If It Hurts Just Put Your Balls On It!


When you push yourself in the gym or on the playing field for any length of time eventually you’re going to get some aches and pains. As a performance coach I always have clients bitching about being sore and walking in with some variation of “my elbow/shoulder/knee/pussy hurts!”. Sometimes this is just a result of a hard game or training session, sometimes it’s a client trying to be lazy, and sometimes there’s actually something wrong. The bottom line is that if you’re taking things to the limit then sooner or later something’s going to hurt. As a result of dealing with this type of thing a lot in my own training as well as working with clients, I’ve gotten pretty good at playing “Mr. Fix-it” when my clients have a minor situation.

Temporary muscle soreness will usually go away with some time, rest, and food. However, there are times when the pains and tightness tend to linger on. This is when you’ve got to be a little proactive and handle your business or else you’re going to be looking at chronic pain, reduced training time, and strength imbalances. That stacks up to less results and general bitchiness, neither of which are the objective in my programs.

There are all sorts of recovery methods that I have in the bag of tricks, but today I’m going to go over one of my favorites: Self-myofascial Release, or SMR. Ok, the name sounds a bit dirty, you can end up in a few interesting positions, and probably you’ll be groaning a lot, but I swear this is all scientific and therapeutic and stuff. Through the use of SMR you’ll recover faster, move better, and gain strength faster. I credit it for saving my back and hip after a series of injuries and honestly consider it to be one of my “secret weapons” when it comes to making my clients and athletes the best they can be.

What happens when you train hard or end up in unusual positions is that your muscles can tighten into spasm, become bunched (“knots”, “adhesions”, and “trigger points”), or sustain small tears that can leave scar tissue when they heal up. All of this can add up to creating a ton of pain through joint and muscle dysfunction and misalignment as well as limit your flexibility, muscle growth, strength, and recovery.

So right now you’re saying “Oh, blah blah blah, why’s this guy talking about this pansy rehab shit?” You want to know how bad it can get? There was one particular low point where I was stuck in bed at my buddy’s wedding with a jacked-up hip and lower back, barely able to hobble to the ceremony, and certainly not getting any hotel sex… at age 25. That was a telling moment, right there, in convincing me that I need to take care of this stuff. I certainly had a problem, and SMR was my answer.

Ok, I sold you on the “no hotel sex” part, you’re saying, but how do you do it?

She makes this look better than I do

SMR is performed by rolling the muscle with a foam roller (a 6″ tube of hard foam), a massage tool (maybe it is a little dirtier than I thought), or a ball of some kind such as a softball, golf, tennis, or lacrosse ball. This acts in effect like a poor man’s deep tissue massage and helps break up those knots and adhesions within the muscle and fascia. This usually feels just as good as it sounds, but suck it up, buttercup. Like old-school cod-liver oil, it’s good for you, but nobody likes the first spoonful. Unlike the cod-liver oil, people soon find themselves addicted to SMR.

Oh, you can have my liver... but you're gonna EARN it!

Put the targeted muscle group on the ball or roller and slowly roll back and forth along the full length of the muscle. If you feel a particularly tender spot then stop and focus on that spot until it becomes less tender. Sometimes you’ll feel a muscle release and sometimes you won’t. This isn’t always an overnight process, but often the results can be near instant.

Tomorrow I’m going to go over some of my favorite SMR techniques for the lower body, but in the meantime try this one out as most computer users and lifters tend to have tightness here:

Rolling the Trapezius

-Get a tennis, racquet, or lacrosse ball.

-Lean back against a flat wall.

-Place the ball between your upper back and the wall. This might take a little positioning and chances are you’re going to drop the ball and have to chase it at least once.

-Leaning against the ball roll back and forth, running the ball along your traps and upper back. Focus on the tight and tender spots.

All right, play around with that and I’ll be back tomorrow with some lower body stuff that’ll have you swearing like a sailor (or today’s average 8 year-old).

Let me know how your SMR experience is below and you can thank me later on the hotel sex!

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July 25, 2011
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Comments on If It Hurts Just Put Your Balls On It! Leave a Comment

July 11, 2011

Maureen @ 4:55 am #

Hey Isaac,
As you know, my R shoulder/trap was bothering me last week and the only relief I had was using your tennis ball SMR technique above…. which I highly recommend. I am addicted to the 6 inch foam roller for my lower body as well. Especially after your workouts !!!

Isaac @ 4:03 pm #

Hey Maureen, thanks for checking in!

To all: Maureen’s a great example of SMR work in action! She has been able to work through a variety of little aches and pains that would have normally sidelined her with some fairly quick and simple tricks.


April 11, 2012

John @ 6:56 pm #

Isaac, as a long time “experienced” muscle abuser, I found this SMR relief by and far the absolute best at relieving tightness and soreness just as you described. It even did no small part in helping to increase my mobility along with the rest of the training regimen. Thanks for your insight and posts, you make a difference!!

Kathryn King @ 11:14 pm #

One of several things I love about SMR is that it works (not necessarily overnight, but then, as Isaac suggests, I don’t get the strength and conditioning gains I’m after overnight, either). A second thing is, it’s drug-free — I can do it as many times a day as I need without having to ask my PCP whether I’m exceeding a ceiling dose. I’ll have to reserve judgement on whether SMR makes hotel sex better; but as soon as I find that out one way or another, I’ll be sure to document my findings in a paper that’s sufficiently academically credible to merit citation in “Make It Happen Mondays”.

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