Over the years, as I’ve matured as a trainer and individual, I’ve come to learn that improving body composition and looking better means nothing if you don’t feel and function better too. For that reason taking care of my tissues, and my clients, through active recovery techniques such as stretching, massage and Self Myofascial Release (SMR) etc. is something I’ve placed a lot of emphasis on. So much emphasis in fact, C=Recovery in the A+B+C=RESULTS formula. Yes, it has its own letter, now that’s a big deal. One of the easiest ways we can improve our recovery and results is by manipulating our tissues into improved ranges of motion and promoting blood flow to tissues and around the body generally. This can be achieved most efficiently through SMR and/or massage techniques. Despite both working through a similar pathway to achieve the desired result, is one really better than the other? Before we get into the pros and cons of each, we’ll also discuss what each technique actually is.
By using various tools such as a foam roller, massage ball, tennis ball, lacrosse ball or barbell etc. you apply pressure yourself to a selected area of tissue. Theres no rules as such, but either rolling up or down the length of the tissue or across laterally to really shear the fibres apart seems to work best. By doing this you can relieve trigger points, improve the way muscles glide and slide over each other and promote blood flow.
Pros Of SMR
– It’s pretty cheap! A standard foam roller or massage ball can be purchased for as little as £10 a piece. Or you can even use things you may already have lying around the house, such as a golf ball, tennis ball or rolling pin.
– You can do it anywhere, anytime. Making it more convenient that having to book a sports massage.
Cons Of SMR
– SMR, like massage can be painful. Inflicting pain onto oneself takes some fortitude.
– Because you’re in control of when you perform your SMR drills, it can often be sidelined and forgotten about. Which means it might not ever actually happen.
– To a certain extent, it requires some basic knowledge of muscles and the most effective techniques used to manipulate them.
There’s hundreds of types of massage available, but for the sake of this post, we are going to be referring to a typical sports massage. Being a little more aggressive than your typical spa treatment style massage, it makes it most effective at achieving the desired outcome. During your typical sports massage, you’d often lie in various positions on a massage bed and have your masseuse apply pressure manually to the selected area of tissue using the palms, thumbs, knuckles and elbows. Again this can relieve trigger points, improve the way muscles glide and slide over each other and promote blood flow.
Pros Of Massage
– Having the knowledge of a masseuse or sports therapist at your feet can be extremely valuable. Especially when it comes to injuries.
– Can be more relaxing as you don’t need to do much yourself, apart from lie there and relax as best as you can through the massage.
– Having an appointment booked in the diary means it will be more likely to happen.
Cons Of Massage
– Expensive! Depending on where you go, around £1 per minute is fairly typical. That’s £60 per hour. Not something that everyone can afford to do on a weekly (or more) basis.
– It requires a masseuse or sports therapist to either come to your home, or you have to travel to them which can become an inconvenience.
– Your muscles don’t actually know if they are being manipulated by a human or SMR tool. Elbow or massage ball? Your muscles can’t tell.
So there you have it, a fairly unbiased look into the pros and cons of SMR and massage. With this information you can now go and make up your own mind. My personal preference is to combine the two. I endure an hour sports massage 1-2 times per month and in between those sessions use SMR techniques to keep on top of things. Bottom line is, whether we choose to use SMR or massage we should all be building active recovery techniques into our routine for improved movement, recovery, posture, fat loss, muscle gain and strength.