So you want to “release” some tissue...
Do you know how much force it takes to deform human connective tissue? The stuff that gets foam rolled all the time. The infamous IT-band. Well I’m about to tell you, but take a guess first. I’ll even make it easy on you and give you multiple choices.
How much force does it take to change the IT band, by 1% of its length? Is it:
Which one do you think it is?
If you chose option number 2, then congratulations you are correct. Yes, you read that right. Number two. It takes 925 kg to lengthen the IT band by just 1%. That's the weight of an original Mazda Miata!
Pretty crazy, right? So with that being the case, if you want to “release” (whatever that means) some of your tissues, the roller that you need to use should look something like this:
That’s the only way you’re going to get enough force to makes any tissues changes. Tissue changes not sounding so great now are they?
Anatomy Pet Peeve
Going back to the IT band itself really quickly - it is not a separate structure. It is a thickening in the fascia lata, which envelops the entire thigh. The fascia lata changes its name to crural fascia once you cross the knee, into the lower leg. What you feel when you're rolling on it is the massive vastus lateralis portion of your quadriceps muscle.
The purpose of using all these different names is to help healthcare providers and patients communicate, and quickly orient themselves. The use of anatomical terms is akin to the use of a map to navigate on a road trip or hike. On a map, lines delineate state borders:
In reality, when you're outside you can't tell the difference between the geography of Illinois and Iowa unless you see a sign telling you you have crossed state lines.
Bottom line when it comes to geography, and connective tissue, it's all essentially the same stuff. The proportions may change based on where you are, but it's all essentially made of the same building blocks.
Foam Rolling, What Is It Good For?
So is foam rolling and self myofacial work useless? I don’t think so. It has its place. Massage in general has been around for a long time for a reason. For one it can feel good. Using tools like foam rollers and lacrosse balls is a cost effective way to get a massage. Considering the data from above, you can probably ease up on that smashing though.
The purpose of performing the myofacial work is what is most relevant in answering the question above. Why are you doing it? Is it to be more flexible/mobile?
Do not confuse this type of work for mobility training.
Mobility training is very different. It requires active components, challenging strength, proprioception, and coordination. Mobility exercises are also, usually, most effective when performed at the end range of your active control.
Foam rolling, smashing, flossing, whatever - it’s all mobili-zing. Meaning if anything it may offer some temporary increases in range of motion due to non specific effects. Like we saw above, it's not making any changes to the physical state of your tissues.
After mobilizing, if you want to keep that motion, you’re going to have to earn it. Convince your body, more so your nervous system, that you can own it and control it.
Stay tuned for a post on true mobility training.