Pliability: The Key to Performance & Recovery
Let’s be honest. Pliability isn’t what it sounds like. At first glance, it looks like it should be the same thing as flexibility. Or maybe it’s similar to mobility. (Spoiler alert: it’s neither of those things.) For something so crucial and central to your long-term performance and recovery — pliability seems awfully complex.
That’s why we’re taking this time to break pliability down to its fundamentals: so you can be an expert yourself. These soft-tissue manipulation techniques, along with lifestyle choices that optimize the recovery of your muscles, form the foundation of what pliability is today.
What is pliability, In Detail?
Pliability is what you have when your muscles are working in an optimal state. In this state, your muscles are vascular, permeable, enzyme-receptive, efficient, elastic, contractible, and relaxable.
Vascular means that your muscles have enough blood vessels to carry blood everywhere it needs to go as fast as it needs to get there. Think of blood vessels as roads — the more roads you have, the easier it is to get from point A to point B and everywhere in between.
When tissue is permeable, it is more able to let blood and nutrients flow into and out of it. Think of it like cars entering and exiting the parking lot at Patriot Place. If the lot had only one exit, for example, it would be far less “permeable” because it would take a long time for all the cars to get out after a game.
Enzymes are helper molecules that push chemical reactions along in your cells. They work best in a stable, well-hydrated, and pH-balanced environment. You create this environment with your lifestyle.
Efficiency is related to permeability. By being more permeable, a cell gets everything it needs to do work, and at a faster rate. This makes it more efficient. (Permeability and efficiency are linked.)
A muscle fiber is a single cell made of proteins and held together by connective tissue. When you don’t use a muscle enough or get injured, two things happen: the connective tissues lock up, and the muscle fibers get out of alignment. Think of it as your muscles getting rusty — they’re harder to move, and the movement isn’t smooth. Pliability works to prevent this.
If your muscles are pliable and your brain tells your muscles to contract, no fibers get left behind: they band together and really commit to a 100-percent contraction. (This is different from what muscles normally do, which is use the minimum number of fibers necessary to accomplish the work.)
Once your muscles get the message to stop contracting, they should relax completely. This means no stiffness or tightness for muscles that aren’t in use. (Think of this as your muscles’ ability to stop thinking about work when they’re supposed to be on vacation.)
Two things help you to put your body into this state: deep-tissue manipulation (as in, you roll out your muscles pre- and post-workout) and a lifestyle that minimizes inflammation, provides adequate nutrition, and keeps you hydrated. The result of pliability is that you recover faster, play better, and spend less time on the sidelines.
A pliable lifestyle gives your body the raw materials, and pliability work teaches your body how to use them
Think of pliability as sending your kid to school. You do this because you want her to have a good life (the ultimate goal).
Now, suppose your kid is enrolled in all the best classes and puts in the maximum amount of effort. This will get her far. But certain things can get in the way — for example, a lunch that’s too small or not nutritious, staying up late with the tablet, having the wrong textbooks, or even getting bullied.
These lifestyle and environmental factors have nothing to do with what your kid does, but they have an indirect impact on her success.
In the same way, pliability isn’t just about rolling your muscles, deep-force tissue work with a TB12 Body Coach, or doing functional resistance band exercises. You can do all those things all you want, but unless your muscles have the right resources and the right environment, there’s a limit to what you’ll get out of it.
That’s why pliability has two main parts: the active muscle work and the supportive lifestyle.
What can you do to put your muscles in a pliable state?
First off, the best thing you can do to promote a pliable state in your muscles is to optimize your lifestyle. This means reducing chronic inflammation through what you eat and drink, ensuring you have enough nutrients and calories during the day to power your activity (see how Tom Brady eats to fuel his workouts), and keeping your electrolyte levels at normal levels (in particular, replenishing them after exercise).
Learn more about why electrolytes are essential for recovery..
Once you know that your body has everything it needs to succeed, you can enhance your pliability actively by putting pliability work on both ends of your workout. Now in his 40s, Tom Brady spends about half of each workout deliberately working on pliability, but the precise amount you need will vary with age (with older athletes needing more). One powerful way to practice pliability at home is with a TB12 Vibrating Pliability Roller or Sphere.
Research shows that rolling out can increase your range of motion, decrease soreness, and even reduce feelings of fatigue.
Here’s an overview of what the science says about rolling out before exercise:
- If done before exercise, rolling increases the maximal power of explosive movements.
- Just two minutes of rolling has been shown to increase MVC (or the maximum amount of force a muscle can put out).
- Rolling significantly increases blood flow to whatever region is rolled — and greater blood flow means more resources at a faster rate.
- A short rolling session may significantly increase range of motion, according to scientific review.
- Rolling your hamstrings for just 10 seconds has been shown to increase range of motion by 4.3 percent.
Rolling out after exercise has these effects on recovery:
- If done for multiple days in a row, rolling can reduce feelings of fatigue after exercise.
- Rolling after exercise can significantly decrease stiffness in the thighs and significantly reduce symptoms of DOMS — delayed onset muscle soreness.
How does pliability help you recover faster?
Pliability accelerates recovery in two big ways. First, a pliable lifestyle keeps your body hydrated, well-nourished, and well-rested. Hydration, nutrition, and rest give your muscles the resources they need (time and materials) to rebuild themselves after exercise.
Second, pliability work before exercise enables your muscles to work more efficiently for the duration of the exercise. This means they spend less time doing unnecessary work, and, as a result, they’re less worn out at the end of it. Naturally, muscles that are less worn out need less time to recover — so your recovery time drops.
Why do you need pliability?
Pliability ends a vicious cycle set in motion by the traditional way of training. The traditional model of training is to train harder and longer with more and more weight. (This was actually how Tom Brady trained until around 2004.)
Over time, this practice creates muscular imbalances in the body, and the muscles become tight and dense as a result. With muscles like this, unexpected overloads during training and play can cause injury, which sends you into dreaded rehab. The cycle then repeats, and you waste valuable time on the sidelines.
Let’s sum up: WHy is pliability the key to performance & recovery?
Pliability has two main parts: active muscle work and a lifestyle that supports it. You need both if you want to keep your muscles in a pliable state — and that means elastic, contractible, relaxable, permeable, efficient, and enzyme-receptive.
You can do active muscle work by using a TB12 Vibrating Pliability Roller, TB12 Vibrating Pliability Sphere, or a TB12 Body Coach. A lifestyle that supports your pliability is low on inflammatory foods, high in water, and high in nutrients. It also has to include a good amount of sleep, which helps your brain to recover and learn.
Pliability is key to performance because it maximizes the force that your muscles can put out as you play your sport. Aside from enhancing in-game output, pliability also makes your muscles more able to absorb the forces put on them as you play your sport. This decreases your risk of overload and injury.
Pliability is also key to recovery, mainly because it increases the efficiency of your muscles. This allows your muscles to do more with less during exercise and reduces your demand for recovery afterward.
In sum, pliability matters because it helps you to play better, recover faster, and spend less time in rehab so you can do what you love for as long as possible.
This blog is part of a series based on Tom Brady’s New York Times Bestseller The TB12 Method. To learn more about the ways you can train your brain and your body, read The TB12 Method and subscribe to the TB12 Newsletter.