Muscle Smashing 101
If you’re coming into The Pain Wall you’re probably looking for myofascial release, or as we like to call it, muscle smashing. Muscle smashing is a form of bodywork performed to help fight off tightness and pain from training or daily life. “Smashing”, “rolling” and “tempering” are all terms that athletes use to refer to the practice of myofascial release– we like muscle smashing the best because when you really look at it, that is what it is.
Fascia and Collagen
Before diving into the practice, it is important to understand what tissues we are trying to target.
Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that holds everything in place: organs, blood vessels, bones, nerve fibers, and of course, muscles. Fascia is the tissue that is responsible for keeping our structural and chemical functions in place where they should be and allowing them to move around freely. Fascia has a lot of nerves which makes it very sensitive. As a natural response to stress, it tightens up.
Fascia is made up of many layers of tissue and liquid that are designed to stretch with you as you move. When fascia thickens and becomes “sticky”, it dries up and tightens around the muscles, which is what causes painful knots to develop and give you mobility problems. Not having an active lifestyle, overworking one part of the body with a repetitive movement, or an old injury that was never fully resolved are all ways that fascia can tighten.
Easy examples of those things are: sitting at a desk all day long and then going home and sitting on the couch all night, driving with your right hand on the steering all of the time, looking down at your phone or computer all day, and using bad form in the gym.
Collagen is a protein your body makes naturally and is essential for healthy joints because it is the primary structural component of fascia, which we now know plays a role in the way we move. The strong fibers that make up collagen fibers work like glue to hold muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, and skin together. As it covers everything in our body, one of collagens main jobs is to help absorb the stress that our body endures from tensile stress movements.
In a healthy musculoskeletal system, fascia and collagen are the dynamic duo that allow our muscles and bones to move freely through all of the shapes we take throughout the day.
How it’s done
If you don’t have any major problems yet, then now is actually the best time to start muscle smashing as a preventative practice. If you are like most of us and you weren’t lucky enough to start the practice early and now you have chronic pain or can’t reach full ROM, starting to work muscle smashing into your recovery sessions as soon and as often as possible will your best bet in achieving better muscle movement with less pain.
Dysfunctional areas of fascia and collagen are often referred to as knots, ropes, adhesions, and scar tissue, but they aren’t actually knots of ropes, they are misaligned tissue from stress, a lack of recovery, and bad movement patterns. As we work to release these tissues, we actually create a chemical and mechanical change that will allow us to create more efficient movement patterns (AKA once you’ve Climbed your Wall).
The pressure is real
The secret ingredients to our bodywork sessions are pressure, restriction and time.
We deal with the misaligned tissue by applying pressure in the direction of where we want the muscle tension to be released. The level of time and pressure we use is determined on an individual basis. A 34 year old that has been bodybuilding for 12 years will likely require a lot more time and pressure than a 22 year old who is having back pain from poor posture.
When change is being made in the tissues, you will feel a burning sensation. Once that happens, it’s important to fight through the pain because that is when the chemical change and real tension release is beginning to happen, which will lead to the mechanical change.
As Roosevelt said, “Nothing worth having comes easy”, so just try to relax and breathe your way through it.
Did it work?
After your bodywork session is over you might feel a little tired and a little sore, but that’s okay because you just did some serious work!
You Climbed your Wall and took another step towards better movement with less pain. Make sure you keep water consumption up and get some light movement in to keep blood flowing.
The Pain Wall isn’t going to magically make all of your problems go away, especially not in one session, but some things to look for are:
- Reduced pain
- Feeling smoothness in motion
- Increase ROM
- Reduced inflammation
Consistency is Key
Your body is a system of systems. There will never be a cure-all answer to any problem. The best that we can do is to work on our mobility and optimize our movement patterns with the intention of preventing any more problems happening in the future.
When you’re dealing with fascial dysfunction and a lot of tightness, it is going to require you to work at it in a long-term fashion. It can be discouraging at times, but just remember that the human body is resilient and it wants to be it’s best and feel it’s best. The more you work with your body, the more it will work for you.