Can’t touch your toes? Try ROLLING!
Do you remember how to roll? You once were really good at it!
Lets go back to your first movements, right after you were born…
First you started to breathe. Then you began grasping and gripping. Then you turned your head and looked around with your eyes. Next, you started moving your limbs.
And eventually you were able to flip over:)
After that you crawled and then moved to kneeling. Finally you transitioned all the way to standing before you had ultimate freedom…walking!
But it didn’t take long before modern society took some freedom away from you. Around the age of 5 you were placed behind a desk and told to sit still. You spent the rest of your education in a chair and likely most of your career.
In fact, you’re probably sitting down right now…
The problem is that all this sitting has done some funky things to your body. It can show up differently in different people. For instance…
Some people lose mobility in their mid-back, shoulders and hips. Other people get really weak in the “core”, glutes, and postural muscles. And many people experience all of this.
It’s kind of a bummer because these funky changes can lead to pain:(
So…today I want to invite you to play like a kid again. Let’s go back to when you were first learning how to move at the point when you started to roll.
If you haven’t heard…rolling is incredibly effective in fixing a lot of the dysfunctions that occur in our body as a consequence of living in a chair-bound society that is so sedentary (plus..it’s really fun!). It also feels amazing and sends an instant burst of energy throughout your body.
I’ll talk more about the benefits of rolling later on…
But, first we’re going to do a little test to make this more playful, ok!
Right now, I want you to reach down towards your toes and see how far down you can go. Maybe you can touch your toes? Maybe you can’t? Just see how far down you can go and take note.
Ok…now watch this video of the two lovely ladies rolling…
Looks awesome right? Now it’s your turn:)
I want you to get in some comfy clothes and clear some space on the floor. If you have a dog please tie the dog up now so you don’t get interrupted.
In a few moments I want you to try rolling just like these ladies did in the video.
But first lets talk about how to roll and who should NOT be rolling. This is important stuff!
Start by making an X on the floor with your body
Stay long in your arms and legs.
Try to make a straight line with your opposite arm and leg. For instance, your right arm should make a line with your left leg and visa versa.
So…you’ll have two lines that make an X. Those lines will each be an axis that you rotate over
It’s similar to how the earth spins around an axis.
Make sense? If not…you’ll get it once you start moving:)
Now, there were 4 major movements patterns these ladies just did. I’ve listed them below along with some simple cues I want you to think about when rolling.
From back to stomach (using arms)
- look with eyes and head
- reach arm across body and turn head into armpit
- make the non-moving arm and opposing leg the axis
- “reach – lift arm – look into arm pit – ROLL”
From stomach to back (using arms)
- lift arm and look up over the shoulder
- make the non-moving arm and opposing leg the axis
- “Reach– lift arm – look over shoulder – ROLL
From back to stomach (using legs)
- Make the non-moving leg and opposing arm the axis
- “Reach – lift leg across body – ROLL”
From stomach to back (using legs)
- make the non-moving leg and arm long the axis
- “Reach – lift leg across body – ROLL”
Here are the rules
I don’t want you using your non-moving limbs to help you roll. So, for example if you are rolling from your back to your stomach using your right arm, try not to push off using your left arm or legs.
That would be cheating:)
Getting the idea now?
But don’t go rolling just yet!
In order to make sure you’re a good candidate for rolling we have to make sure of a couple of things.
Do you have adequate mobility in your thoracic spine?
Sit tall in a chair with you feet together and arms crossed and elbows pointing straight in front of you. Now gently turn as far as you can still gazing forward. You should be able turn at least 30 degrees on both sides.
If you cannot it means you have a mobility issue that needs to be addressed in your thoracic spine…also known as your mid-back.
Unfortunately, today is not the day for you to roll. But, the good news is that I’ve prepared of list of exercises you can start doing.
Click any of the exercises listed below and you’ll be guided to a video where I’ll show you how to improve mobility in your thoracic spine…it’s stuck and it needs to move.
- Foam roll thoracic extension (my favorite)
- Thoracic rotation
- Wall thoracic extension
- Upper thoracic rotation
- Seated thoracic extension
There are many ways to mobilize the thoracic spine but this will get you started. Work on moving your thoracic spine for a couple of weeks and then see if you can get past 30 degrees on that sitting test you did above.
