Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Review: The Roll Model by Jill Miller

4/5 Stars

Those who have participated in some athletic endeavor in recent years are likely familiar with self-myofascial release (SMR), at least in concept, if not in name. Many will be familiar with foam rolling, and some will know of fascia as some kind of connective tissue in the body. But few will understand the biology and practice of this self-treatment to the depth presented by Jill Miller in The Roll Model. There is likely no more comprehensive and accessible guide to what exactly fascia is, how adhesions form within this tissue, the dysfunctions these adhesions cause, and how they can be resolved. If it contained no other information, Miller's book would be valuable for this chapter alone. At the same time, it is possible to gain significant benefit from the self-treatment techniques without understanding the underlying biology. Miller's list of SMR sequences, trigger points and techniques, combined with pictorial demonstrations is unparalleled in its volume and detail. More importantly, these techniques work. A few minutes of self-experimentation with the sequences and a pair of Miller's specially-designed Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls reduced discomfort and improved mobility in my most overstressed muscles and joints. Miller describes a host of other benefits, including rehabilitation from injury, stress reduction, and relief from emotional trauma; however, since I am fortunate enough to not have suffered any recent physical or emotional trauma, I cannot personally attest to the effectiveness of her method in these areas. But as an athlete who trains regularly and intensely, I was more than happy with the physical results I did achieve.

Some readers may feel that Miller has an underlying agenda to use this book to sell more of her products, which include four sizes of Therapy Balls and a host of instructional DVDs. She repeatedly points out the benefits of the Therapy Balls in comparison to other tools, noting their pliable texture and grippy surface. The book also contains twenty-two personal testimonials, which can either be inspiring and introduce the reader to new applications for the Balls, or feel like another magic bullet sales pitch. Regarding the Balls, I have a friend who is a massage therapist and had never heard of Jill Miller, and when he picked up a Therapy Ball, he instantly remarked that it seemed like it would replicate the touch of a professional masseuse. Miller's descriptions of the Balls are accurate: they do grip your skin and allow you to twist and slide layers of tissue over one another, and they are soft enough to navigate over and around bony areas without causing any bruising pain. Yet I have also achieved similar results in terms of reduced tension and improved mobility with lacrosse balls, foam rollers and other tools. As for the testimonials, while they may seem like unabashed hero-worship for Miller and her supposed miraculous Roll Model Method, they also open up new possibilities for how to use the Therapy Balls. If you identify with one of Miller's so-called Roll Models, I suggest using her method to try to resolve the issue, as it is far cheaper and less invasive than most medical interventions.

To suggest that Miller is trying to sell additional products with this book is not a slight, just an observation that she is conducting a business and trying to promote what she feels is a valuable tool. Besides, the information contained in The Roll Model is useful on its own, even if you never buy a DVD or attend one of her training seminars. Speaking as an athlete and an advocate of self-treatment, I believe this book is a highly worthwhile read for those seeking to learn about their bodies, reduce pain, remove dysfunction and improve physical performance.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Surviving vs. Thriving

This month, I'm very excited to feature the following guest post by Preston Sprimont on KineSophy. Preston is a former teacher and a book nerd turned fitness nerd (and still book nerd). He is currently pursuing his Master's in Kinesiology and spends his time coaching, writing, studying, and training to compete in Olympic weightlifting. His blog, Heart, Mind, and Swole, explores various aspects of training and how the pursuit of physical fitness connects to a lifelong journey of self-improvement. In the future, he plans to get involved in Kinesiology research and to continue to work with athletes of all calibers to help them reach their goals. The following article "Surviving vs. Thriving" offers a great preview of what he offers on Heart, Mind, and Swole.

A quick look at what's on our food labels, at what a visit with a medical professional generally entails, or at public standards of "health" reveals something troubling: the way the general public seems to think about and measure health and wellness is overwhelmingly based on mere survival.

Our food labels tell us (often somewhat erroneously) about how much of a particular nutrient we should consume in a day to not take a step closer to the grave. Visits to medical professionals are usually based around something like, "Doc, I can't feel my left leg anymore," or "Doc, I'm in excruciating pain most hours of the day and I can't bend over to pick up my kid," or "Doc, I haven't pooped in two weeks and my gut feels like it has a school of hungry piranhas tearing my bits apart." Most people don't seek out a medical professional or pursue self-education and improvement when they have trouble falling asleep at night, when they feel low on energy and their performance in the gym or at work is declining, or when they have unexplained aches and pains in half of their joints, because all of this is considered "normal." So many of us don't even think about the fact that we are in a dismal state, dragging day-to-day, until our bodies start sending us really loud and clear signals saying, "Hey, we're starting to die here! A little help?"

It's good to survive, of course—no argument there. But should that be our standard? Should we all be leading our lives with "not dying today" as our primary goal? That's like saying that pulling a solid D- in Pre-Algebra is good, or that having your kids grow up to only be petty thieves and not serial killers qualifies as good parenting—it means you probably managed to show up some of the time, and that's about it. The human body and mind have such enormous potential, yet most of what the public qualifies as acceptable and normal equates to "
not dead yet." 

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.            
~Maya Angelou 

I'm of course not arguing the we all ought to live our lives like Olympic athletes—that sort of lifestyle, while it does embody pursuing the limits of human potential (or at least human athletic potential) to the fullest, requires immense sacrifice in other parts of life, and is often not ideal for longevity. Rather, I'm proposing that our standards ought to be based in thriving, not just surviving. We ought to seek pleasure and accomplishment in our existence. Instead of settling for not quite dying today or tomorrow, we should establish feeling alert and energized every morning, thinking clearly, performing well, sleeping easily, and improving consistently as our standards of living. 

It is ironic also that a lifestyle with mere survival set as the standard often falls short of its own goal. Modern lifestyles focused on survival essentially ask the question "what is the least amount I can invest in myself and still manage to drag my tired ass out of bed tomorrow morning?" It should be no surprise that doing the bare minimum does not lend itself to longevity or health. Sure, modern medicine can keep us (more or less) alive for longer than ever before; but spending the last decade of life as a semi-conscious and physically incapacitated sack of meat being kept alive by various machines is about the farthest we can get from thriving, and barely even hits the survival mark.

So what is thriving? What does it look like? 
Thriving is an exploration and pursuit of what the body and mind are capable of. It is embracing human existence and seeing what we can achieve. It is constantly seeking self-improvement. 

Sometimes thriving takes work, and sometimes it is pure, unadulterated pleasure. But thriving is always satisfying and rewarding. Many of the details of thriving are rather intuitive. We know, deep down, that our bodies crave movement, crave fresh food, crave having fun and being outdoors, crave human relationships, crave mental challenges, and crave rest and relaxation. 

Thriving is a conscious and intentional pursuit. It is a decision that we can make for ourselves and it embodies a lifestyle. Surviving can happen by accident; thriving cannot. Thriving requires a commitment to and a grabbing hold of your life, and it takes effort and discipline. But ultimately, the rewards far outweigh the effort, and often the "effort" that goes into thriving is itself pleasurable. Eating fresh, homemade food, getting quality sleep for 8-9 hours per night, leading an active lifestyle, enjoying time with loved ones, reading good books, and taking time off from work to de-stress and get away from the hustle and bustle don't sound like tortuous efforts to me. And yet these simple changes can have profound effects on how we live, and can be the difference between thriving and just surviving. So, what'll it be?


Heart, Mind, and Swole I explore the pursuit of strength and fitness in the gym and how it connects to self-improvement and growth in all aspects of life.
Follow me on Twitter @PSprimont and on Instagram @PSprimont.

Stay swole.