In my last post I talked a bit about different cooldowns that you can perform after your workout, including active stretching, which can be beneficial for lengthening muscles and tendons. I highly recommend performing a cooldown, which incorporates either active stretching and/or what I discuss in this post. Another type of cooldown, which can be just as beneficial, if not more, is foam and/or ball rolling with eccentric lowering exercises. This type of cooldown will address mobility issues within the muscle, which is commonly affected because muscle fibers, which undergo micro tearing when we run and perform other types of exercise, haven’t properly repaired.
If you run today, it will typically take the muscle fibers a couple of weeks to repair from this run. But who waits two weeks before their next run for the fibers to properly repair? So, we can facilitate this repair process with foam and/or ball rolling with eccentric exercises.
So What’s the Issue?
The problem with muscle fibers that don’t properly heal and repair after a run, or strengthening workout, is that they clump together and they’re not in their normal proper arrangement or alignment. Scar tissue can develop in this area as well. This decreases the mobility in this area of the muscle tissue and causes this area of tissue to be under more stress the next time we run. This can increase the risk of significant injury in that area of the muscle, as well as affect the function of the joint(s) connected to that muscle through tendons. This can also lead to compensations in which other muscles are used instead. This can cause these compensatory muscles to get overused and tight as well, further increasing the risk of injury. A prime example of an overused compensatory muscle is the TFL or tensor fascia latae, which is located on the front (just under the hip) and towards the outside of upper leg. An overused TFL can contribute to the development of a whole host of injuries, including iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, knee pain, just to name a few.
Step 1 To Addressing This Issue
A great way to break up the clumps of muscle fibers and scar tissue is by rolling, either with a foam roller, lacrosse/tennis ball, or other devices, such as The Stick. I highly recommend using a foam roller and lacrosse ball. Basically, you will slowly roll on the muscle for 30-60 seconds and then identify areas in the muscle that are sore or tender. This is where the clumps of muscle fibers and scar tissue are located. Now apply pressure by resting the foam roller or ball on this area for 30 seconds. You might also increase the amount of pressure by crossing the non-rolling leg. By rolling and applying pressure you will break up the clumps and scar tissue. This can also cause that area of the muscle to relax.
Some areas in which muscle tissue mobility is compromised in most runners, which I recommend that you roll include:
∙ Hip flexors/quadriceps – roll along the front of the upper leg from just above the knee to just below the pelvis/hips
∙ TFL – it may be best to use a ball, roll on the front and slightly to the outside of the upper thigh, just below the pelvis
∙ Adductors – roll along the inner thighs
∙ Hamstring – roll on the back of the upper leg from just above the knee to just below the hips/pelvis
∙ Glute/piriformis – it may be best to use a ball to roll on the glutes
∙ Calves – roll from just below the knee to just above the ankle
Now on to step 2…
Step 2 To Addressing This Issue
You might think of muscle fibers as a straws and you want to line up these straws so that they are parallel to each other. Obviously these straws aren’t parallel to each other if they are in clumps. Now that we have broken up the clumps with ball or foam rolling, we can take the next step to get our muscles to properly function again. To realign the muscle fibers so that they are straight and parallel again we can perform body weight exercises, in which we focus on the eccentric or lowering/lengthening phase of the exercise. This is sometimes referred to as the “negative”. In performing these exercises, I recommend assisting on the concentric or shortening phase of the exercise so we can focus on the eccentric phase to get the most benefit. I recommend starting with at least 10 repetitions of the eccentric exercises, ideally increasing the total repetitions to 20-40. Keep in mind that you don’t have to perform all repetitions in one set.
The eccentric exercises that I recommend you perform include:
∙ Leg raises for hip flexors with slower eccentric lowering:
– Sit on the ground with both legs straight
– Place a rope or band underneath one the upper legs
– Use the hands and arms to raise the leg
– Slowly lower the leg using the hip flexors to control the lowering of the leg
∙ Romanian deadlift focusing on slower eccentric lowering:
– Stand with feet shoulder width distance apart
– Slowly hinge from the hips
– Lower until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings
– Raise up to the starting position and repeat
∙ Calf raises focusing on slower eccentric lowering with one foot:
– Stand on a step so that your feet are hanging halfway off the step
– Gently rest one hand on the railing for support
– Raise up on your toes with both feet
– Slowly lower with one foot
∙ Leg raises for abductors with slower eccentric lowering:
– Lie on your side with your hips stacked on top of each other
– Raise the top leg and then slowly lower it
∙ Leg raises for adductors with slower eccentric lowering:
– Lie on your side with your hips stacked on top of each other
– Bring the top leg in front of you so that the foot is flat in the ground
– Raise the bottom leg and then slowly lower it
I strongly encourage you to watch the video below for a demonstration on how to perform these two important steps on the muscles in which mobility is commonly an issue in runners. I recommend that you perform these steps 3-6 times per week. If performed consistently you should be able to improve your tissue mobility and thus, your running performance within 2-3 weeks.
Depending on the time you have available, you may not be able to perform the foam and/or ball rolling and eccentric exercises after your workout. If this is the case, at least perform some active stretching and then perform the rolling with eccentric exercises later in the day, such as when you are watching television.
I hope this has been helpful. If so, please pass this along to anyone you feel might benefit. Also, leave any questions or comments that you have in the comment box below. Also, please feel free to post your questions and comments below the video. I look forward to hearing from you!