I’m a lazy stretcher. I often hop off the treadmill, and on a good day, spend a couple of seconds in a runner’s lunge, then head right out of the gym. I've turned off workout DVDs at the start of the cooldown and stretch section. When the foam roller craze spread through gyms, I tried them out, but I often found it painful and didn’t know how to use them most effectively.
But I can’t fool my body; it knows it’s being shortchanged. As I have gotten older, I no longer enjoy the seemingly indelible flexibility of my youth. Age, coupled with a desk job, long runs, intense barre classes and strength training, often translate into muscles that feel short, sore and stiff rather than lean and limber.
As I entered marathon training this spring, I starting looking for options to keep my muscles supple and in top form so that I could maintain a diverse workout routine without facing constant soreness. While a massage is always my first choice, a slightly less luxurious form of muscle release and renewal was in order. After weighing a few options, I decided to try the MELT Method.
MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique, and the therapy combines special balls and foam rollers for a self-healing treatment intended to restore the body to its "ideal state." The series of exercises (sheering, gliding and ripping) stimulate and rehydrate the connective tissue to allow your body to come back into natural alignment and reverse imbalances caused by everyday activities, like talking on the phone and hunching over the computer. The class is growing in popularity and is offered at a variety of gyms and studios throughout the city, including my own gym, the New York Health and Racquet Club.
In my first MELT class, I encountered the signature trio of MELT balls: one the size of a marble, and the other two about the size of golf balls, each varied in firmness.
We started with an initial assessment of our body alignment, and then went through a series of movements with the softest ball. We leaned back and forth to stimulate the connective tissue, a process known as sheering, and then rolled the ball around different points on the base of our foot, both horizontally and vertically, moving through each joint. After completing the exercises on both sides, we reassessed our alignment for changes, then repeated the series with the slightly more firm ball, again reassessing our body alignment after each exercise.
Then we used the marble-sized ball. The instructor explained that this ball was likely to be the most sensitive on our body and would hit the points of the foot that connect to the liver. Sure enough, immediately after putting the ball under my foot, I felt a very uncomfortable sensation shoot up my leg. However, I was able to make it through that final set by using very gentle pressure, still working deeply into the foot tissues.
The second part of the class was done on the mat with the foam rollers. We completed our initial body assessment lying on the floor. Meegan explained where we should feel space between our back and the floor, and the points where our body would ideally make contact with the floor — I noted that my rib cage and bottom were not in proper alignment.
To stimulate the back and shoulders, we rolled gently and slowly back and forth on the roller, and then moved in a circular motion to sheer the connective tissue. For the lower body, we started sitting on the roller at the top of the thigh and rolled slowly off until we were sitting on our bottoms. Then we hoisted ourselves up and began again. This was quite different than the back and forth rolling I had been doing entirely off the ground when training by myself at the gym -- it was a much gentler approach.
After each assessment, I found that my body was getting closer and closer to proper alignment. In fact, most students noted changes after each section. I even tested myself the next morning and found the MELT changes were still in effect.
I expected the MELT technique to be a little more vigorous and work a little deeper into the muscles, but I was happy with the changes I noticed after just one session. I also appreciated that the instructor focused on the areas that students requested and showed me new ways to use the foam roller to stretch.
The class can be taken as often as you like, but I can’t imagine I would take it more than once a week as an addition to my regular workout routine. MELT focuses on the mind-body connection and is not meant to be a workout; it’s closer to physical therapy or gentle self-massage. I went to MELT to lengthen my muscles and prevent potential injuries, but it’s a multifaceted technique and can serve many purposes. According to the Meegan, it restores youth and longevity; improves posture and mobility; and reduces pain, cellulite, wrinkles and stress. I’ll take any of those.
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Melissa is a NYC resident and workout junkie. She keeps motivated to stay fit and active by trying out new workout classes, signing up for races, and keeping an eye out for a fun fitness challenge. She hopes to complete the New York City Marathon for the second time in 2011. Read more about her healthy adventures in New York City at her blog fitnessnyc.wordpress.com.