking body. However, from a logical neocortex train of thought, activating your transverse abdominis still seems like a better alternative since it reduces lower back pain and helps give the body structural support to attain optimal posture.