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Lower-Body Maintenance by Kelly Starrett - CrossFit Journal

Lower-Body Maintenance

By Kelly Starrett

In Medical/Injuries, Videos

December 11, 2009

Video Article

You won’t eliminate tight muscles with a tennis ball, but you might loosen things up.

Using nothing more than a ball, Kelly Starrett helps an athlete at CrossFit Santa Cruz do a little maintenance on her lower body—one of the areas that’s usually tight in CrossFitters used to compound movements.

By placing the ball beneath the muscle and rolling to release tension, athletes can work on the external rotators of the hip, the hamstrings, quads and just about anything else that’s tight.

“There’s no rules about treating myofascial dysfunction or these shortened tissues,” Starrett says. “Find a place that’s restricted—hopefully it’s not on a nerve. If something goes tingly, stop. See if you can reposition. Otherwise, treat yourself until it starts to resolve.”

By treating yourself on a daily basis, you can make great changes to your body over time. Get into a routine of rolling for 15-20 minutes per day and you can loosen up your body, speed recovery and move toward improved performance.

Starrett is the owner of San Francisco CrossFit and a doctor of physical therapy.

9min 58sec

Additional reading: Muscle Damage and Soreness: An Overview by Tony Webster, published Nov. 5, 2008.

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13 Comments on “Lower-Body Maintenance”


wrote …

Dear Kelly Starrett,
I am offically requesting an autographed version of a lacross ball. I know a little stalker-ish but i still want one.
-Jake Trahan, P.O. Box 314 Lexington Oregon 97839-


wrote …

I just went to physio regarding my shoulder issue. The physio guy asked how I injured it. I explained ring dips were the cause. And it bothers me doing overhead squats so my bar placement isnt far enough back throwing off my balance. He suggested I not do anything overhead, Or do squats past 90degrees.
OR ring dips. hmmmmm
Then when he didnt give me any stretching exercises I asked about icing it and he said......if you think that will do something go ahead.

So my question is.....why would he think icing isnt worth the time?
Also squats below parrallel. I'm sure I saw a video on why crossfitters DO go below 90 but couldnt explain it to him when he asked me. I was sort of in shock about the icing comment and got flustered with my answer. OF course he talked circles around me after that. Should I change physio guys?
Can you direct me to the video regarding squatting? Thanks


wrote …

My guess is Kelly C. doesn't have Kelly S. as a physio guy. For one coherent argument about squatting beyond parallel, check out Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. Meanwhile, my favorite part of this as-usual-excellent K-Star video: "people might think you're a little weird, but you're a little weird already." Nice.


wrote …


Of course you are well informed enough to answer your own question here. I would only add that I had similar experiences with physical therapy. I've had maybe 4 different therapist over the years and appreciate each one for their friendship, knowledge and help with my problems but importantly, ... I forgive them for their lack of depth. They simply don't have the kind of depth that you are seeing here. KS is a deep well of knowledge.



Dane Thomas wrote …

When I attended PT school 20 years ago it was an education for generalists. You got a chance to learn a bit about just about any kind of condition that could be treated using physical modalities. That could be anything from chronic pulmonary conditions to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis to spinal cord injuries to burn rehab to... well you get the point. Sure, we all had to take Therapeutic Exercise and Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology classes, but there was nothing to insure that just taking those classes meant that you REALLY were interested in the subject matter. Pass the class, pass your state boards and there you are, with a license to do a huge variety of things but no guarantee that you were anything more than hopefully non-dangerous at any of them.

Of course, as in any other field some are more talented than others, and those who find jobs that allow them to specialize in an area of interest can eventually get to be at least half decent at something. That includes thinking and moving beyond the constraints of what was in our textbooks.

I don't remember any of our textbooks addressing squatting below 90 degrees, but if you think about the ADL's (activities of daily living) of humans without access to western-style toilets or even chairs, you must concede that the deep hunker should be considered well within design specification. Some of us don't get down there that often, and certain knee and hip conditions or chronic use of high-heels might make it tough, but you can't just say that people shouldn't go there.

