The Softer Side of SMR

shutterstock_196083215The CrossFit community has long embraced mobility and SMR (self myofascial release) as valuable tools in a fitness regimen. This puts the community at the forefront of mobility discussions and education. There are very few Boxes that don’t have a range of basic mobility tools such as foam rollers, lacrosse balls and lengths of PVC pipe. The trend in the CrossFit community is to prefer mobility tools that create a lot of sensation and neurological feedback — the harder the tool the more effective it must be.

Hard mobility tools have their place. An experienced athlete who has been working on mobility for years has graduated through a range of mobility tools and techniques and has learned what works for their body. These individuals have developed the muscle quality and body awareness to be able to relax on these more rigid tools. The person just starting CrossFit will look at what the experienced athlete is doing and will reach for the same tools without having done the same development work. The main risk of using hard mobility tools before the body is prepared is tissue bruising, which leads to inflammation and slowed progress.

This is why athletes should consider reaching for the softer mobility tool the next time they roll out. An athlete needs to be able to relax their muscle tissue in order to achieve the benefit of SMR. The first sign that a mobility tool is too hard is simply that an athlete continues to tense the muscles they are trying to roll out because of the sensation or pain from using it. This is the equivalent of getting a massage and resisting the therapist. This is not productive and the athlete ends up not benefiting.

Pain can be distracting. Mobility work is a great a great tool for the athlete to learn about their anatomy. Using a mobility tool that is too hard takes the athlete’s attention away from their anatomy. This takes away one of the great benefits of mobilizing: a better self-knowledge that can be applied to training.

Every individual is different and mobility work needs to be tailored to the condition of the body, which can and will vary day to day. This is most evident in those athletes who have reached the point they are considering competing. Training hard and constantly trying to progress puts tremendous strain on muscle tissue.

As a result, have your trainers take the time to advise athletes on what type of SMR tool they should be using. The days when everything is sore and tight are the days to consider the softer SMR tool. Relaxing and letting the muscles stretch is far more important than slamming a hard tool into over-worked tissue, trying to force it to “mobilize faster.” Work with the body, not against it. The results and mobility improvements will often come faster and it will be much less painful for your Box’s athletes.


Eugene Oktyabrskiy is the director of marketing at KnotOut Enterprises. He has his B.S. in Kinesiology and was a personal trainer for five years. He can be contacted at 818.606.8627 or by e-mail at

Contributing Author