Netflix and roll – my routine for a flexible, functional, and pain-free body
[6 min read]
In just the past decade, joint and tissue health practice has graduated in the modern day functional health protocol from an optional accessory to a necessary element of practice for performance and longevity.
This makes sense, considering ~1.8 million workers develop a work-related musculoskeletal disorder every year, costing employers $15-20 billion annually. These conditions are not the result of sub-optimal jackhammer technique:
They are conditions developed over a time from micro-injuries that result in macro tissue dysfunction, like the back pain experienced by this guy:
Fact: 8 out of 10 people experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain costs the United States over $100 billion annually (including lost wages and reduced productivity)
We are also talking about the carpal tunnel syndrome that this woman will develop by age 32:
Fact: Carpal Tunnel causes more missed workdays than fractures and amputations
Despite mass prevalence, tissue dysfunction is not a natural human state. It is the result of replacing constant movement with constant sedation.
Although I may sometimes fantasize about the primal life – dropping it all and becoming a spear fisherman for a coastal Polynesian tribe – the goal here is to seek do-able solutions, that take into account realities of our modern social environment, health status, and circumstance.
I like instantly actionable strategies that yield biologically significant output compared to the effort input.
The issues and the solution
Two underlying issues in societal joint and tissue health and one potential solution:
Issue #1: The application of ergonomic best practices have not kept pace with our understanding of its importance
e.g., the standing desk is still in an early phase of adoption, although we’ve known the dangers of sitting for decades
Issue #2: Widely recognized joint and tissue health improvement strategies are often outdated
e.g., the average adult relies on stretches from rec soccer camp and high school gym class
Solution: Adapt and integrate modern joint and tissue health improvement methods into everyday practice
- My last post details how-to do this before work and at work
- This post details how-to do this at home after work
It’s an expansion upon my latest – 5 steps to ‘desk-induced pain’ freedom. It’s all about step 5, my favorite step of the biomechanical improvement process – mobilization.
What is mobilization?
Dr. Kelly Starett describes mobilization as:
“… a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems …”
How does mobilization work?
Our bodies continually seek stability by tightening and crosslinking tissue in response to physiological and environmental stimuli. This mechanism can be advantageous in the short term for injury fixation and repair.
20,000 years ago, torn knees and ruptured shoulder were stabilized by natural tissue fibrosis, not scalpels and staples. Since then, our DNA has barely changed and our environments have transformed. This same tissue fibrosis mechanism accounts for ‘societally-induced-stiffnesses’ like ‘armchair adaptation’ – indirectly proliferating and normalizing biomechanical morbidity and injury.
Rounded shoulders paired and forward head & neck is a classic armchair adaptation, experienced by professionals who hunch over a desk and stare at a computer:
Check out this comprehensive infographic for orthopedic issues associated with prolonged desk work.
Soft tissue mobilization aims to mitigate these effects and repair dysfunction by breaking up inelastic or fibrous tissue, relaxing muscular tension, and circulating tissue fluids, through the specific application of force. Application of manual pressure can help to even out tensile asymmetry and promote natural tissue viscoelasticity.
There are many forms of mobilization. Foam rolling and stretching are two that easily translate to at-home practice and the primary techniques I rely on.
Does mobilization actually work?
A strong body of clinical research on mobilization does not exist, however, I have a strong body and have personally conducted clinical research…
Mobilization has been critical to rehabbing my torn shoulder and repairing my biomechanically broken body of ~1 year ago. In addition, mobilization benefits exceed that of purely biomechanical. Here were some of my observations following mobilization:
Acute effects experienced directly after mobilization include:
- Relaxation from decreased sympathetic activity (fight or flight) and increased parasympathetic activity (rest and digest)*
- Ability to fall asleep faster (largely due to the above)
- Higher quality sleep
- Nightly post-massage euphoric feeling
Chronic effects experienced after consistent mobilization, include:
- Improved mobility and flexibility
- Increased strength and range of motion
- Reduced compressive and movement tissue pain
- Faster recovery from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and connective tissue injury
I thought it would have taken a decade to achieve the mobility and flexibility improvements I’ve experienced over the past year. Here are some more of the photos I sent with my application to Cirque du Soleil to demonstrate the improvement:
Remember from my previous post that I scored bottom 5% in the nation in the middle school sit-and-reach flexibility test?
