One of the toughest lessons every athlete must learn is that rest, recovery, and nutrition are just as important as your workouts.
As you develop your own recovery process, you'll experiment with new techniques. I encourage you to try different methods to see what works best for your body and to keep your body guessing. (Think about it: You wouldn't do the exact same workout five days a week, would you? Then why would you do the exact same recovery routine day after day?)
One recovery technique gaining traction in the fitness community is muscle flossing. Combining muscle flossing with other recovery methods, such as cold exposure, dry needling, and foam rolling, could make a positive impact on your fitness routine.
What Is Muscle Flossing?
Muscle flossing involves wrapping a latex rubber band around a muscle or joint. Extremely popular amongst CrossFit communities, muscle floss bands (also called voodoo floss), compress a targeted area, thereby increasing mobility, blood flow, and circulation.
When applying a compression band, you'll wrap it very tightly around a muscle or joint (I'll explain how to apply it below). The floss will be uncomfortable, but shouldn't cause you any pain. (If it completely cuts off circulation or your skin turns blue, you should remove the band immediately and try again.)
Once the band is applied, you can do various mobility exercises to increase your range of motion. Science shows muscle flossing can speed up muscle recovery, strengthen joints, and decrease pain levels.
How Does Muscle Flossing Work, Exactly?
The science behind muscle flossing is still evolving. With that being said, the health benefits experienced through flossing (discussed below) are believed to be the result of two things: myofascial release and blood flow restriction.
Muscle Flossing Works Through Myofascial Release
Myofascial release is putting pressure on a muscle to break up knotted fibers. Examples of myofascial release include foam rolling, rolling with a lacrosse ball, or getting a deep tissue massage.
When you work out, muscle fibers pull themselves apart and become damaged. When they grow back together (a process called muscle hypertrophy), they can fuse themselves together in irregular patterns, creating knots. Many times, these knots will work themselves out on their own, but other times they'll need a manual release.
Breaking apart knots requires a considerable amount of pressure (and to be honest, it's not a comfortable experience). Advocates of flossing believe voodoo bands apply enough pressure to break up knots — just like those dreaded foam rollers.
Muscle Flossing Can Be Used as Blood-Flow Restriction Training
Blood flow restriction training (BFR) is a method where you intentionally restrict blood flow during exercise. BFR was originally used by physical therapists as a recovery technique. Now, athletes use it as a way to increase strength gains at the gym.
In blood flow restriction training, you perform certain strength exercises while compressing certain muscle tissues (for example, by wrapping them tightly with an elastic band). When you remove the compression, blood flows directly to the area, which can improve blood circulation, increase muscle gains, and delay the onset of muscle soreness.
What Are the Benefits of Muscle Flossing?
If this is the first time you've heard of muscle flossing, you're not alone. Muscle flossing is a relatively new recovery technique, and therefore the science behind it is still being explored.
Beyond my personal (positive) experience with muscle flossing, here's what science says about the method:
Flossing Can Help Treat Achilles Tendinopathy
If you never heard of achilles tendinopathy, consider yourself lucky — because it's brutal.
In simplest terms, achilles tendinopathy is achilles tendonitis that does not respond to treatment. The main symptom of this overuse injury is pain — pain that doesn't respond to massage, rest, stretching, ice, or other treatment.
In one study done by the NIH, combining muscle flossing (applied to the ankle) with a lacrosse ball massage nearly eliminated achilles pain. In addition, muscle flossing improved dorsiflexion, or the range of motion of the foot and ankle joint.
Tissue Flossing Can Help Make You More Explosive
When it comes to more explosive movements — including broad jumps, tuck jumps, and box jumps, muscle flossing can help.
In one study conducted by the NIH, ankle flossing before and after workouts helped improve single-leg jump performance for recreational athletes. Another study suggested flossing may help improve your jump and sprint performance. Both studies concluded flossing might help prevent injuries and improve your overall athletic performance.
Muscle Flossing Can Help Improve Joint Mobility
Voodoo floss bands are often praised for increasing your range of motion. Multiple studies conclude that flossing is extremely beneficial for your joints, particularly your feet and ankles (ankle plantar flexion and dorsiflexion).
Having mobile ankles and feet helps you sit into a parallel squat (or the coveted pistol squat). It can also help your heels touch the ground in a downward-facing dog, or sink into a deeper stretch in a forward lunge. If you can't do these exercises without your heels coming off the ground, you may have limited feet or ankle mobility.
How to Start Muscle Flossing
You can purchase floss bands online through Amazon (Rogue Fitness or WOD Nation create popular floss resistance bands). However, when you first apply floss bands, I highly recommend working with a trained chiropractor, physiotherapist, or other healthcare provider to ensure they're applied correctly.
When applying a voodoo band, you'll want to wrap the muscle group or joint that's causing you discomfort. The band will stretch to roughly 50% of it's length. It should be tight and uncomfortable, but should not cause any pain.
When the band is secured, try to do various mobility exercises for 2-5 minutes. For example:
- For knees: Start in a seated position with your feet resting on the floor. Extend your wrapped knee until you reach a straight legged position, then return to your starting position. You can also try to do standing squats.
- For ankles or achilles: Begin in a light calf stretch (you can also try to sit back into a downward-facing dog). Rotate your wrapped calf muscle inward and outward, so your heel is forced to rotate to the left and right. Lastly, try to lift your heels off the ground (so you’re standing on your tipped toes), and back down.
- For your elbows: Stick your wrapped arm straight out in front of you, so your arm is parallel to the ground. Bend your elbow so your forearm comes across your chest, in a half bear hug. Next, do the same curling motion, but bring your palm up over your shoulder. Lastly, keeping your arm straight, rotate your palm up toward the ceiling, then back toward the floor.
Try Muscle Flossing for Recovery and Athletic Performance
Muscle flossing is a relatively new recovery technique where you wrap a muscle or joint with compression "floss" bands. While the science is still growing, muscle flossing is believed to work through myofascial release and blood restriction training.
Studies show muscle flossing can help improve your joint mobility and decrease pain, injuries, and muscle soreness. In addition, new research shows muscle flossing might improve your jump and sprint performance.
You can "floss" any joint or muscle by tightly wrapping a compression band around the area. I highly recommend starting flossing with a trained professional.
Whether you enjoy cardio movements or more strength-based workouts, muscle flossing can help you recover faster and increase your performance. In addition, following a regular training program, like my Build Bullet-Proof Health program will help you train smarter, getting you faster results while reducing your risk of injury.