Kids with CF deserve therapists who know more about the treatment of their condition than I do. Crossfitters deserve therapists who know more about the treatment of athletes than a somebody who thinks that squatting below 90 degrees should be avoided. I think that you can do better.


wrote …

That was very interesting about the muscle that runs down along the shin, between the shinbone and calf muscles, and helps create the arch in the foot.
Hmmmmm: since I've been POSE running, I've had some Plantar fasciitis-like pain forward of my right heel. (I'm standing at my computer desk, pressing down with my right foot.) What do you know: it is the arch.

I had 'Plantar's' in the other leg years ago; this is a far lesser yet more consistently nagging kind of ache, one that's not so crippling and tight in the morning, or not the 'stone bruise' that the other foot felt like.

Thanks mucho, Kelly. This could solve the mystery.


Ian Carver wrote …

As always, great stuff from Kelly. The IT band work almost made me pass out in sympathy pains...

Kelly C. - Dane and Kevin hit it on the head. Much of the knowledge the "experts" have is theoretical, has been handed down as gospel for eons, and remains on the premise of "it has always been done that way". Very few people take the time to venture outside of the box to continue to delve deeper to include/exclude new concepts and ideas once they have gotten the basics down and gotten certified, regardless of their profession (CF/athletic trainers are no different). Those who do think outside that box and have willingness to apply their old and new theories in a practical manner, tend to be very good at what they do, but hard to find. Kelly Starrett is a perfect example of such a person who makes true changes by working outside of the box. So the best thing you can do is continually work on improving your knowledge base and then find another PT who has that open mindedness that is so hard to find these days.

Icing is always a good idea to reduce inflammation at a site of injury, acute or chronic. Why he would suggest otherwise is beyond me, unless.... well, I don't know. Some pre/post WOD stretch, myofascial release work and lightly weighted ROM therapy work would do wonders for you. Go easy, don't get crazy with it or it will only re-aggravate things.

As for the squat video, Kelly has made a couple in the past that touch on this issue. However, another very good resource for the information regarding squatting below parallel is right here on this site. Look for Mark Rippetoe's earlier articles and videos on squatting, pressing and deadlifting to help provide an explanation as to the proper biomechanics and "why's" of them regarding those movements. They can be found in the "powerlifting" section of the CFJ or in his books. Also, dig around on-line or at a used book store and pick up some anatomy & physiology texts, especially those that deal with A&P in regards to sport. There are some good texts out there from other training organizations (NSCA, NASM, etc.) that you can find here and there to use as a resource as well. Arm yourself with this knowledge base from various sources and it will help you sift through the BS and freak out your PT!

In a nutshell, the below parallel squat allows the hamstrings to engage in the movement once the femur gets low enough. Due to the insertion point of the muscles of the anterior thigh (quads) on the top of the tibia (shin bone) and crossing over the knee cap, there is considerable stress placed on the knee joint in an above parallel squat. The tibia is misaligned by being pulled forward due to the tension from the quads and their connective tissue, and the knee receives some major forward shear (this also lends itself to ACL injuries due to weak hammies). If the squat gets below parallel and the hamstrings can become involved, they help relieve this tension on the joint since they insert on the backside of the tibia. Once pulled taut, they realign the joint by pulling it back and provide stability to the knee as it can float naturally and freely as it should.

Lastly, stopping above parallel causes folks to think they can load up a really heavy bar and do "squats". Of course the knees take a beating, but so may the back if you do not have the capacity to handle the large amount of spinal loading that is taking place in this instance. A proper depth squat will alleviate this issue by forcing correct form at a proper weight, which will help to increase the strength of the back slowly and naturally.