This stuff works.
Mobilization as a pre-bed ritual
Whether 10-min or an hour, achieving a lifetime of mobilization benefits requires sustainable integration into the everyday. For the vast majority of us that are ‘unproductive’ in the minutes before bed, mobilization only requires “repurposed” time. For example:
Pre-bed routine without mobilization
- Watching a mindless but somewhat educational Netflix show like Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown while “decomposing on the couch”
Pre-bed routine with mobilization = “Netflix & roll”
- Watching a mindless but somewhat educational Netflix show like Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown while “mobilizing on the yoga mat”
I consider the extra effort as an investment in health – sucking-it-up for the sake of the spine, per se…
The routines – 10-minute maintenance and 60-minute extended
Before you dive into the extensive world of mobilization, a few important notes…
- Short videos are better than written direction for both of us
- I apologize in advance for any antiquity, corniness, or “graphics” in the YouTube-sourced videos
- My specific techniques and/or your techniques may differ from the videos – that is okay
- The routines below are written prescriptively – I encourage you to pull from them as you please and customize a personal protocol specific to your biomechanics
1) 10-minute maintenance
(identical to the routine in the previous 5 steps post)
Foam roll for 5 minutes
- Basic ~5 min routine, not far from my own
- My tool of choice: The Rumble Roller
Stretch for 5 minutes
- Jefferson curl 3 reps, ~20 sec per rep – (I do these from the floor, holding the bottom of a 35lb kettlebell)
- Yoga flow 1x
- Static ‘gym class stretches’ for need areas, a few examples include:
2) 60-minute extended routine
Foam roll for ~25 minutes
I try to foam roll every area that is roll-able. If certain points are tighter or more painful, I’ll pause and move slowly upstream and downstream of the pain epicenter. Here are videos on how-to foam roll the entire body and some alternate mobilization techniques for tough-to-roll areas:
Additional manual mobilization ~15 minutes
These are techniques and tools to mobilize areas that are difficult to address with a foam roller, as well as specific pain points:
- Manual smash – can be done anywhere, especially useful for arms
- Lacrosse ball smash – good for digging into pain points
- Percussion massage – I use this $30 device to loosen and improve circulation in bruises and pain points
- Voodoo flossing – great for priming shoulders, knees, and ankles
- Rolflex – I use this primarily for arm and calf mobilization
Stretch for ~20 minutes
The set of stretches below yoga poses, gym-class classics, and gymnast holds. I engage each movement for ~10-30 seconds depending on tightness.
Here is the go-to stretching arsenal with the primary (not the only) muscle groups addressed in (parenthesis):
- Jefferson curl 5x (posterior chain & spine)
- Yoga flow 3x (full body)
- Static stretches 1-2x
- Bottom of the squat hold (lower body)
- Kneeling hip flexor (hips, quads)
- Pidgeon (hips, glutes)
- Frog (hips)
- Butterfly (hips)
- Seated toe touch (hamstrings, calves)
- Hamstring banded (hamstrings)
- Couch stretch (quads, front hips)
- Seated figure four (glutes)
- Seated torso twist (lower back)
- Standing side (lats, obliques)
- Shoulder extension (chest, shoulders)
- Standing shoulder (shoulder)
- Standing shoulder extension (shoulder)
- Overhead tricep (triceps)
- Chest wall stretch (chest)
Steps to sustainable mobilization
- Start soft. Start slow. If you are doing it right, it will be painful. The best kind of painful…*
- Start with 5-10 minutes a day. Increase over time, if you have time…
- Make it a habit. Stick with the habit. Enjoy the habit…
*if you feel intense or sharp pain any time at all, please stop whatever you are doing. That is not the type of pain I mean.
Oh yeah. FYI – I’m not a doctor, take all this advice with a grain of salt (metaphorically for most; literally, if you lack electrolytes).
Written by Matt Hersh
Corporate consultant, fitness coach, amateur chef, blogger
For more frequent content – follow on Instagram @the.fit.consultant
Shoutout to Dr. Kelly Starrett –
A significant portion of my daily movement strategy and techniques were inspired by the book – Deskbound by Kelly Starrett – a highly recommended read for anyone (especially the office employee) who wants to move and feel like a human can and naturally should