Foam rolling is one way to perform what’s technically known as “self-myofascial release” or SMR. Learning how to perform basic SMR techniques on yourself can reduce your chances of repetitive stress injury, minimize muscular soreness, correct muscle imbalances and improve your overall flexibility, function and performance.
SMR is the first step in a corrective exercise continuum, which I discussed in The Criminal vs. The Victim – Targeting the source of your muscle and joint pain. It helps to “inhibit” overactive and tight muscle tissues – or to be specific, the fascia. Fascia are sheets of fibrous connective tissue that form webs or bands under the skin to attach, stabilize, surround and separate muscles and internal organs. Fascia can contract, relax and move on its own.
Any kind of overload and stress takes a cumulative toll the fascia. It can dehydrate and form adhesions, also known as “knots” from a number of causes, such as repetitive micro-trauma from muscle imbalances and chronic inflammation. These knots can bring about chronic pain, either directly over the injury site or, more often, radiating away from the injury site to other areas of the body. Left unattended, these can further contribute to existing muscle imbalances and movement limitations.
SMR is most commonly associated with foam rolling. Foam rollers are inexpensive and can be used on most parts of the body. They’re also the “gentlest” of the SMR tools, meaning if you’re new to SMR, a foam roller will produce the least amount of pressure. There are a myriad of other SMR tools that produce more pressure or target specific hard to reach areas such as the back and shoulders, like the Body Back Buddy, muscle roller sticks, and small massage balls.
The basic idea behind SMR is that with the help of tools, you can self-massage and help break up and dissipate knots in the fascia and muscle tissue surrounding it. By breaking up these knots, the muscle fibers become better aligned, so in turn the gliding surface of the fascia move more freely.
SMR’s benefits include:
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Muscle relaxation
- Improve joint range of motion
- Reduce soreness and improve recovery after exercise
- Suppress/reduce trigger point sensitivity and pain
- Decrease overall effects of stress on muscles and joints
How to Foam Roll
Slowly roll the targeted area until you find the most tender spot. Then hold on that spot for 30 to 60 seconds, while relaxing as much as possible. Keep your core muscles tight by pulling your navel toward your spine to maintain low back stability. Explore how slightly modifying positions or angles can target different areas of the muscle.
Keep in mind that more is not better! One to two minutes per area is all that’s needed.
Some key areas to foam roll for most people are the calves, inner thighs, upper back, outside of thighs, and glutes. But whatever muscles you have that are tight or sore can benefit from SMR.
Hurts So Good – But It’s Worth It
SMR, like a deep tissue or Swedish massage, is somewhat uncomfortable. But as you’re doing it, remember how good it’s going to feel when you’re finished…and how much better you’ll feel throughout the day.
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