You may also have a tough time rolling if you have moderate mobility issues in your shoulders or hips but it’s the thoracic spine that I’m most concerned with.
Don’t roll if your are in pain
The number one rule is you should stop if something hurts. Rolling is not an intervention to treat acute or chronic pain. So if you are in severe pain or if you start having pain when rolling you should stop.
Today is not the day for you to roll. But it does mean you have an issue that needs to be addressed. We’ll talk more about a solution later.
Time to roll!
Ok…if you’ve demonstrated you have adequate thoracic spine mobility and you’re not in pain…it’s time to get on the floor, set a timer for 5 minutes and practice rolling. Come back when your done, and…
Have some fun!
Did you improve?
Go back to a standing position and reach down for your toes. Did you improve?
I’d say 8/10 people can reach further after rolling.
If you improved you may be thinking…
”WTH? I thought my hamstrings were tight and that’s why I couldn’t touch my toes? But I didn’t even stretch my hamstrings?”
Well…to be honest we’re not entirely sure, but this much we can speculate…
It’s not about the hamstrings
A lot of people THINK they have tight hamstrings when in actuality they have very poor stability and/or motor control in their body…usually around the spine.
When this happens your body can go into protective mode and lock up in the form of tight muscles. Another name for this is tone.
This is your body’s way of protecting itself when there is a threat to your central nervous system.
The body does this to create stability and pick up the slack for the stabilizer muscles around the spine that have become so weak. This is very common for people who sit a lot because these muscles are never asked to work.
A good example of this is with people who have cerebral palsy and have experienced damage to their central nervous system. Their bodies often demonstrate a high level of tone in order to create stability. It’s trying to protect itself.
It’s more likely the nervous system
Tone can look like tightness or shortened muscles…but tone is coming from the neurological system…aka your brain.
Try to stretch a muscle that has a high degree of tone and you won’t get very far…ever!
Take a look at this picture…
Here you can see many of the stabilizer muscles around the spine. Some people like to call these the “local” muscles. One of their main functions is create stability and protection up and down the spine.
When the stabilizer muscles are really weak the central nervous system perceives danger and may create tone in other areas to pick up the slack.
The big issue is that A LOT of people are walking around with really unstable spines and very poor motor control so they’re locking up all over their bodies.
This is happening for a number of reasons but the most common one is that people sit on their butts a lot! And they never use these really important muscles that keep their spines safe.
Also when most people go to the gym and workout they tend to focus on the big muscles like the pecs, biceps, and abs. But they don’t give much attention to these important stabilizers.
It should also be noted that it’s important for the stability muscles to fire before the big muscles. There is significant research showing this timing can be disturbed in people with chronic pain.
Which brings us back to rolling
When you roll you wake up all the spinal stabilizers that have been asleep and in doing so create stability. This sends signals to your brain that it’s safe. Now the muscles that were locking up all over the body can relax, everything is all right, we have protection!
Which is why 8/10 people can bend down further when trying to touch their toes after rolling.
I’ve seen MAGIC happen with rolling!
Unfortunately, it’s is seldom used by therapists, coaches and athletes:(
To layer intensity or load on top of someone who cannot roll is like shooting a cannon out of a canoe. It’s very unstable, less powerful and you’ll miss the target:(
Everyone who is a candidate should be rolling!
I find this to be especially important for rotational athletes such as golfers and throwers. However, it’s a great warm-up for every athlete as it forces the local muscle system to activate.
I hope you got something out of this. Remember…your body is a beautiful temple and frequent quality movement is a vital ingredient to optimizing your human experience.
So… give rolling a shot and let me know how it goes in the comments section.
Maya will show you one more time…
If you are looking for ways to save your spine, improve your posture and offset the negative effects of sitting you’ll want to learn more about our Sitting Solution program.
I’d also like to thank the people from the SFMA (selective functional movement assessment) for introducing me to rolling. You guys are brilliant! If you’re a coach or movement practitioner looking to step your game up I highly recommend attending one of their certifications here .