When Do I Practice SMR?

Many of us "out there" do not know when we need to practice a little SMR, or instead a little stretching, or when we should go harder with our workouts, or when we should take a recovery day, etc.

We will not answer all of your training related questions in this post, but we will begin the decision-making process for when to stretch or practice SMR prior to your workout by providing a nifty little flowchart you can refer to when you are beginning your warm up.

Workout-Self-Care-FlowchartIf you can stretch properly and lengthen all of your muscles without any massage work, then your body is working as it should. Simply continue doing whatever it is you are already doing! It's like the saying, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it!" You should stretch and exercise regularly. If you are fully capable with only these two elements in your schedule then you do not need to seek additional methods and assistance.

583_cropped_730x4122-625x360We must stress the need to conduct an assessment of whether or not you truly have the Range Of Motion (ROM) to do all the things you wish to do in your life. To do this assessment you will not need any special knowledge, equipment, or training (no, you do not need a wired hat like in the picture above).

Try to lift or move the normal things in your home or work life. Are these movements easy? Now try to move just a little farther than the ROM you need for those activities. You should be able to move much farther without a load than you can with the load, and well beyond the range you require for any movement (such as touching your toes or reaching straight overhead).

QuitterInstead of challenging themselves to maintain or increase their ROM, many people simply make excuses to no longer do certain activities because they hurt or they have a mistaken belief that the movement in-and-of-itself is dangerous (like squatting below parallel or running is bad for you).

We believe quitting is bad! We want to help you find ways to learn or revisit activities without injuring yourself. Scaling the ROM, loads, and repetitions in any program is almost always a must at times, especially in the beginning, but quitting should never be your answer. If you do not know how to modify your movements to make them safe, hire a personal trainer to guide you.

Workout-Self-Care-FlowchartSo how do you know when to stretch, exercise, practice SMR, or seek the help of a qualified professional? The flowchart above makes it simple. The text below walks you through it...

  1. Start moving.
  2. Feel stiff and restricted?
  3. Stretch and do some light exercises.
  4. Still feel stiff and restricted?
  5. Practice some SMR and more stretching/light exercise for the tight areas.
  6. Still feel stiff and restricted?
  7. Are you hydrated? (especially hydrated with balanced electrolytes)
  8. If you are capable of safely performing the movements in the workout, proceed. If not, contact your local hands-on therapist to get the help you need. Here is a link to help you find some local therapists.

Does this list cover everything you need to know about self care? No. Does every problem have a complicated answer. No. Some of the simple things that will solve your problem you are not in the habit of doing. The most common cause to movement limitations in the gym that we've found in over twenty years of instruction is the lack of effort a person makes into changing the bad habits they have. Start with hydration. Add some stretching. Move in ways you might not be doing while you are at work. Limber up those joints and extend your reach just a bit outside your comfort zone. When stretching is not improving your ROM, add in massage work (both on your own and with a professional). If that isn't solving your movement limitations, then take it a step farther but with professional guidance. Take a concerted interest in your own health and well-being. It is not the physician's job to be your nanny and clean up after all of your mistakes. You need to clean up some of them yourself.

You just might be surprised by how much you can improve your quality of life by diligently practicing your SMR homework, some complimentary stretches, and keeping yourself hydrated. Take it one day at a time. Now go take care of yourself!

Toe Alignment in Footwear for Foot Health


If you are anything like me, you have struggled with toe, foot, and calf issues for years. It came to my attention at 19 years of age that my shoes were NOT the right size for my feet. usmc-boot I joined the United States Marine Corps,and amongst the moments of shear terror, aggression, and exhaustion I learned a few things that weren't specifically about killing my enemy. One very important lesson I learned on day one: my footwear had been too small for my feet for most of my life.

I was wearing a size 9 shoe when I entered MCRD San Diego to begin my Marine Corps training. They collect all your personal clothing, wallet, jewelry, etc. when you enter and issue you all the clothing, toiletries, and other personal effects you will use while on your 13-week journey to becoming a killing machine. When they issued me size 10.5 boots I responded "I wear size 9," to which they responded "WHO THE F*&% HAS BEEN PUTTING YOU IN SHOES TOO SMALL FOR YOUR FEET?!?!?!"boots0410

That was 25 year ago, and it has taken me the majority of that time to undo the severe restriction of ROM and function in my feet and toes that was a product of "binding" my feet in footwear a size-and-a-half too small for the majority of my formative years. Amazing how hard it can be to overcome a few years of poor choices...

About ten years ago I began wearing Nike Free shoes.
eric_avar_nike_free_original Not only were they SUPER comfortable (like wearing a sock and walking on marshmallows), they could roll up into a ball or move in all the amazing ways a foot is supposed to be able to!nike-free_final_std.original

That lead to "zero-drop" shoes like my Merrell Trail Gloves. I still own 5 pairs of these and LOVE them!

