In today’s athletic performance/strength and conditioning realm, everyone recognizes that performance is no longer just dependent on sets, reps, weight, and intensity—it also includes the ability to recover and prepare the body for the next session. For years, we have done recovery work with our athletes in the form of stretching, dynamic movements, foam rolling, etc. We have even discussed or referred them out for chiropractic work, deep tissue massage, needling, etc. Another recovery technique that has been around for nearly a decade is body tempering.
Body tempering is a method created by Donnie Thompson, a world-record-holding powerlifter, designer of fitness and recovery gear, and just all-around smart guy when it comes to programming, recovery, and fitness. Body tempering is a type of myofascial treatment/release that involves having a weighted pole or roller move across muscles and fascia.Body tempering is great for strength preparation and possibly exciting and prepping the central nervous system, says @caton_keith. Click To Tweet
This method is great for strength preparation and possibly exciting and prepping the central nervous system—it’s different than foam rolling because you have the pole lying on you, you are not laying on the pole. You can adjust the amount of pressure depending on tightness, pain, etc., in the body, and you are able to maintain a more relaxed state since you are not laying on the object. There have not been many studies done yet on body tempering, but by experimenting with the treatment, I have found decreased soreness, increased movement, and increased performance.
I was fortunate to be able to bring Donnie Thompson down to Baylor soon after he started developing body tempering. He spent a week with our staff and showed us a range of tools and protocols that kept him healthy as he was training for that elusive 3,000-pound total in powerlifting. He showed our staff flossing (or voodoo) bands, makeshift BowTies made from bands, programming, KB training, and of course, body tempering. As I moved from college to college, the first thing I did in each place was to try to get Donnie to come visit and teach our staff his tips and tricks. We even involved our athletic trainers, sports medicine staff, and chiropractors in the fun.
At every place I have worked, our setup and the way we incorporated body tempering have been different. As you know, your room, your equipment, and the time you have dictates everything you do.
At Baylor, we incorporated body tempering during recovery circuits at the end of training. We would split the room into four areas and rotate athletes from station to station. At that point, we had just learned about the method, so we were using KBs, DBs, maces, etc. as our body tempering tools. At Indiana, we did more tempering at the end of workouts upon the request of our athletes
The best setup that I have been a part of was at Syracuse—we had 2-3 stations always set up for tempering. At each station, we had a stretch mat and one or two tempering poles. Athletes came in before and after lifts to get tempered. Some athletes also came in on off days or even before practice. At certain times of the year, we split the room into warm-up stations, with body tempering and foam rolling being one of the stations. At Syracuse, we also had a moving cart designed to carry two tempering poles to all our away games.
Video 1. Body tempering techniques that target the quads, hips, chest, calves, hamstrings, low back, and more.
Now that I am at Byrnes High School, our approach to tempering looks a little different. At the high school level, we don’t have a lot of time at the beginning of the lift, so most of our tempering gets done at the end of the session.At the high school level, we don’t have a lot of time at the beginning of the lift, so most of our tempering gets done at the end of the session, says @caton_keith. Click To Tweet
Our group size is very large, 50-80 athletes per session, and we currently only have three tempering poles. We have discussed what body tempering is with our athletes, and they actually talk each other into trying it out the first time. The athletes ask us at the end of our training sessions if we can body temper them to help them recover or help them with a tight area. We have not yet gotten to the point where we have allowed athletes to temper each other.
Body Tempering Routines
Here is the normal routine a coach performs with each athlete:
- Hamstrings – work back and forth over the muscle belly; hold on tight areas; add pushing back and forth if needed.
- Back – work lower to upper; twist on low back by glutes; allow the pole to sit on tight areas of the back.
Along with the hamstrings and back, we also have athletes temper their own quads if needed. The quads can be tempered one at a time or together. We allow them to temper their own quads to apply the amount of pressure they need.
Another area that we temper is the calves and Achilles. This is great for those athletes with tight calves or issues with sprained ankles. A coach tempers the calves and works over the Achilles, leaving the tempering pole on the Achilles for up to three minutes. (We use a lighter pole for the calves, usually around 60-80 pounds.)
Here is a full body tempering routine that an athlete can perform on themselves if no one else is around. (I have done this routine on myself with good success.)
- Quads – roll back and forth over both, allowing it to sit above the knee for 1-2 minutes.
- Hips up to Chest – allow the pole to rest on the hips; 2-3 rolls up and down torso; allow to sit on upper rib cage with hands above head.
- Low Back – lay on the side and roll on low back; keep on low back and get some slight movement, but don’t let it fall off!!
- Hamstrings – roll the pole from the low back over the glutes to the hamstrings; move around on hamstrings and hold on tight area.
This is an effective routine if you are alone. It’s not as good as letting someone else help, but it can get the job done.
What do you do if you only have two to three tempering poles but there are many athletes waiting? If we have multiple athletes waiting and only one coach, we leave the smaller pole on calves/Achilles and another pole on the low back or hamstrings and then temper the third athlete. We have other athletes make sure the poles do not move on their calves/Achilles or back/hamstrings. That way, we can get three athletes taken care of at the same time.
The best setup would be to have as many stations as already have a yoga mat, tempering poles, small foam rollers, and even a few heavy dumbbells or kettlebells ready to use. The small foam rollers can be used to go under the ankles for comfort, and the dumbbells and kettlebells can be used to keep the poles in an area for a time.
The Results with Our Athletes
Besides the athletes feeling better once they have been tempered, I have also heard of and seen:
- Positive differences on TMG and EMG readings.
- Increased range of motion.
- Increases in explosiveness.
I would also say that I have seen increases in strength, but that may be due to the athletes simply feeling better before their next heavy set!!By tempering the calves and Achilles and then allowing the pole to sit on the Achilles for about three minutes, we have seen positive effects in ankle mobility, says @caton_keith. Click To Tweet
By tempering the calves and Achilles and then allowing the pole to sit on the Achilles for about three minutes, we have seen positive effects in ankle mobility. I have also seen increases in vertical jumps by tempering both the hamstrings and the quads.
There could be a difference between athletes as to what needs to be tempered to promote the desired effect. Could there be a difference between quad- and hamstring-dominant athletes and a difference between those with different jumping styles: quick dip straight down versus a longer range of motion dip? For example, a quad-dominant athlete could temper their quads before they jump.
There has been just one study done so far, with college football players. (Even though this research focused on college football players, we have tempered athletes from every sport, from cross country to softball to basketball to cheerleading. I have also tempered my own kids since they were 8 years old—just remember to use lighter poles that coincide with how much each athlete weighs!)
With any new training style or tool, research is slower to come than actual anecdotal results in the weight room or field. If your athletes like body tempering and how it makes them feel, then keep doing it. Do some research on yourself for how it makes you feel and the results that you get from the method. All our athletes love how they feel after they have been tempered.
If you are interested in purchasing tempering poles, you can find them at Rogue Fitness or Big Hes Strength. An 80-pound tempering pole at the high school level would be a great place to start, and you can work the weight up to 100-120 pounds. If cost is a concern, you can investigate making them on your own with concrete, finding a steel company around you, etc. I suggest getting poles that are hollow or at least have the ends cut out. This allows the coach or athlete to move and adjust the poles more easily.
Also, look into Donnie Thompson’s tempering classes and certifications to get a deeper insight into body tempering.
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