Utilizing foam rollers has become very popular lately as a means to increase flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. The technique is known as self-myofascial release (SMF). Additional benefits include enhanced muscle recovery and increased movement efficiency. SMF is ideal for people who tend to have poor posture and/or employ repetitive movements daily which increase muscular stress. Poor posture and dysfunctional movements over time tends to cause adhesions or scar tissue within muscle tissue which can lead to muscular imbalance. Thus, the primary benefit of employing SMF is to alleviate soft tissue adhesions (also known as "trigger points" or "knots") in order to restore optimal muscle function. The pressure of the body against a foam roller can inhibit muscular tension and thereby allow hypertonic muscles to stretch more optimally.
It is recommended that you should use SMF as a method to warm-up your muscles prior to working out before dynamic stretching. Investigate particular sore areas of the body while lying on the foam roller and then spend between 30 seconds to a minute on these spots without movement. The objective is to relieve possible trigger points. Be sure to slowly roll over the lengths of each muscle.
To summarize, the benefits of using a foam roller are the following:
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Facilitate optimal muscle stretching
- Increase muscle relaxation
- Improve joint range of motion
- Improve neuromuscular efficiency
- Enhance muscle recovery and reduce soreness
- Reduce trigger point sensitivity
- Reduce muscular hypertonicity
- Decrease muscular stress
Muscle cramps are caused by involuntary spasms lasting only a few seconds or as long as 15 minutes. The cramp can often recur in the same muscle(s) repeatedly. A cramp can occur after an intense workout session in which the muscle has undergone injury (i.e., muscle fiber tearing). A cramp in this case may suddenly occur when the particular muscle has been relaxed for a period of time (e.g., quadricep cramps may occur after heavy leg presses after sitting for awhile afterward).
The exact cause of muscle cramps is still not entirely known although several reasons may include:
- Dehydration due to excessive perspiration
- Muscle injury in which case persistent cramping may occur as a protective mechanism (i.e., involuntary splinting)
- Muscle fatigue
- Mineral depletion (e.g., sodium, calcium, magnesium)
Recommended treatment for muscle cramps involves stretching and gently massaging the affected muscle. Applying an ice pack is advisable for serious cramps. In addition, you should drink water and/or a sports drink (e.g., Gatorade) to replenish possible excessive fluid loss and electrolyte depletion (e.g., sodium, calcium, magnesium).
Recommended prevention for muscle cramps involves ingesting maltodextrin or dextrose, quick absorbing sugars recommended pre- and post-workout to help prevent muscle cramps. Also, be sure to adequately warm-up your muscles (i.e., walking, biking, stair stepping) to promote blood circulation and nutrient flow within your muscles. Taking adequate time to recover (e.g., 48 to 72 hours) between workouts may help to lessen muscle cramps. Avoid stretching cold muscles before workouts to avoid possible muscle tearing! Be sure to perform static stretches on muscles exercised immediately following your workouts.
Contrary to popular dogma, lifting weights within the 8 to 12 rep range is not entirely necessary in order to cause muscle hypertrophy (i.e., muscle size increase). Low-load, high-rep training may also impact muscle growth. The reason for this is because more volume (i.e., greater reps) may increase muscle protein synthesis for a longer duration (e.g., 24 hours post-exercise). More muscle protein synthesis means more growth potential due to greater absorption of protein within muscle tissue. In either case, optimal muscle growth will most likely occur when maximal muscle fatigue occurs in conjunction with relatively short rest periods (e.g., less than 1 minute) between each set. Bottom line: Perform high-rep, light-weight sets mixed with low-rep, heavy-weight sets to cause optimal muscle growth.
