Many people, young and old, suffer from stiff joints–usually the hips, knees, or back.
Then they come in for a nice big dose of CrossFitting and they wake up the next morning almost unable to move, they’re so sore. Today’s common answer to stiffness seems to be pain pills and taking a few days rest. As quick and easy as these solutions are to implement, they’re just temporary fixes for a more serious problem. And contrary to popular belief, they end up doing more harm than good!
Consider, instead, addressing the root of the problem. Oftentimes, stiff joints and sore spots are a result of adhesions in your fascia, poor blood circulation around your joints and muscles, and a combination of tight and short ligaments pulling unequally on the surrounding muscles and joints. We’ll talk about that finicky, stubborn fascia first.
Your fascia is a large spiderweb-like network of connective tissue that connects all of your muscles and muscle fibers.
After sitting at a desk all day or in front of the television at home, poor form, or previous injuries, your fascia starts to resemble a scar-riddled, hardened shell. Called adhesions, these tight spots in the fasica compensate by pulling on other muscles in your body to accomplish whatever you’re doing. This is typically called pain referral. An adhesion in the middle of your back can pull on a muscle in your neck, referring your back pain to your neck and leaving you incredibly confused as to where your injury actually lies.
The bad news? You won’t be able to change your fascia overnight. It’s simply too tough to change without some extremely painful, repetitive therapy. Even then, the likelihood of actually achieving myofascial release (MFR) is slim. Instead, we push through the fascia to the muscles. By encouraging long, lean, supple muscles that are all equally strong and responsible for lifting weights and supporting the joint, your fascia will adapt.
I know, your next question is… how do we get those long, lean, supple muscles? The easiest and first step (besides drinking water!) is using a foam roller before and after your workout. This does two things: Improves blood circulation and lengthens your muscles and tendons.
Good blood circulation is vitally important to reducing muscle swelling, joint and muscle soreness, and stiffness. Blood carries oxygen to your muscles, revitalizing them as you squat, pull, jump, etc…
When you’re at rest, blood flows normally to your muscles and organs. As you start to exercise, your body redirects a large portion of the blood meant for your non-essential organs to your muscles. By kickstarting your circulation through the deep tissue massage the roller delivers, you’re preparing your muscles to receive more of the oxygenated blood your body wants to deliver. Oxygen-filled muscles are happy, strong muscles that can withstand the prolonged demand you’re putting on them.
Muscles, left unattended, will shorten. Yep, that’s right. They want to go back to the way they’ve spent most of the day–sitting in a chair, nice and short and unbothered. They can be coaxed into stretching into a deep squat or supporting a bar overhead, but it takes time and persistence. By rolling out before your Work out, you’re actively lengthening your muscles and stretching your tendons ahead of time. Take a minute or so to put deep pressure on the tight, sore muscles so that later when you’re struggling under a new personal record, there’s no musculature imbalance stopping you.
Rolling out after workouts, won’t eliminate all of your soreness. That terrible sore feeling you get after a particularly hard workout is because of microtears in your muscle fibers. Regular stretching is shown to have negligible effect on these microtears and their healing time. What has been shown to shorten muscle recovery is anything that encourages greater blood flow to the muscles, such as deep tissue massage (like what you get from rolling out) and low-intensity work, like rowing 500 meters at a low resistance.
Can anyone sense a common theme? Increased blood circulation helps increase the amount of oxygen your muscles receive, staving off the lactic acid threshold and allowing you to work harder longer. It also helps your muscles heal faster after a workout. Lean muscles allow you to reach a deeper squat and perform movements with better form, and that is how you load more weight, perform more reps, and achieve new PRs. Take five minutes before your exercise session and five minutes after to roll out. That’s all it takes to start making a difference.
By Kaylen Coleson