Widely used and often the focus of hot training takes, SMR (or Self Myofascial Release), is a warm up and recovery mechanism we believe in here at PLT4M. SMR is by no means a be all end all cure for mobility, recovery, or performance goals, but when used in conjunction with a balanced training program, it can be a very useful pre- or post-workout tool.
But what is it, really?
Self Myofascial Release is just a fancy name for a massage you give yourself, often performed with a foam roller or other instrument. We are simply applying pressure to the muscle with slow controlled movement.
But why? In an attempt to make a long story short, the theory is as follows…
1. Your muscles are surrounded by a soft, fibrous connective tissue called Fascia. You can think of it like a strong but flexible sleeve of sorts, that surrounds all components and compartments of the body to maintain integrity, support, and protective structure.
2. When irritated (through intense exercise, poor movement or posture, lack of regular stretching, or even emotional distress) the fibrous tissue sometimes forms adhesions. Essentially, the fascia and muscle fibers have become stuck together. These adhesions restrict muscle movement. This limits an athletes flexibility and range of motion, and can cause soreness. These adhesions are often referred to as knots or trigger points.
3. By applying pressure, we incite blood flow to the tissue and work to break up those adhesions. The goal is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and the muscle may more freely, independent of one another. Returning this relationship to its original state improves mobility by maximizing muscle range of motion while reducing soreness and speeding up recovery. We can also apply the same principle to breaking up scar tissue within a damaged muscle.
While there is a distinct lack of official research on the topic, our experience and that of many top-level coaches and athletes indicates a certain value in adhering to this belief.
So how should you go about it?
To put it most simply: you really can’t do it incorrectly. Blood flow is the name of the game. So long as you are applying pressure to soft-tissue areas, you are increasing blood flow to the area. In the videos linked below, we walk you through 2 very basic foam roller progressions to get you started!
One of the most technically difficult movements to learn and perform well, the clean is also one of the most beneficial. It’s a dynamic blend of strength and power development, full body mobility, and precise proprioception. It’s no surprise it’s often referred to as one of the most athletic lifts.
Starting new athletes in the clean can be a tricky endeavor due to it’s many moving parts. Here at PLT4M, we like to start at the “top” with the most basic element of the clean and work our way down over time.
Thus, we begin by teaching the “High Hang Power Clean” – basically focusing on the jump and pull with a catch in our front rack position. We introduce this movement in parts:
Hands & Feet:
The athlete’s feet should be in a neutral position directly under the hips. Their hands should be at least “thumb-swiping” distance from the thighs on the bar, with the arms hanging long and loose from the shoulders.
Position 1/Jumping Position:
From here, we instruct the athlete to simply “soften” the knees, or bend them slightly. The torso remains vertical, we’re not looking to lean forward, here. It is just a little 2 inch dip of the hips.
Pull & Catch:
We tell the athlete to jump with the legs while pulling the bar up the torso. Cue them to try and pull their shirt up with the bar, keeping the elbows high and outside. Once the bar has reached chest height, we shoot the elbows through and assume a quarter squat position – also known as the power position.
Even breaking it down to these most basic pieces, you will see many different athletes exhibiting many different faults, From here, it’s easier to identify individual issues and fix with each athlete, rather that try and break the movement down even further.
Fault 1 – Scarecrow vs Zombie:
One of the most common issues you’ll see with new athletes is the tendency to reverse curl the bar as opposed to the proper high pull. First, cue the athlete to mimic a Scarecrow, not a Zombie (elbows high and outside – video here: https://youtu.be/r2bFx9iJBQI). If the visual cue doesn’t work, provide them with a tactile cue, placing a physical obstruction like a pvc pipe in the way, forcing the bar to travel upward instead of out from the body.
Fault 2 – Starfish Catch
The next most common issue relates to hip and foot position on the catch. Often, athletes will jump the feet out wide in an effort to stabilize the weight. While this is instinctual for many, it puts them in an unsafe position under load, and also limits their ability to move weight. Cue them to avoid this starfish catch, and jump from hip-width to shoulder or squat width (video here: https://youtu.be/gA2PyfCHeps). There are a number of ways to fix this issue. You can use a tactile cue by placing your foot or other obstacle in the way of excessive width, or a visual cue with a taped target area on the floor.
Once we’ve mastered the high hang power clean, we can much more easily begin to introduce the other variations – moving all the way down to a full squat clean from the floor.
Always remember that we are looking to instill great mechanics before we add serious loading. Set good habits and the weight will come!
