By Ben Lewenau
In July of 2012, CrossFit Milwaukee invited Eric Krenzke, the inventor and owner of Roll to Recovery and trainer to professional athletes, to show us a thing or two about balls. We all know that balls are the quintessential tools for almost all sports, but Krenzke puts a different spin on the subject (I promise to keep the ball puns to a minimum). Krenzke has developed a highly effective method of self-massage by using balls of different sizes and densities to decrease muscle tension and increase recovery rate. He states on his website, “Investing time in your personal roll to recovery will enhance your overall well-being and compliment all other activities you are currently doing. Best of all it can be done anywhere, in little time, with simple tools found everywhere, while giving speedy results!” Although the convenience of Krenzke’s self-massage techniques makes his system very appealing, it’s the speedy results that may be the most intriguing thing about Roll to Recovery.
Most fitness goals are not met within a week, it takes months and years to get the results we desire; so it can seem too good to be true when Krenzke says, “I’m in the business of instant gratification.” During his presentation many of the participants witnessed these instant results. For example, all it took was a few minutes of rolling his foot with a golf ball and Ryan was able to eliminate a nagging pain in his big toe while doing lunge walks, and I was able to touch my toes (a very rare occurrence) from spending about ten minutes rolling out my calves. Krenzke said that these results are not uncommon. Within a week of consistent rolling his clients noticed a dramatic different in how they feel, and were able to use much firmer balls on previously sensitive tissue. So…how do these magical balls work?
By rolling and applying localized pressure with balls on soft tissue you are able to not only increase blood flow to that area, but more importantly you are also draining your lymph. Krenzke said that draining your lymph is crucial because overworked tissue becomes saturated with by-products like lactic acid, and if it isn’t worked out, the excess “junk” begins to crystalize creating sore, stiff, and ultimately immobile tissue. This explains why you can literally hear and feel a crackling when rolling out with a ball. The rolling process is only to warm up the tissue and get the blood flowing, but the real magic happens with static holds. By isolating a particular tendon or tight spot, you can apply a great deal of pressure with a ball. It’s important to hold that position for up to two minutes and really focus on relaxing with each breath to maximize the results. When we were working on our IT bands Krenzke says, “Find the hump and try to stay there and relax into it. Once that is accomplished mobilize back and forth…you should feel like you’re going to puke” No one said the instant results come without some discomfort.
The real beauty of working with Krenzke is that although he is very savvy with anatomy and physiology terminology, his presentation sounds more like a Rice Krispies commercial than biomechanical seminar. He uses works like, clunk, pop, crackle and thump. His presentation is extremely digestible and easy to understand.
The second time Krenzke visited our gym, in September of 2012, he focused more on hip and upper back mobility (the first session was spent on feet and legs). In order to mobilize the hips, we spent a lot of time rolling out our IT bands. The IT band is a long tendon that runs from the outside of your hip all the way down the side of your leg and connects underneath the knee. If you are not already aware of your IT band, it’s probably extremely tight. A lot of knee and/or low back pain can be linked to this tendon. When your IT band is too tight, it can change the position of your hips, which basically offsets all of the movements of your body. Anyone familiar with core-to-extremity concepts, realizes that most power movements originate from the hips. So that 3 mile run you think is the cause of your knee pain may actually be from sitting at your desk for four hours at a time, allowing those IT bands to tighten up. Think of driving your car with two wheels that are out of balance. You will be able to drive the car, but it’s only a matter of time before the accumulation of inefficient movement causes the wheels to fall off. If your hips aren’t seated in the proper position, you may be able to get away with it for a while, but soon enough it will come back to haunt you. Although we spend a lot of time on the IT band, you have to work all of the muscles around a sore or immobile area in order to achieve balance.
Now that you’re practically drooling at the computer waiting for me to give you specifics on how to roll, I have to stop here. Although Krenzke uses simple terms to explain his concepts, the proper rolling/pressure techniques are more involved than just rubbing balls all over you body (get your mind out of the gutter). There is a specific method that needs to be used in order to work the tissue properly and safely. Lucky for you, Krenzke has been pretty cooperative, from our experience as far as setting up workshops with gym owners.
We will be further exploring some of the principles and exercises that Krenzke uses in a follow up piece on this blog involving an interview with the man himself. This is by no means a replacement for coming to see Krenzke in person, but it will be better than nothing. For those of you who can’t wait, check out his site at www.rolltorecovery.com. Feel free to email him initial questions you may have about his system of self-massage, and if you say the right things, I’m sure he’ll have no problem showing you his balls (you have a filthy mind).