Which then lead me to Vibram Five Fingers. Pictured here are the Treksport Sandals, my FAVORITE of the Five Finger lineup!Treksport_Sandal-M4301-hero

And I've experimented along the way with numerous massage tools, compression garments and tools, toe spreaders, toe exercise devices, etc. While still continuing to work on my toe and foot function, the work has paid off. I no longer experience severe calf and foot cramps. I have MUCH better hopping endurance than I ever had in my youth. I can walk barefoot on stone pebbles now (which I could not do when I was ten years old). I was also able to resolve significant nerve pain in my toes without surgery or drugs. Below is a short video from one of the influences along my journey to happier feet. Please take a moment to watch and learn what you can do in your free time to help yourself have set of "happy feet."

Just what is "Flossing?"

CP-Thigh1Unfortunately because of the popularity of some web videos, many people think applying elastic straps to the limbs or joints is called "flossing." The straps actually have little or nothing to do with the flossing process. Here is a good audio explanation of what "flossing" actually is.

It is actually a series of movements with specific joints and limbs to lengthen the nerve branches and "pull" them through the channels they are supposed to pass through easily. You should see a licensed therapist for instruction of which movements are safe and necessary for you and your specific needs. As mentioned in the audio clip you really should not explore flossing on your own with simply some web videos and your perception of pain as your guide. Flossing is AMAZING when needed and done properly! If practiced incorrectly it can irritate an already compromised nerve issue, if not lead to permanent nerve damage (which is what we would call a "bad" result).

All4The compression straps we use are safe and effective tools one uses to improve circulation locally with specific muscles in the arms or legs (click here for some instructional videos). Not only will the improved circulation help with function and recovery for almost every method of exercise, the immediate flush of circulation reduces spot sensitivity for the local muscles so that massage techniques are dramatically more comfortable.

Can you say "not-so-painful Quads Roll?"
Can you say "not-so-painful Quads Roll?"
This means a deeper, more effective self-massage with less pain and longer lasting results.

The more you know, the better your self-care results will be. Contact us to reach a Certified Alexander Method of SMR trainer to learn more!

Where Did the Alexander Method and SMR Originate?

Self-myofascial release has existed as long as people and animals have rubbed their bodies against something to scratch an itch or relax a muscle. Jeff & Carolyn Alexander began exploring the tools and concepts available to recover following intense workouts or competitive events around 2001. What they found was a collection of techniques loosely linked together around using a foam roller, tennis ball, golf ball, and frozen water bottle with little or no real guidance other than to "roll around to find the sore spots."

Over the course of 5-6 years Jeff and Carolyn searched for classes, tools, and experimented with themselves and their clients until they had the beginnings of a logical, step-by-step program that anyone could pick up and use to help take care of their own muscles. This system has evolved over the last 6 years to become an approved educational course for trainers to maintain their professional credential as well as a starting point for many coaches to use when teaching their clients about their own anatomy and how to manage the normal aches and pains that come from daily life as well as pushing one's body to it's physical limits.

The Alexander Method of SMR is a system of self-care that you can see (and feel) immediate results from when dealing with a muscular dysfunction. You do not need to learn complex anatomical terms or physiological systems to understand how to do the techniques, as the system is a simplified step-by-step approach to understanding how you can move better by practicing certain specific techniques each day. We start with the most important muscles and groups of muscles that lock up your hips, knees, and shoulders when they don't work right. Once you begin to understand how these three key areas can be addressed (and how helpful it can be when you work on them regularly) we help you address the other key areas to improve or maintain your quality of movements so you can enjoy your day and your activities.

Here is Jeff at the beginning of a SMR Clinic in Southern California describing why the Alexander Method was developed:

Are You Dehydrated?

heart_of_waterMany of us lead busy lives. Wake up early, grab a cup of coffee and off to start the day. Whether it's a busy schedule with the kids and activities scheduled throughout the day or business meetings that spill over through lunch or into the late hours of the evening, we all have our "stuff" that takes us away from the ideal lifestyle for health. A couple rather easy fixes to maintain in your day to minimize the stress to the body during the busy days involve how much water you take in and how effectively your body utilizes the water that you drink.

1. Are you drinking enough or too much?

    Dehydration can be a life-threatening condition or a mild frustration. MedicineNet.com has a table on their dehydration facts page that lists the recommended number of ounces of water intake for a particular body weight. This is not a new recommendation, but you might be surprised by how poorly your body utilizes the water you ingest. More water is not always better, but until you are drinking dramatically more than is recommended in this table it is likely you won't harm yourself by having another glass (or two) of just plain water.

