“Optimizing Movement” Series: Upper Body SMR You Should Be Doing Daily

My ‘Optimizing Movement Series’ will serve as an opportunity to address certain areas of training, prehab, and movement prep work that is absolutely imperative to preventing injury and increasing your performance. The initial part of the series will address movement quality issues, while parts later in the series will discuss methods that you can use to improve your PR’s. While corrective exercise has gotten all of the rage over the past decade (and it’s something we obviously perform on a daily basis), the real key to staying healthy and improving performance is to optimize movement. While you can certainly address areas in the gym during your one-hour training session that will help your issues (and definitely make matters worse during your training sessions with moronic programming), the real opportunity to improve your dysfunctions comes in the remaining 23 hours of the day. Learning to move optimally with everything you do will be the breakthrough for whatever it is you want to achieve physically. Part 1 of this series will address upper body foam rolling you should be completing daily in order to stay healthy, lift heavier things, and push yourself harder. But first, a little introduction…

Somewhere along the way, I aged. The days of being able to play basketball for 6 hours in the summer sun have been substituted for one-hour men’s league sessions and pick-up games that leave me sore for 48 hours after. For an uber-competitive guy, it’s a sad fate. It’s not that I can’t compete the same, it’s that I’m more cautious in my approach to the way in which I play. Gone are the days of diving for every loose ball, jumping for every rebound, taking it hard to the hoop for the extra point. It’s something I’ve sacrificed in order to prevent another ACL tear, muscle pull, sprained ankle – and to preserve my career in the strength and conditioning field. My desires have slowly shifted towards being  strong and mobile enough to handle everything that life throws at me. ‘Out’ are the days of training to be a faster defender, better jumper, the best player on the court. ‘In’ are the days of getting as strong as I can, attempting to outsprint my dog at the park (albeit for 5 meter spans), and remaining injury-free. It’s not as popular and ego-boosting as the packed gymnasiums, but it’s so much cooler than asking for help to get off of the toilet because your back hurts too much. I still have a competitive fire, I just harness it and utilize it in smarter ways than I did when I was younger. In order to achieve all of these things however, the key is making all-encompassing health a habit. Making better food choices a habit. Making dynamic warm-up a habit before any session of physical activity. Making activation and mobility drills a habit. Making tissue quality work a habit. In recent years, I have taken my love of tissue quality and foam rolling to an entirely different level – and I wholeheartedly attribute it to my ability to stay healthy in the gym despite sprinting, lifting, pulling, pushing, throwing and carrying heavy things. Foam rolling (also known as self-myofascial release (SMR)), either with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, frozen water bottle, can of soup, or your grandma’s rolling pin, has numerous benefits for the body. Recent research supports it’s use to:

  • improve elasticity and break up fibrous adhesions (caused by injury, inflammation, inactivity etc. that binds around injured areas and affect normal joint and muscle mechanics)
  • improve joint range of motion to the same degree as static stretching (but without the negative performance affects associated with static stretching)
  • decrease muscle soreness after bouts of intense activity
  • help facilitate water movement in epithelial and muscle tissues (which is generally a good thing, as the old Bedouin proverb suggests: “Water still, poison. Water moving, life”)
  • improve sensori-motor amnesia (brings sensation to areas that don’t move enough on a daily basis)
  • Help to inhibit tonic/overactive muscles

Foam rolling is one of those things that for years no one really knew exactly what it did, we just knew that “damn this hurts a little”, and “wow that feels great after”. Fortunately, science has finally proven it’s effects beneficial, as well as provided us with general guidelines to follow:

The “do’s” of SMR:

  • Roll on the area of discomfort for 60-90 seconds for ideal benefits (don’t perform ‘static holds’ on tender areas)
  • Focus on maintaining good posture and core stability while rolling

The “do not’s” of SMR:

  • Do not roll through ‘extreme pain’. Stick to middle of the road sensation (a blend between ‘pleasure and mild pain’)
  • Rolling should never cause bruising
  • Focus on muscular areas instead of fascia areas (such as IT band and plantar fascia). Fascia is a fibrous, tough tissue that cannot be lengthened with rolling. Instead, focus on muscular areas superior and inferior to the tight fascia.

As part 1 of the Optimizing Movement Series, I have included a list of common problem areas in the upper body that should be rolled on a daily basis. It’s important to note that a proper activation component should be implemented following foam rolling in order to truly optimize movement. For more information on this, check out my previous blog on inhibition/facilitation principles HERE.


Pectoralis Minor



Upper Traps



Levator Scapulae




Posterior Cuff Complex



Latissimus Dorsi



Scalenes/SCM Complex


Incorporating these exercises into your daily routines will not only help to keep you healthy and injury-free, but will also contribute to your ability to take your performance to the next level. Make them a part of your all-encompassing health habits. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the series, which will address common areas of concern in the lower body.

If you are looking for more information, or are looking to take your performance and health to the next level, give us a try! Check us out at http://www.redlineconditioning.com or email us at info@redlineconditioning.com.

Redline Conditioning – Home of the Kitchener Rangers, Kitchener Dutchmen, Kitchener Minor Baseball, NHL athletes, AHL athletes, OHL athletes and our Adult Performance Program.

Train Smart and Hard.


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