It’s the least “sexy” part of training. It lacks the competition and the intensity of the rest of the workout. Because of this, it is often overlooked by coaches and or avoided by athletes. The warm up, though, is one of the most important components of any training program.
Beyond simply preparing athletes for more intense work, a proper warm up simultaneously offers us a chance to work on movement technique, prevent injury in the gym and on the field, and become a better overall athlete (mobility/ROM/proprioception/etc).
How should you approach the warm up in order to achieve all of these significant benefits?
Let’s take a quick look at the structure of a well-executed warm up.
Important to note here, is the order in which everything is executed. Though we have laid out a specific sequence of events, a warm up does not always have to follow such to the letter. Often, these stages will overlap, and sometimes it makes more sense to perform a technique brief before mobility or perform your activation in place of dynamic movement. Bottom line: so long as you are using a structured warm up with purposeful intent, you’re doing it right!
Step 1: Get Moving! (Elevate Heart Rate)
1A: Light Cardio
Before we do anything else, we must prime the engine. To do this, we elevate the heart rate, incite blood flow to the entire body, and begin moving our muscles and joints in a low intensity environment. The easiest way to accomplish this is to hop into some light “cardio” work. You have a whole host of different options:
Beyond the traditional cardio options, you could easily opt for something more entertaining to a group of young athletes. A casual game of knockout, tag, musical chairs (the med ball version is quite entertaining!), etc. are great options so long as it is casual and relaxed. All we are looking for is continuous movement at a very moderate pace. Perform for somewhere between 2 and 5 minutes depending on time constraints.
1B: Dynamic Movement
Once the heart rate is up and blood has begun to flow, we like to transition directly into another kind of continuous movement. Unlike our monostructural cardio, though, we are working through fuller ranges of motion about different joints. The goal is to expand our initial warm up into more athletic, movement-relevant motion.
Example: The Alternating Spiderman & Reach
Other possibilities: PVC Pass throughs Bodyweight Good Mornings Inchworm to a Push Up Continuous Line Drills
In each of these examples, the goal is slow, purposeful movement. These are not static stretches, but neither are they fast-paced. We want to reinforce great biomechanics (focusing on the maintenance of the lumbar curve during a bodyweight good morning, for example), and begin to warm up the muscles and connective tissues through a complete range of motion that will be used during the workout ahead.
Step 2: Mobility
Now that the body has been warmed up a bit, we slow things down a little with some mobility work. There is a LOT of debate on the place and efficacy of static stretching and tissue mashing (foam rolling, etc) – all we will say is that in our experience, the benefit of targeted mobility performed in conjunction with a proper dynamic warm up is undeniable.
The purpose, here, is to improve our positioning. This refers to the positions we must find for safe, efficient, and powerful movement within the gym, but also on the field of competition. For example, if we are getting below parallel in the day’s workout, we may prescribe some banded hip and ankle mobility. Not only does this grease the groove for our squatting, it reinforces proper hip/knee/ankle alignment to prevent unintentional internal rotation of the hip (specifically the valgus knee collapse so often associated with ACL injuries) and also improves ankle dorsiflexion. Both are key to avoiding injury and improving performance when running, jumping, etc.
Banded Squat Mobility:
There are TONS of mobility progressions, SMR work, and positional holds that can be utilized within your warm up. The end goal is simply to correct or improve a position without sacrificing the integrity, or strength, of that position.
Step 3: Movement Prep
Once we’ve gotten the blood flowing and our range of motion enhanced, we want to take some dynamic activity and make it specific to the training demands of the day. Our goal is to begin to “activate” the particular muscle groups and kinetic chains that are of primary focus later on. In conjunction with your mobility work, proper activation greatly reduces the chance of injury while improving performance.
What does this look like?
Frankly it can take on many forms, all depending on your approach and goal for the day. One day you may choose to shore up the midline in preparation for heavy deadlifts by working some hip extensions or simple supermen. Another day it may be concentrated shoulder pre-hab before barbell pressing work. It may be specific glute activation before squatting to help prevent valgus knee collapse in inexperienced lifters. It may even be simple gymnastics of push ups and air squats, or barbell complexes to dial in lightweight movement patterns that will be used later on.
For example, this series of DB Carries is a great way to activate the shoulders and lockdown the midline all at once.
The beauty is in the flexibility – you can get a lot of things done while also preparing for your more intense work to come.
