Over the past several weeks I have been exploring methods of recovery. It’s not simply about resting the body after an exercise session, but about intelligently helping the body heal and functionally move to reach healthy balance within the body.
In the first post I explain there is a constant play of stability and mobility. Certain areas in our body function best when strong and stable and other parts of the body function best when flexible and mobile.
In the second post I explore how strength training helps build the body to function optimally. I highly recommend strength training with a plan designed by a certified personal trainer, as it’s important to have a solid program and system built to work with your unique set of strengths and weaknesses. More info about training here.
In this post we are going to delve into stretching and self-massage, which is step two and three of my recommended list of recovery methods.
Certain parts of the body become tight as the muscles shorten from overuse and poor posture. For example: a person’s job is to shovel snow every day for six months of the year. That repetitive motion of holding the shovel and using the front torso muscles repeatedly will create very short and tight chest muscles and abdominals with long and weak back muscles. Eventually, if not corrected by stretching the front body and strengthening the back body, dysfunction will occur and an overuse injury and chronic pain will result. Another example: a person with a desk job who sits for 8 hours a day with their back and shoulders rounding forward. The front torso muscles and hip flexors will become short and tight while the back muscles and hip extensors (gluteals) will become weak, eventually resulting in chronic pain, most likely in the low back or shoulder girdle.
For step 2: stretching tight areas and strengthening weak areas of the body help the joints have correct range of motion so the joints that need to be more stable don’t become compromised.
A Slow Flow practice with especially long holds (1-3 minutes) while stretching (similar to yin-style yoga) stretches and targets both the deep connective tissues between the muscles and the fascia throughout the body. Fascia is similar to plastic cling wrap that wraps around all our muscles and organs, offering support and reducing friction during everyday movement. Additionally, this style of stretching increases circulation in the joints. It also improves flexibility as the poses stretch and exercise the bone and joint areas.
For step 3: in my Slow Flow classes we focus on one body part per class to massage with 1-2 small soft lacrosse balls using a technique called self-myofascial release (SMR). Myofascial release is a set of techniques that aim to give fascia (the cling wrap around muscles and joints) a workout, stretching and smoothing it so your body can work optimally.
Studies show that SMR helps reduce tissue tension. This allows muscles to experience an increase in joint range of motion and helps reduce the risk of developing adhesions. Studies also show that performing SMR after a hard exercise session helps reduce soreness, which may enable quicker recovery. Another benefit of SMR is it promotes a feeling of relaxation after a workout, which helps elevate daily stress.
In the week 1 post I have provided a quick foam rolling routine (a SMR technique) that is helpful to do every day or every other day. For this week if you would like something longer, I have uploaded a 55min Slow Flow sequence.
Slow Flow classes are all about active recovery and stress release. The class starts with slow flowing yoga-style active stretches. Class then moves into yin-style passive stretches with longer holds to gently relax and lengthen the muscles and connective tissue. Each class focuses on a common area of tension and gently releases one tight spot using soft self-myofasical release balls. We finish off with calming and restful restorative poses using a bolster or pillow. Class is offered via online Zoom and in person small group training. Come check it out!