Written by: Kevin Cann
I work at a gym that is filled with competitive powerlifters, weightlifters, and strong (wo)men. Needless to say, many of our members are pretty tight and tend to have some type of nagging issue that negatively affects their training.
We possess some pretty cool equipment in the gym to help you take care of all of those tight muscles. We have a few different sizes of Donnie Thompson’s ex-wife, a steel cylinder that weighs between 60lbs and 130lbs. We have Chris Duffin’s Boomstick, a 50ish-lb metal rod that your gym bff can drive into you before you train. We also, have tools from Acumobility. The most popular ones are stationary lacrosse balls that you can lay on and feel all kinds of euphoric things.
All of these tools are awesome when they are used appropriately. However, just smashing your tissues for a period of time without ever addressing why those tissues are tight is doing very little. You may feel better after doing it, which is great, but wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t have to do it all of the time?
You need to find the reason why those muscles are tight. They do not get tight for no reason. All tightness is a lack of stability somewhere along the kinetic chain. Basically, that tightness is providing the stability for us. Just releasing the tissue without regaining the lost stability can actually increase our risk of injury.
For example, if our shoulders are tight and we want to perform an overhead press, we may do all kinds of tissue work and stretching to allow us to get into this position. However, our body was stopping us from going overhead for a reason. We have all of this added range of motion, but we do not possess the ability to actively control this range of motion. Finding the stability issue that is leading to the tightness and retraining the body how to control those positions properly are keys to being able to own movement.
Releasing tight tissue does play a role in this. However, we need to identify which tight tissues are actually negatively affecting the movement patterns that we want to get into. From lifting with high volumes four days per week, my muscles are tight everywhere. No matter where I use one of those tools it is going to hurt. If I am in pain, or one movement pattern seems off, I need to assess the situation.
This goes for most people. Most people are going to be very tight and feel these tools everywhere. That is why an assessment is critical. The assessment should put the body through a series of tests that test its ability to perform movements in all planes of motion. The summary of the entire assessment should be used to draw conclusions.
This is where the experience of the practitioner is important. The more assessments that you perform and witness, the better you get at drawing conclusions. The appropriate intervention can be administered from there. After the intervention has been utilized, the practitioner needs to reassess. If the outcome changes, it worked, if it did not change, it did not work. If it helped, it kind of worked and another intervention should be attempted. Sometimes it takes a combination of things to work completely.
During these reassessments you may even find that soft tissue work did not help change the movement pattern. That means for this scenario that soft tissue work is not the best way to attack the issue. In most cases you will find that combinations of techniques work best.
Having a coach in your corner to help assess and reassess your movement needs is important to staying healthy in the long term. Without an assessment you are just guessing as to what the problem may be. Without reassessing you are assuming that your intervention worked. Sometimes this may work, but sometimes it may not.
The same goes for a coach or trainer that may be certified in an assessment protocol, but doesn’t really understand human movement. The conclusion needs to be drawn from the whole assessment and not one test. Even experienced coaches need to refer out in some cases. This is why it is important to have a team of practitioners working together.
If you are in pain, or just feel really tight I highly encourage you to find a qualified coach that truly understands how the body moves and have them perform a thorough assessment. Don’t just grab a foam roller or steel pipe and grimace your way through a bunch of soft tissue work. There is a good chance that this is not even helping your issue, and may actually be increasing your risk for injury.
All tightness is a lack of stability somewhere. The assessment can help identify where that stability issue is and identify which tight tissue needs to be addressed. From there the appropriate interventions can be set into play and the reassessment will assure us that they are working.