Arguably the most important component of movement prep. No athlete is at a level of movement competency that would eliminate the need to drill technique and form every single day. We are great believers in mastering the basics…then mastering them again!
We first like to grab a PVC or empty barbell and drill the movement in question, and all of its constituent parts. If it’s a heavy squat clean day, for example, we will likely run through our 3 position clean drill first. Then, we drill the exact movement for a number of light, perfect reps. Then we gradually increase the loading and resistance until we’ve reached our desired level of intensity.
3 Position Clean Drill:
This process really serves two purposes. First, it allows time for technique work. Too often, coaches and athletes opt not to continually work movement technique to their detriment. It also prepares us, neuromuscularly, for the intensity to come within that exact movement pattern.
All of the above is a surefire way to prime the body for your training session. You’ll be less susceptible to injury, you’ll gain total body control and ROM over time, you’ll cement great movement patterns, and you’ll see the best gains – you’ll PR more.
So next time you train, incorporate a great warm up then get to work!
A great combination of activation and single limb balance, this drill is much like a SL RDL in that it is unilateral flexion and extension of the hip. Here, though, we are adding the element of a high knee drive during extension and our focus is on slow, smooth movement and perfect balance without a counterweight.
Starting in a hip-width stance with soft knees, drive one knee up towards the torso while balancing on the other leg. Then, take the elevated knee and reach back out behind you while initiating and hinge of the hip, bringing the torso forward. The ultimate goal is to achieve something of a “T” position, with back leg fully extended and inline with a flat back, parallel to the ground.
Keep the movement slow, and try to hold at the bottom for a full second or longer. If you must, rest between reps by bring the foot back to the ground. To make it more difficult, keep your weight balanced on the stationary leg throughout the set.
Before Ryan Donaldson arrived at Meyersdale High School, the strength and conditioning program was an afterthought. Hired as the head football coach in 2017, Donaldson’s first order of business was to make the school’s small and humble weight room a point of emphasis for his young football program.
Donaldson knew the first off-season would play a pivotal role in establishing the program culture. His goal was to foster excitement, generate buy-in, and build team chemistry.
Fostering Excitement through Competition:
Coach Donaldson knew he couldn’t expect high school athletes to live for the weight room without some form of incentive. He wanted to inject excitement into the off-season and inspire his athletes to truly challenge themselves and each other.
To do so, he added an element of competition through PLT4M’s “Pillar” workouts. Competitive Metcon sessions designed to challenge the motor and the mind, Pillars provided the motivation for athletes to give that extra effort, week in and week out, through a long off-season.
The effect was immediate, and Thursdays quickly became the day athletes looked forward to each week. The athletes took it upon themselves to encourage one another, cheering for teammates and motivating one another to dig deeper through the finish.
“Pillars became an embodiment of what we wanted our program to look like outside of the gym. If we were honest and dedicated in the weight room, we would not cut corners on the field or in life.”
Wanting to reinforce the value of hard work, Donaldson actively recognized athlete dedication and commitment through two weekly honors: “Pillar Performer” and “Iron Raider”.
Each week, winners of the Pillar workout were presented with the “Pillar Helmet”. Each winner would place a sticker with their jersey number on the helmet, turning a simple football helmet into a tangible leaderboard. It was motivation for new athletes, and a source of pride for past winners.
Beyond weekly workout winners, Donaldson wanted to recognize athletes that embodied the spirit of the Meyersdale program with his weekly “Iron Raider” award. Voted on by coaches, this award highlighted the individual who worked hard, completed every workout, and had a positive attitude doing it.
Both awards came with a social media post on Twitter and Facebook to share the achievements with local followers. Soon the community was a buzz, as the passion and excitement surrounding the off-season spread from the weight room out among Meyersdale fans. Coach Donaldson began receiving texts and comments from an excited fan base, eager for the upcoming season.
Building for the Future:
Knowing that they would one day be the program’s leaders, Ryan also wanted to make sure that the youngest athletes were involved from the start. As newcomers, they were required to finish the Intro to Weightlifting program before they joined the Varsity’s workouts.
To ensure that they continued to do things the right way, Ryan paired younger athletes with upperclassmen. With role models to look towards, the young athletes were growing within the program and helping Meyersdale’s future take shape.
While Meyersdale still has room to improve on the football field, there is certainly an established precedent that will help guide future success.
Meyersdale will turn to a committed group this off season to pick up where the team left off. As the student-athletes continue in their pursuit of better, the community remains proud of their new-found dedication.