Why All Athletes Should Do Soft Tissue Work

Make soft tissue work a part of your training regimen to get the most from your muscles.

Whether you are an athlete or a coach, chances are that from time to time you may skip your warm-up. Yet warming up is the most critical component of your training program. It sets the overall tone for that training session and can ultimately end up making or breaking you.

One of the key components of a great warm-up is soft tissue work. Below are tips on why and how to include it in your training program.

Why perform soft tissue work?

As much as being an athlete has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks, such as soreness and discomfort after training, practice or competition. Consistently performing soft tissue work can decrease this soreness.

During workouts, muscle is damaged and breaks down. As a result, adhesions and trigger points can build up in the muscle and fascia, which can lead to discomfort and tightness, restrict joint range of motion, and cause muscular imbalance.

Over time, these imbalances can cause faulty movement mechanics and eventually injury. Performing soft tissue work through a technique called self-myofascial release (SMR) can help improve and maintain the integrity of the muscle and fascia.

Through SMR, you can inhibit the muscle spindles through a process called autogenic inhibition. This stimulates a muscular sensory organ called the Golgi Tendon Organ, which helps reduce overall muscular tension.

Decreasing the muscular tension in restricted areas prepares muscles for proper range of motion and movement. SMR also increases blood flow and the ability of the muscles to rest at their natural length/tension and move freely.

Why All Athletes Should Do Soft Tissue Work

How to perform SMR

SMR is best performed with foam rollers and lacrosse balls. It is most effective before or after a training session/practice, on rest days, and sometimes before bed. When using a foam roller or lacrosse ball, use your body weight to apply enough pressure and take your time rolling the specified muscle. Going too fast over the muscle will do little or nothing, and spending too much time in a specific area can sometimes aggravate the tissue. Stick to rolling each specified muscle group for 20-40 seconds.

View the videos below to learn how to use the foam roller and lacrosse ball to roll the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, deltoids and pecs. (Another great resource to learn more about SMR and how to apply it is Mike Robertson's SMR E-Manual.)

Benefits of SMR

Performing SMR as a part of a warm-up can prime your muscles for good movement and range of motion, so you get the most out of your lifts and performance. Afterward and on rest days, SMR can speed recovery and reduce the amount of soreness and tension you experience between workouts. Start performing SMR to reap the following benefits:

  • Correct muscle imbalances
  • Relieve stress at the muscle and joint
  • Maintain normal length/tension relationship of the muscle
  • Improve joint range of motion
  • Improve neuromuscular efficiency, which can help improve power and strength

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