2. Is the water you are drinking actually entering your body tissues or is it just testing your plumbing?

    How many times are you hitting the water closet for "number one?" WebMD has four to eight times a day listed as typical for a healthy bladder. After looking through their list of causes of frequent urination we suggest you take a look at your electrolyte balance before knee-jerking to schedule a cystoscopy. Many of us do not eat & drink the right balance of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium (plus other minerals) so it is likely you are moving toward an electrolyte disorder. If you have a "daily cup o' jo" then it is likely your nutrient balance is at least a little out of whack. If you just drink more water and don't address these nutritional imbalances you will simply "test your plumbing." We suggest you find a good electrolyte additive that you can simply drop into your water as needed. Nuun makes a variety of flavors of highly transportable tabs that you can easily split and drop into almost any water bottle or glass. Click here if you care to read a thorough (and rather lengthy) explanation of the mineral balance in our body and its impact on water retention.

Whether you eat more nutrient dense foods or add supplements to your drinking water, one thing is for sure: getting the right mineral to water balance will improve your energy levels, provide just the right amount of bathroom trips to rid your body of waste, and make you a generally awesome person.

One other thing, since this is a site for taking care of tight muscles...getting your water and mineral levels balanced means fewer cramping muscles!

Fixing Lower Back Pain

Many of us suffer from occasional lower back pain. Matter of fact 80% of all adults will at some time experience it and many of us have chronic low back pain which affects our choices of activities every day.

One of the likely muscular causes of lower back stress is a shortened and tight Psoas Muscle.

Location for the Psoas Press

If your psoas is shortened it is constantly pulling on your lumbar vertebrae, hip, and thigh. As it tightens more each day, the lower back muscles compensate to stabilize the amount of tension on either side of your spine. This leads to excessive stress placed on the vertebrae and discs between the vertebrae.

One effective way to safely lengthen the psoas to reduce the stress on your spine is to practice the "Supported Corpse Stretch" every single day until you no longer feel any stretch or tension in either your lower back or the front of your hips & thighs.

Supported Corpse Stretch
Symmetrically stretching the 5 hip flexor muscles located on or in the front of your hips (psoas, iliacus, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae) to their full-range natural length can reduce excessive tension in your hip & back and neutralize the stress in your spine.

Tune in to your body and practice these and the other techniques found in the Alexander Method of SMR to find lasting relief from back pains that have muscular origins.

Fixing Ryan Moody’s Tight Hip

In addition to being a talented and engaging presenter of the Explosive WOD Seminars, Ryan Moody is a heck of a jumper:

A good friend of his heard him speaking of a nagging hip issue and brought him to come visit us at the Rumble Roller booth at the CrossFit Games. After spending about 20 minutes with him and giving him some SMR "homework" to do each day, he got some rather dramatic results in only 2 days!

Ryan's "lagging leg" before our help and after only 20-30 minutes of SMR homework

Show Us Your SMR Love

This was posted on Jeff's wall on FaceBook today:

"Thank you for the add Mr. Jeff Alexander. As you can tell from all my pics of SMR at CrossFit FTF, I am a HUGE fan. Thank you for your products. I'm honored that you choose to use my pic for your cover page as well. Thank you for all you do."

Matt, your supportive feedback and commitment to continual improvement are the reasons we do what we do. You keep up the good work, and we'll keep trying to help you get there!

Matt put this picture up, and Jeff made it his cover image:

Post your SMR-related pics on Jeff's wall or the SMR FaceBook page. If we like it we might repost it to remind others to make SMR a regular part of their day. You'll move better and get faster results through your efforts by practicing the techniques regularly. Good luck!

Hot & cold massage stones are here!

Massage-Stones-HotMassage-Stones-ColdWe've added to our inventory some of the more than 80 different basalt and marble stones used in hot or cold stone massage therapy. The stones we've selected we use on our own bodies and we have determined them to be the best fit for working on yourself. Some of the stones are best used by a licensed stone massage practitioner, and you will not see them available on our site. We will be adding a practitioners section to our site in the coming months, based on the feedback we get from individual's positive experiences working with exceptional therapists. If you have a great masseuse or masseur, let us know! We're looking for high-quality deep tissue, sports massage, ART, or sport-related stone massage therapists. There are a lot of "fru-fru" spas out there and the types of massages they offer are typically not the approach we're looking for. We want you to get the best recovery possible so you can get back to training HARD! Toward that end, you will need a therapist that understands the sometimes masochistic punishment that you sometimes put yourself through to reach new athletic goals. We'll guide you through how to work on yourself. You will need the assistance of a professional on certain occasions, and we want to help you find that professional.

When working on yourself, remember that your body will tend to go numb after exposure to the stones (especially the cold stones). You need to be VERY aware of your reaction to the temperature of the stones. The last thing you want to do is freezer burn or properly burn your skin! It is typically best to have a barrier between your skin and the stone such as a cloth, shirt, pants, towel, etc. Once you get familiar with the application of hot or cold, the same SMR techniques you've learned using the balls and rollers will apply to the stones. In many cases, all you need to do is lie on the stone and let the hot or cold do the work for you. Your SMR efforts can be cut from more than 30 minutes to less than 5 minutes when done correctly!

Click here to go to the stones section of our site. We will add more stones to our inventory as we determine the safe and practical application with each one.