Self-myofascial release, or ‘foam rolling’, isn’t just for professional athletes, physical therapists or coaches. It’s extremely useful for anyone who is embarking on the journey toward a healthy, fit lifestyle. Foam rolling is also a vital tool in my personal training arsenal. From reducing recovery time and joint stress to improving range of motion in your joints, regular foam rolling can do much to supplement and enhance your physical training. Let’s take a look at what foam rolling is, how it works and the many benefits it offers.
So, what exactly is self-myofascial release (SMR)? It’s just a technical term for a self-massage technique intended to relieve muscle tightness and increase flexibility. SMR can be performed with a foam roller, lacrosse ball or even your own hands, but for this blog post, we’ll limit our discussion to foam rolling.
Self-myofascial release helps contracted muscles relax, increases blood flow and lymphatic circulation to tightened, painful areas and aids in muscle recovery. It basically helps your body return to normal function more quickly after a vigorous workout, with normal function meaning that your muscles are pliable and responsive at a moment’s notice.
How it Works
Foam rolling involves deep compression, helping to break up muscle adhesions and tightness that develop between tissue layers. It’s kind of like tenderizing meat, actually! Your muscles are most effective and responsive when they are soft and flexible. As you increase the demands on your body through weight training and other exercises, your muscle fibers are constantly going through a process of tearing down and building up. Foam rolling helps to smooth out the obstructions, adhesions and scar tissue that can occur in muscle fibers.
Aside from increasing blood circulation and working out the tight spots in your muscles, foam rolling offers a ton of benefits:
- Improves range of motion in joints and relieves joint stress.
- Lengthens shortened (tightened) muscles, helping them return to normal, functional length.
- Regular foam roller use can help prevent common injuries, such as injury to the iliotibial (IT) band.
- Increases muscle relaxation and corrects muscle imbalances.
- Improves neuromuscular efficiency, or your body’s ability to use your various muscle groups and effectively control your movement.
- Reduction of trigger point sensitivity.
Overall, one of the biggest benefits of foam rolling is that it increases blood flow to your muscles – something that is effective both before and after training. Increased blood flow helps your muscles perform at their best as well as recover more quickly.
Foam Rolling Tips
Foam rollers vary a lot in style, firmness and price, but they are generally between $15 and $40. Do some research online and read the reviews for the particular model you are interested in. One brand that I have tried and would recommend is the Trigger Point Performance – The Grid foam roller. It is portable which it makes it great for traveling or bringing with you to the gym. There are many great and reasonably-priced foam rollers on the market, though, so shop around.
Use a foam roller for 5-10 minutes before or after your workout. It’s best to use it when your muscles are warm, and remember to consult your healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program. Here are some general foam rolling guidelines to follow:
- Gently and slowly roll your body weight back and forth across the foam roller as you target the affected muscle group.
- As you find particularly painful areas, pay closer attention to them by spending more time on that muscle until it softens.
- Expect foam rolling to be uncomfortable, even painful at times as you roll over trigger points. However, it should become more relaxing as you work through muscle tightness.
- Like a sports massage, it’s important to drink plenty of water after foam rolling to help your body flush lactic acid.
Foam rolling is a great way to reduce your recovery time after vigorous workouts, lengthen tightened muscles, and increase blood flow to affected areas. Make this a part of your regular fitness routine and you’ll enjoy the benefits for years to come!