A groundbreaking study has shown that performing myofascial self-massage with Tune Up Fitness’ Roll Model® Method therapy balls prior to stretching can double flexibility gains achieved with stretching alone. And that’s not even the biggest news.
Rolling prior to stretching can increase maximum force output. This is BIG since the study confirmed what many other studies have shown–stretching alone can decrease your force output for up to 30min!
It means you can reach further and hold a position longer than ever before by including regular self-massage on therapy balls along with your stretching routine.
This study titled Self-massage prior to stretching improves flexibility in young and middle-aged adults is a game-changer (pun intended) for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who want a proven self-massage method that can take their performance to the next level. It is also vital for those who want to maintain functional fitness levels over time.
We have plenty of anecdotal evidence of these types of results in the Tune Up Fitness® community through our own CheckIn/ReCheck techniques. However, this information isn’t just anecdotal anymore.
We are grateful to Dr. Robyn Capobianco, a Tune Up Fitness® teacher and educator, for dedicating her time and energy (and dissertation work) to understanding the science behind self-massage on therapy balls.
Read on for details of the study, and to learn how to replicate these results for yourself.
What Was the Purpose of the Self-Massage Study?
What does that mean if you don’t speak anatomy?
This study was designed to examine how much you can stretch your calf muscles and how stretching temporarily affects your muscle strength.
How Was Self-Massage Studied?
The study looked at the difference between just stretching the calf muscles, and adding self-massage with therapy balls to that stretching. It then measured flexibility and strength of the target muscles after.
To study the effects of stretching alone, the 30 individuals performed the below leg/calf stretch for two sessions of 3×30 second stretches, with 30 seconds of rest between.
To study the effects of combining static stretching with self-myofascial massage on Roll Model® Method therapy balls, 60 seconds of the below self-massage was embedded within the stretch session.
How hard did they massage? About a 5 out of 10 level of discomfort.
What self-massage technique did they use? “Stripping” (moving with the grain of) the muscle fibers by rolling the original sized YTU therapy balls up and down (superior and inferior) along the calf muscles from the Achilles tendon to just below the knee.
After the stretch sessions, the following techniques were used to measure results:
“A digital goniometer connected to an amplifier (Biometrics Ltd, Newport, UK) was used to measure ankle dorsiflexion angle.” (p. 2)
“Subcutaneous tissue thickness was measured with a portable musculoskeletal ultrasonic imaging system (DP-30, Mindray North America, Mahwah, NJ, USA) with a 7.5 MHz linear trans- ducer (38 mm footprint).” (p. 2)
“Force was measured with a strain-gauge transducer (MLP- 300, Transducer Techniques, Temecula, CA). The force signal was digitized at 1,000 samples/s (Coulbourn Instruments, Allentown, PA)” (p. 3)
The Results: Self-Massage Prior to Stretching Enhanced Flexibility and Strength
Flexibility: Using the therapy balls, on average, DOUBLED ankle dorsiflexion from 12.5% with stretching only, to 24.5% when self-massage was added.
(There was a standard deviation of 16.9% within the group, but all increased ROM using the therapy balls.)
Why should you care? Because greater range of motion in your joints and soft tissues equals more access to complex movements. You can literally reach higher, twist further, and squat deeper.
You can also walk with more coordination and grace, a critical basic human movement at every stage of life. This supports increased athleticism while also helping fend off injury caused by stiffness and tension.
Force: Every participant had improved force production using the therapy balls (no one had force deficit). The average increase was 16%.
Why is this important for athletes? Because just static stretching before working out has been shown to decrease force output. The study shows, “Static stretching is effective at increasing range of motion, but it can diminish strength and performance measures, at least in young adults.” (p. 1)
But self-massage on the therapy balls prior to stretching does the opposite: it increases force output while also providing the added benefit of greater flexibility.
This means you can prime your body for greater range of motion AND greater force output at the same time.
Why else should you care? The basic act of walking constantly requires a single leg to dynamically balance through the ankle complex. Slip and falls are the single greatest cause of death in folks over 80. If these “rubber drugs” can be used for prehab, we may be able to collectively reduce accidents and injuries as we age.
Capobioanco shares, “Motor function and flexibility decline with advancing age, even in healthy adults.” She also states that rolling on therapy balls is better than PNF stretching. (p. 1)
An Answer for Future Flexibility and Strength
This study is a game-changer for anyone who teaches or practices self-care fitness.
Myofascial self-massage work can be part of the solution for flexibility and strength for yourself, your loved ones, and your clients.
“I have used the Roll Model Balls to roll away pre-competition stress, loosen up, and relieve pain. I have used them just prior to shooting a personal best.”
-Karen Kroll, gold medalist in the Masters division of the U.S. National Target Championships for Archery
To immediately put this information to use, try the following:
Self-Directed Myofascial Massage on Therapy Balls:
- Locate the muscle group you are focusing on before working out.
- Perform a simple stretch “CheckIn” to test ROM of that muscle group.
- Do a simple strength “CheckIn” to feel force production and steadiness.
- Do self-myofascial-massage on targeted tissue for 30s to 2m.
- ReCheck range of motion, force production and steadiness.
- Move into your workout and take note of differences from a typical day.
Let us know how it goes! Comment below about the muscle groups you targeted and if it made a difference in your performance.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments as well. It can take a little while to get the hang of myofascial self-massage, but it’s SO worth it. We’re here to help.
Robyn A. Capobianco, Melissa M. Mazzo & Roger M. Enoka (2019): Self-
massage prior to stretching improves flexibility in young and middle-aged adults, Journal of Sports
Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1576253
Author: Ariel Kiley with edits by Jill Miller and Dr. Robyn Capobianco
Related Article: 5 Steps to Make Self-Care Exercise a Habit
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