Body tempering is one of the lesser known methods of soft tissue work that can have a profound impact on an athlete’s ability to perform and recover. Developed by Donnie Thompson, a record holding powerlifter, body tempering may be the key to decreasing muscle soreness and discomfort, increasing range of motion, and boosting overall athletic performance.
Soft Tissue Work — Why It’s Important
Self-myofascial release (SMR), also known as soft tissue work, is one of the most neglected aspects of training and recovery. When it is done, it’s usually not done correctly or for long enough.
When done consistently, SMR is highly beneficial for preventative maintenance of the body. One of the main reasons athletes use SMR is to reduce muscle soreness and discomfort after training —but there are many other benefits:
- Decrease muscle density
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Improve joint range of motion
- Relieve muscle soreness
- Maintain functional muscular strength
- Improve balance of the kinetic chain
- Increase blood flow
Note: The kinetic chain is made up of soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia), the neural system (nerves and the CNS), and the articular system (joints). All three of these systems are interdependent, meaning that if one system is off, it will have a negative impact on the others.
During workouts, muscles undergo damage in the form of micro-tears, which can result in adhesions and trigger points that build up in the muscles and fascia. These adhesions and points of tension can lead to soreness and discomfort, decreased range of motion, and muscle imbalances. Over time, these imbalances can lead to improper movement and, eventually, injury. However, SMR can help athletes avoid this by improving and maintaining the integrity of muscles and fascia.
SMR works by inhibiting muscle spindles through a process called autogenic inhibition, which, in turn, stimulates the golgi tendon organs (the sensory organs present in muscles) to relax and reduce muscular tension. When muscle tension decreases, range of motion and movement capabilities increase.
If you’ve never heard of body tempering before, it’s similar to foam rolling. Body tempering is a form of soft tissue mobilization that uses weighted cylinders to roll across muscles and joints. Not only does it help to increase mobility, but it also helps to reduce pain and increase physical performance.
The mechanism is the same as self-myofascial release, but rather than a foam roller or PVC pipe, you use a weighted cylinder to apply pressure to muscles to break up muscle adhesions, normalize muscle contractions, and improve blood flow to various regions of the body.
When you repetitively load a muscle, it becomes chronically tight and always ‘turned on.’ Soft tissue work is used to assist muscle relaxation so that the body can safely get into the positions needed (e.g. being able to get into a deep squat without compensation from the lower back).
The point of body tempering and soft tissue work is to load and use the new ranges that you gain by doing it. It allows you to unlock better ranges of motion and then build and gain mechanical leverage within that range.
Why Body Tempering Works
Body tempering isn’t just a one-weight-fits-all kind of modality. By varying the loads, you can increase or decrease the intensity an athlete experiences. As some areas are more fragile than others, changes to the load applied means that you can achieve a feeling of pressure without pain. This is because the weight is not applied in a single area from the roller, but rather is dispersed throughout the entire object over a broader area.
Tampering before a workout helps athletes reduce risk of hernias, tears, tweaks, and muscle ruptures, as well as prevents against any sort of trauma by breaking tissues out of their adhesive state and increasing the athlete’s range of motion.
One of the key points to remember when body tempering is that you should always do active movement after a passive mobility technique (tempering). This helps to essentially ‘lock in’ any of the mobility changes that occur during the stretch.
For example, you might temper the hamstrings for 1-2 minutes and then follow that up with Romanian deadlifts. The tempering helps to temporarily increase the motion, while the deadlifts build strength and control by loading the movement pattern while maintaining flexibility within the hamstrings.
Some of the areas you can use body tempering on include:
What Can You Use For Body Tempering?
When first starting body tempering, it’s best to use a lighter load until the body adjusts. Donnie Thompson, record holding powerlifter and developer of body tempering, sells various tools on his website for this purpose. These include:
- X-wife: 135lbs — can be used virtually anywhere on the body
- Fat-husband: 160lbs — ideal for larger body sizes and individuals with more muscle mass
- Stubby: weighs slightly more than the x-wife, but is shorter to achieve different tempering techniques
- Cheater: 85lbs — best for smaller athletes or to target specific areas of the body; more versatile for harder to reach muscle adhesions and tougher tissue areas
- Little guy: 45lbs — most effective for travel
- Boomstick: 22lbs — best for specific release methods
The best sequence for tempering is to start at the anterior of the body (frontside) and then work on your posterior chain (backside). If done efficiently, this can take just 10-15 minutes prior to starting your workout. On non-training days, you can spend a little longer tempering — around 30 minutes.