*excerpt from Our Game Magazine - Winter 2015. For the full article, including pictures and descriptions, visit http://www.ourgamemag.com/subscribe/
On any given weekend, there are thousands of soccer games being played all across the country. In fact, on any given night, there are games being played indoors, outdoors, on turf, on grass, on courts, and even on the sand! It’s a beautiful thing to see so many people from different walks of life, boys and girls, men and women, enjoying the game of soccer. No matter what level you are on, recovering from these games is just as important as preparing for them. It’s important for the youth athlete who may be playing in multiple games on a tournament weekend. Its important for the national team player who needs to get on a plane to rejoin their club team. It’s also important for the everyday person who just enjoys the game, but also needs to get up and go to work the next day. Learning how to recover from games quickly will go a long ways in helping you enjoy the game, perform your best, and reduce the risk of injury.
Here are two techniques that are extremely beneficial for any level of athlete. They can go a long way in aiding the recovery process in between games or workouts. You can do these anywhere, on the field, at home, or even in the airport!
Foam Rolling (Self Myofascial Release) is a method to help relieve some of the tension in problem areas like the calves, or IT bands. These trigger points or “knots” are developed over time with repetitive movements, strenuous activity, or even bad posture. Releasing these “knots” is essential for any serious athlete who wants to move better and become more flexible. It’s also very beneficial for people who just want to improve posture or move without pain. By applying pressure to these trigger points, you can aid the recovery of these muscles and restore them to their normal function. Normal, healthy muscles are elastic and can be lengthened or contracted on demand, without inhibition. Simply stretching these muscles isn’t enough to restore them to their original form. Imagine a wrinkled pair of jeans that needs ironing. Pulling on those jeans wouldn’t be enough to restore them. Other methods of self myofascial release include a lacrosse ball, rolling stick, or manual therapy.
How to: Use the foam roller or a lacrosse ball to find these tight or tender areas. There will be some pain but it should not be unbearable and the rewards are worth the temporary discomfort. One benefit of self myofascial release is that it puts you in complete control of the process. You know exactly where the spots are and exactly how much pressure you can bear. When you find a trigger point, pause for a few seconds and relax as much as possible, taking deep breaths. You should feel the muscle release after a few seconds. If the pain is too much, work the surrounding areas and gradually move towards the trigger point. Remember, in the end, it doesn’t have to be the most painful experience ever to achieve the goal of restoring good movement. Never roll over a bone or joint
Prescription: Foam roll as much as possible, especially before AND after games or workout sessions.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is another essential for any athlete or anyone serious about creating good, healthy movement. Just like foam rolling, these active stretches can be performed anywhere, with little or no equipment. The difference between AIS and traditional stretching is that it is performed in repetitions of 2 seconds or less, instead of holding a static stretch for 10-30 seconds. When you hold a stretch for longer than 2 seconds, your body will trigger a “myotactic stretch reflex”. This is an eccentric contraction that will prevent your muscle from relaxing and lengthening. It will also deplete oxygen flow to the muscle tissue, which is the opposite of what you want when you are trying to recover faster and increase your ability to perform. Now that you understand “myotactic stretch reflex”, the next important principle of AIS is something called “reciprocal inhibition”. This simply means that when you engage a muscle on one side, the opposite muscle is forced to release. For example, when you contract your quads to extend your knee, the hamstrings are forced to relax. With a relaxed hamstring, we can now achieve and learn a new range of motion that the body will remember because you’re the one in control. Although a therapist may be able to force you into greater flexibility, its impossible for your body to retain that mobility because you didn’t create that on your own. I would recommend that you do these active stretches as often as possible, but consider it mandatory before every game or workout session. When you can combine them with the foam rolling (SMR) techniques, you can develop good movements, aid the recovery process, and ultimately perform better.
RX: Perform these active stretches before each game or workout session. For increased effectiveness, perform them right after foam rolling.