by Brett Hershey
I’m not saying stretching isn’t useful. I enjoy some stretching and find it beneficial. In fact, stretching and foam rolling can be excellent complementary exercises.
And what’s more important than either stretching or foam rolling is how you use yourself (and any particular muscles) the other 23 hours 50-odd minutes of the day. That’s what the Alexander Technique is all about! To find out more about the Alexander Technique here or to find a teacher in your area, click here.
However, I have found personally as well as vicariously through my students that foam rolling is generally superior to stretching and here’s why.
#1 Does the Same Thing as Stretching
The point of stretching is to lengthen the muscle fibers. By rolling back and forth over the muscles (exactly like massage), the muscle fibers release and elongate, as they do when stretched (correctly!).
#2 Is Safer
Most of us pull too hard when we stretch. We’re either tearing the muscle fibers or the excess force triggers the STRESS REFLEX, in which the muscle contracts to protect itself. When we do this, we are actually shortening our muscles (the opposite of what we want) and can stress, even damage, the ligaments and tendons.
Furthermore, we often we often constrict and/or collapse other parts of the body in an attempt to stretch a particular muscle:
#3 Alleviates Soreness & Releases Trigger Points
Contrary to popular opinion, stretching doesn’t cure muscle soreness or release trigger points (tiny knots that can develop in muscles when they are injured or overworked. They may cause local pain, headaches, neck and jaw pain, etc.). In fact, aggressive stretching can cause muscle soreness. Imagine a bungee cord with a knot tied into it (trigger point) and then envision stretching the cord. This just stretches the unknotted portion of the muscle and the attachment points. The knot, however, has remained unaltered. Foam rolling breaks up the knots (think tenderizing meat), relieving myofascial pain, resuming normal blood flow as well as function.
#4 Breaks Up Connective Tissue like Fascia, Adhesions & Scar Tissue
Your body will build up fascia where there’s injury or over-use to provide support. This often occurs when there is misuse, and we are asking a part of our bodies to function beyond its design. The body’s solution often becomes the problem, since this build up of tissue can shorten as well as weaken muscles, restricts movement and can cause pain. Stretching does very little if anything to break up and dissolve these adhesions. Foam rolling
#5 Maps Out Our Bodies
For many of us, the body is a nebulous instrument we use but from which we often feel disconnected. Foam rolling is an excellent tool for getting to know ourselves – where the muscles and joints are (and are not!), where we hold tension, where we don’t, etc. Often we’re not even aware of all the tension we are holding. By applying direct pressure, foam rolling brings this subconscious tension to our attention so we can address it. From the Alexander Technique perspective, it’s a sign we’re over-working that particular area and we can examine and change movement habits that may be responsible.
#6 Is a Better De-Stresser
Would you feel better after a 20-minute massage or 20-minute stretch? Fortunately, foam rolling accomplishes BOTH. You can’t help but feel better when you release unnecessary tension in your muscles as well as break-up restrictive connective tissue. I’ve only felt better after foam rolling, whether it’s 5-minutes or 5o-minutes.
#7 Expedites the Alexander Technique
One definition of Alexander Technique is a mental toolbox of instructions/directions one can give themselves at any time during any activity to improve their use. While foam rolling is technically ‘physical therapy,’ it softens the muscles and fascia so it’s more receptive to the AT instructions we give ourselves. It also shows us where we are holding excess tension and can wake-up areas of collapse or atrophy. We of course need to pay attention to how we are (using ourselves as we are) foam rolling, but I find it to be an highly-effective tool when learning the Alexander Technique.
Buying a Foam Roller
Might be the best investment you’ll ever make. Recommendation: Buy styrofoam vs. foam rollers. Foam rollers degrade over time while Styrofoam rollers maintain their shape and integrity forever!
Here’s a link: http://www.optp.com/AXIS-Black-Roller
I recommend the 18” x 6” for easy storage and transport. $13.40 plus shipping.
Want to Learn How to Foam Roll?
Check out my How 2 Foam Roll video:
Alexander Technique Classes, Lessons, Workshops by Brett Hershey in the Los Angeles / Burbank area at www.alexandertechla.com