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Foam Rolling: A Brief Guide to Self-Myofascial Release

Foam rolling has exploded recently as a popular technique for self-myofascial release (SMR). Foam rollers are found everywhere now in gyms, personal training studios, university weight rooms and even at home. Trainers are even teaching flexibility classes centered around their use. Despite their broad use, there is still some confusion as to what foam rolling actually does. Let’s dive into it a little.

Fascia is the soft tissue component all throughout the body and its muscles and assists in transmission of tension. When you exercise regularly, you put your body in a constant state of breakdown and recovery. This tissue contracts and hardens as a way of protecting the muscle from further breakdown. Sometimes, it contracts so much that you feel tension spots, or “trigger points.” During exercise, this tightness can cause an imbalance in your muscle actions, possibly leading to injury. By massaging the fascial tissue, you can improve your mobility, flexibility, and provide increased blood flow to your muscles.

At FSP, we utilize SMR techniques to prepare the muscles for activity and to assist in their repair post-workout.

Here’s a few strategies to improve your muscular function during exercise”

  1. Spend about 20-30 seconds on each key spot.
    About 5-10 slow deliberate rolls should do the trick. Putting too much prolonged pressure on one spot could lead to bruising.
  2. Use the “tack” and “floss” methods to relieve trigger points.
    When you locate a trigger point, spend a couple extra seconds on it. “Tack” by stopping just on the point of pressure and “floss” by gently flexing and extending the most accessible joint. For example, when rolling a trigger point on your quadriceps, gently flex and extend at the knee.
  3. Stay away from direct contact with joints.
    When you roll over a joint, the musculature surrounding it tightens to protect it. This can lead to bruising of the muscles and move you further away from the goal of lengthening and releasing.
  4. Roll the whole body.
    When training properly, you use your whole body to perform exercises. Ignoring certain areas can lead to flexibility imbalances. We’re rolling to increase performance AND reduce the likelihood of injury so don’t miss a spot.
  5. Avoid rolling directly on any injured areas right away.
    Many injuries don’t necessarily originate where you feel pain. Again, it’s possible that the pain you feel in your hamstrings could be due to tight quadriceps. In that case, spend a little time on the quads before trying your hand at your hamstrings. That bruising I eluded to earlier: it’s likelihood is increased with rolling immediately over injured areas.
  6. There is more than one way to roll.
    Foam rollers are great but take care to make use of all methods available to you. Stick rollers can get into some tighter spots near the joints. Lacrosse balls are a fine tool for applying pressure to very specific spots. In short, if you can role over it or roll it over you, you can perform self-myofascial release.
  7. Only apply as much pressure as you can tolerate.
    Everyone has their own tolerance to pain. Because you’re loosening tight tissues, there is unfortunately going to be some pain involved. Whether for muscle preparation or post-workout recovery, apply only as much pressure as your muscles can appropriately tolerate.

Whichever method you choose, make sure it gets incorporated into every one of your workouts so you can see and feel all the benefits of regular exercise.

Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS

Author: Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS

Aaron Runner is the Owner of Full-Stride Performance in Roswell, GA and a former NCAA Strength & Conditioning Coach.

Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS

Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS View All

Aaron Runner is the Owner of Full-Stride Performance in Roswell, GA and a former NCAA Strength & Conditioning Coach.

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