Here are some very common errors made by beginners who seem clueless when it comes to the proper way to gain strength and muscle mass: More is not necessarily better when it comes to weight training in the gym. Your body needs time to recover when it's put under the stress of heavy lifting. Remember, when you perform weight training exercises you are literally tearing down muscle fibers. This means that in order for your muscles to grow the muscle fibers must undergo a healing process. If you fail to allow adequate recovery by giving at least 48 hours rest before hitting the same muscle group, you will likely fail to gain any appreciable muscle mass. Weight training provides the stimulus for growth but rest and proper nutrition is what's needed for the growth process to occur. Bottom line: Train each bodypart hard 30 to 60 minutes per session once per week and do cardio 20 to 30 minutes per session 2 to 3 days per week. In order to gain strength and muscle mass, you must lift progressively heavier weights over time. In other words, patience and discipline is required to make quality gains. Piling on a ridiculous amount of weight to gain strength and muscle mass faster is foolhardy at best and injurious at worst. Using bad form, bouncing the weight, and performing very short range of motion while straining to lift enormous amounts of weight is a recipe for disaster (read: injury). Bottom line: Utilize small incremental increases in weight from workout to workout while performing lifts. Failure in weight training is a good thing. This means that you are lifting a weight as many repetitions as possible until you're not able to perform one more rep. Soreness is the name of the game when lifting to failure. Just going through the motions is not going to cut the mustard. The weight lifted must be challenging enough that if your goal is to perform 10 reps, you will need to utilize intestinal fortitude in order to perform 11 reps. Each and every set needs to be this challenging in order to warrant a rest period. Be sure to limit any intensity technique such as drop sets, forces reps, rest-pause, etc. for the last set of an exercise in order to lessen the risk of overtraining. Bottom line: Make each and every set count by lifting a weight that causes muscle fatigue. If you're not training legs as intensely as arms, you are making a big mistake when it comes to gaining overall strength and muscle mass. Legs consist of the largest muscles within the body. Why would you want to avoid training such large muscles unless you'd prefer to have an imbalanced physique (i.e., humongous arms sidelined by toothpick legs!). If you want to get big, you need to squat, period. Compound movements such as squats, leg presses, hack squats, and lunges is what's needed to build a respectable physique. The bonus is training legs spurs more growth hormone release than training the upper body. Not only this, but your metabolic rate will increase significantly as well due to the increase of quad, hamstring and gluteal muscle mass. This means more calories will be burned while resting. Not a bad tradeoff. Bottom line: You must train legs if you want to gain appreciable strength and muscle mass.
The benefits of massage far outweigh any risks involved. One should not think of massage as merely an indulgence. Getting regular massages is a smart complement to weight training as it facilitates the recovery process and helps to maintain joint and muscle flexibility.
A recent study has found that post-exercise massage decreases inflammation and could enhance muscle growth. The decrease in muscle soreness that occurs after a massage is indicative of massage having an effect in reducing inflammation. There is also evidence that massage may boost mitochondrial activity within muscle cells. The mitochondria are the energy factories within cells. Healthy muscle cells contain more mitochondria in order to allow more oxygen to be utilized for needed energy. Thus, massage is beneficial for muscle recovery (by reducing inflammation) and muscle growth (via increased mitochondrial activity).
Here are more of the benefits of massage therapy:
- Improves sport performance
- Reduces muscle stiffness and increases flexibility by loosening bound fascia (i.e., adhesions caused by scar tissue)
- Improves relaxation
- Reduces blood pressure
- Increases joint range of motion
- Improves blood flow
- Reduces heart rate
- Reduces cortisol levels (a hormone which responds to increased stress)
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves mood
- Increases blood circulation which enhances muscle nourishment and waste produce removal into the lymphatic system
- Reduces muscle ache
- Strengthens the immune system by flushing toxins into the lymphatic system
- Improves skin health by increasing suppleness and regulating oil production
- Speeds healing from surgery and reduces scar tissue appearance
What's not to like about massages. My advice: seriously consider getting yourself regular massages for better health!
The following are good suggestions on how to care for aching muscles after a hard workout without the use of medications:
- Take a hot bath with epsom salts.
The hot water helps to soothe aches and pains as well as reduce joint stiffness. The epsom salts help to flush toxins away from the body.