Hope that helps some!


wrote …


Great video. I have very tight t-band issues (according to my CrossFit coach) that create problems in my squats forcing me to take a wider stance. I've been looking for some guidance on how to correct this. I ran out and bought a 3 pack of lacrosse balls to try the single and the two taped together. Wow! If I didn’t know that this was suppose to help me I would have swore it was injuring me. Instant “tenderness”! I will continue to work this area consistently. When can I expect to see results, a week, month or longer?


wrote …

Firstly, great stuff as usual. However, I couldn't help but notice your subjects posture. She has what I like to call closed shoulder /hip syndrome (forward shoulder anteverted hips pronated lower extremities, and sway thoracic/lumbar curves, and she also has the begining of abducted first rays).
Myofascial release works great, in individuals with normal posture, but in people with postural changes you are usually beating the noisy victim. In this case the "tight" ITB. Not to second guess you, but in leu of the lax balls I might have her tighten up her trunk by having her do some pre-workout work to correct her posture. I have noticed at my CF gym that many of the trainers don't understand the difference between good and not so good posture. Having watched enough of the level 1/2 cert videos (I'm a kinesio nerd what can I say) it seems that much of the cert training involves proper teaching of the exercises with some mention of posture, but without enough understanding of the fact that if a lever is properly aligned it is a stronger/healthier lever (the basis of proper posture). Maybe more of the training for the trainers should include proper postural effects on increasing power generation.
All that said, I still send my athletes only to CF for their post rehab strengthening. I just make sure that they are fully aware of maintaining proper posture throughout their workouts. I also give them specific warm-ups to perform prior to their CF workouts to activate good patterning. I could go on, But I need to get back to my patients. Keep up the good posts.


replied to comment from Rim Veitas

Hi Rim,
I couldn't agree more.
Coach Danielle was not an actual patient. But, you are absolutely right that correcting posture does wonders for actually addressing chronic problems.
I agree that hammering IT bands does little if issues of hip/pelvic/spine are not systematically addressed. By the way, those ARE the things Coach D is working on.
Myfascial release of any kind is simply just another component in what is usually multifactorial dysfunction. I'm certainly not advocating it solely. My teaching always begins with organizing the athlete's posture/set-up/and technique (this is true also of the seminar). You are right that this tends to fix the downstream problems. But, you also need to treat the downstream problems. Your athletes are lucky to have you. Thanks for the thoughtful insight.




wrote …

Love reading your stuff so few people out there who have a good understanding of human movement. Especially in our profession. Cheers.


wrote …

This is very helpful information. I've been nursing a nagging tight left glute/hamstring for 2 1/2 years with ART and massage. A MRI revealed nothing. I'm conscious of it when I run, but squats do not trigger it. Anyway, to fill the gaps between ART treatments, this is just what I need. In addition to the taped together balls, I've found an equilvalent instrument of torture. For those who have dogs, you may be familiar with Kong toys. The medium size Kong works great. Even better, there is a spin-off of the Kong made by Nylabone that has pointed nubs on it. That really provides good separation. I've been using this as shown in this video the past week, and have had noticable improvement. Thanks!


wrote …

Hello Kelly,
My name is Ryan,I'm a personal trainer in St. Louis and I had a question that hopefully you are up to answering. I've had hamstring problems for the last ten or more years. They get really sore and feel like their pulled all the time. I played football in high school and college, but high school is when the problem started. I remember pulling my hammys then and they haven't been the same. Now the issue is whenever I do anything strenuous, even with proper warm up, they get tight and sore for weeks (not from any lifting but mainly from running or explosive movements. I've been an avid crossfitter for around three years now but haven't been working out for the last several months for various reasons, but I half expected them to heal up. Just recently I played racketball and they flared up again (even after warming up). I've been to several people and asked about this problem but no one has an answer. I'd be much appreciative if you could help. Thanks for the awesome videos,I love the way you explain things and your knowledge on body issues. They've helped me with my own clients.

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