Updated: Aug 16, 2021
CrossFit Mobility Guru Kelly Starrett’s 10-Minute Soft Tissue & Breathing Exercise Will Transform Your Body and Mind
We live very stressful lives. We try to balance work, family and friends and our exercise regimens with varying degrees of success.
We are constantly stimulated by outside stressors, including our ever-present cell phones. That cumulative stress prevents us from maximizing our adaptation to training and keeps us from coming out more robust on the other side.
“We get a massage every three weeks or so for 60 minutes and wonder why it’s not enough to overcome the stress of daily life,” Starrett says. “What we want is a set of behaviors that can be done in the living room or the garage that can be done every day to mitigate mental and physical stress.”
Here’s a quick biology lesson. Our autonomous nervous system has two main divisions; the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.
The PNS controls the body’s responses while at rest, and initiates “rest and digest” functions. It is anabolic, which means molecules the body needs are built in this state. The SNS controls the body during times of perceived threat and activates the “fight-or-flight” response. It shuts down bodily functions not essential to survival, like rest, recovery and digestion.
This state is catabolic, which means molecules are broken down to form energy.
Though we are designed to spend most of our time in a parasympathetic state, the increased stressors of our daily lives – caffeine, deadlines, crying babies, rush-hour traffic, intense exercise, fear of a global pandemic – make our sympathetic nervous system more dominant.
Making matters worse, our bodies don’t differentiate between real and perceived stress; thinking about the possibility of being late for a meeting or contracting COVID-19 essentially elicits the same biological response as actually being chased by a tiger.
So, we must find ways to hit the off switch and get our bodies into a parasympathetic state. Starrett suggests 10 minutes of soft tissue work, coupled with controlled breathing, in the last hour before you go to sleep. “Ever had a massage and then jumped off the table ready to fight or snatch a personal best?” he asks. “Nope.”
GRAB YOUR FOAM ROLLER. Find a few sticky spots that need some TLC. Odds are, you already have a pretty good idea which body parts need the most work. But go easy; foam-rolling should feel like a strong, deep-tissue massage, not a like a bludgeoning with a tube sock full of nickels.
Settle the foam roller into one of the aforementioned trouble spots. Inhale, slowly and evenly, for four seconds to the top of your breath, and try to draw the breath all the way into your belly as opposed to just your chest.
At the top of the inhale, hold the breath and contract that sticky muscle loaded on the roller for another four seconds. Squeeze it hard.
Relax that angry muscle and spend a full eight seconds exhaling slowly to to to the bottom of your breath. Concentrate on fully releasing the targeted muscle and letting it melt into the foam roller.
Repeat a few times on each muscle group, and continue for 10 minutes, give or take; listen to your body, and give it what it needs.
“Lengthening the breathing helps you relax more, and it’s a way to get the brain to down-regulate while also helping the tissue,” Starrett says. “Combining that soft-tissue input with breathing signals the brain that hey, it’s time to relax.”
Lindsay Berra is a former MLB reporter and ESPN the Magazine writer who currently contributes to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN, Men’s Health, Bodybuilding.com and other outlets. She is the oldest grandchild of Yogi and Carmen Berra and is a board member at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls, NJ. She is a CrossFit coach, yogi, cyclist, runner, hiker and golfer.