Intense exercise, then recovery
CrossFit is very intense, and after completing a workout I'm usually quite sore the next day and I even have stiffness and some soreness for several days afterwards. Part of this is because it's an intense workout and part of it is that I'm new to it all, so my body isn't conditioned for all these movements yet--but either way, I've been really really sore. Now, with all the reading I've done on high intensity exercise and especially from reading Body by Science (more about my take from that here) I've gotten the message that it's better to exercise at a high intensity and then give yourself more time for recovery, so it's good that I'm sore because it means I'm pushing myself, but it's also good that I'm only doing a workout like that about once a week so that I get the time for my muscles to recover and build themselves back up (with the help of lots of healthy saturated fats and protein, of course!). This process of exercise and recovery creates an adaptive response in our bodies to the stress that its being put under, and you're muscles will grow and strength will increase to match that stress. Awesome!
The thing is, though, that you can take steps to speed up the recovery process and relieve soreness through smashing your tissues. This idea comes from people like Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD who say to stop doing static stretching and to start doing deep massage and other techniques to work out your stiff/sore bodies. Basically, if any tissue in your body hurts when you press on it, it's in a dysfunctional state and you need to work that out to feel your best, achieve optimal performance and speed recovery for workouts. The main method for doing this is with a lacrosse ball, foam roller, or band (great posts of how to use them on MobilityWOD here). (This blog also has a great summary of how to use balls and bands for mobility.)
And here’s a video of Kelly’s about using lacrosse balls to work out the scapula.
So, I've been doing this after workouts, and it's been really helpful, but last night I wanted to see how big of a difference it would actually make. When I'm in recovery mode from a workout I'm usually quite stiff in the mornings, so before I went to sleep I worked on my left shoulder and pec with the lacrosse ball and didn't do any work on the right side. It hurt like hell, but like a massage it was also satisfying and relaxing.
This morning I got up and tested both the soreness and mobility of my shoulders and felt an obvious difference between the two. My right shoulder was very stiff and felt tight like it didn't want to move. My left shoulder felt almost normal with some slight soreness, and when I did a shoulder extension stretch in a doorway I had a noticeable difference in range of motion between the two sides.
All in all it was a small experiment but it really served to show me the importance of working that soreness out of my body as part of my recovery routine, and I did it through a personal test where I could see the actual difference it made in my body. Don't take anybody's word for it! You are the final say in what works for your body and what doesn't!
Now I've got to go smash my right side because it's still incredibly sore!