- Get periodic deep-tissue massages.
The massage should apply adequate pressure and friction into the sore muscle tissue in order to release lactic acid buildup.
- Stretch as soon as possible after your workout.
Stretching is one of the best ways to relieve muscle tension within the body and reduce muscle soreness days after a hard workout.
- Perform light cardio such as walking or biking.
Doing aerobic exercise helps to increase blood circulation and therefore enhance waste product removal from sore muscles as well as increase nutrient delivery into muscle tissues. Cardio may also reduce muscle soreness days after a workout.
This may enable your muscles to recover faster as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) begins to develop.
- Perform light weight training the day after your hard workout, targeting the same muscle groups.
- Increase your water intake.
Drinking more water enhances the flushing out of lactic acid, a waste product of exercise.
It is possible but your progress will undoubtedly be slow and the benefits will be minimal. This is because in order for your body to get stronger or get more muscular, it has to be stimulated to a point when adaptation can occur. Adaptation is the wonderful process when your body gets stronger or more muscular due to a stimulus put upon it. But the stimulus must be outside of your comfort zone or else there is no reason for your body to get stronger. It turns out the old adage of "no pain, no gain" is true to an extent. Some pain must occur in order for your body to adapt to a new stimulus. The good news: less pain will be experienced upon subsequent workout sessions involving the same exercise (indicating adaptation has occurred). You should bear in mind that there is "good" pain and there is "bad" pain. The distinction is simple: "good" pain is a dull, aching muscular pain which dissipates within seconds after a hard exercise set; "bad" pain is a sharp, intense pain located located at or near a joint which may persist or get worse days after exercising.
If you are experiencing chronic pain outside of your workouts you should see a physical therapist, orthopedic doctor, or other health professional. But exercise should be recommended within a short period of time. Exercise may actually reduce the severity of pain. Counter-intuitive, no doubt. But studies have indicated that one should not avoid exercise because the consequences of being sedentary (i.e., deconditioning, muscle atrophy, etc.) are actually worse than that of exercising. In fact, regular exercise may help to reduce chronic pain. This is primarily due to the release of the body's own pain-reducing chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins may also alleviate anxiety and depression. Additional reasons why exercise can reduce pain are due to the following:
Bottom line: Exercise is good medicine!
- Increased muscular and bone strength
- Increased flexibility and range of motion
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased energy levels
- Reduced body weight
- Enhanced mood and overall sense of well-being
Post-exercise muscle soreness, otherwise known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), occurs as a result of mostly eccentric muscular contractions during exercise. It is the eccentric movement that has been theorized to cause most of the microscopic tearing within the fiber of muscle tissue and stimulates the release of an amino acid called hydroxyproline. The hydroxyproline, in turn, is believed to be responsible for the localized nerve ending irritation of exercised muscles one to two days after a strenuous workout session. DOMS should not be confused with the immediate burning sensation during intense exercise caused by the release of lactic acid. The lactic acid, which reduces blood pH of muscle tissue, dissipates almost as quickly as it appears along with any apparent soreness
If you do incur an acute injury to your muscle tissue or tendon, the body will undergo a three-stage process of repair:
- Inflammation Stage--(lasts up to four days)--there is pain, swelling, redness, and heat associated at the injury site
- Proliferation Stage--(lasts from four days to 3 weeks)--scar tissue will be laid down
- Remodeling Stage--(lasts from 3 weeks to 2 years)--scar tissue alignment
Remember to increase your caloric intake and eat more protein as this will speed the injury recovery process. Be sure to avoid trans fats, omega-6 vegetable oil and saturated fats as these have a tendency to encourage inflammation. Instead, eat more monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil), omega-3 fats (e.g., fish oil) and polyunsaturated fats to limit inflammation. In addition, consider supplementing with vitamin A and C as these micronutrients stimulate collagen synthesis and lymphocyte activity. The minerals copper (i.e., increases red blood cell count and elastin repair) and zinc (stimulates wound healing) are also recommended.