Foam rollers have swept the nation and are all over gyms and fitness centers. In what I have seen the majority of the population has no idea how to effectively use them and that is a shame because the benefits are emourmous. Foam rolling, self-massage or scientifically appropriate Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) have become a go to for elite athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are serious about taking care of their bodies. In this post I want to explain what response using SMR elicits and then I’ll provide a video of my own daily routine because a picture is worth 1,000 words.
To be pretty blunt, the first couple of times you use a foam roller correctly it can be downright uncomfortable, but do not let that be a deterrent to all its benefits. All the discomfort just shows you how tense and tight your soft tissues really are. When looking at the big picture your muscles need to be both strong and pliable at the same time. Strong muscles without pliability leads to limited mobility. On the other side of the coin pliable muscles with no strength leads to a whole host of other joint integrity problems. Lets assume you are like the majority of the population and have strong muscles but are lacking pliability. Training or sitting in the same postures all day cause your muscles to always be turned on and hold tension which leads to stiff tissues. Now traditionally people have gone out and stretched to improve tissue quality and this can certainly help but stretching is mainly focused on the length of the tissue. SMR methods are after something very different, they are after improved muscle tone.
How Does SMR Improve Muscle Tone?
Foam rollers, tennis balls, and lacrosse balls all allow you to turn down muscle tone by a nerdy term called, autogenic inhibition. Even more nerdy is that inside your muscle you have receptors called Golgi Tendon Organs. To over simplify, the Golgi Tendon Organ tells the body how much tension is in a given muscle at any given time. When the tension inside a muscle becomes too great, to the point of possible injury like rupturing a tendon, the Golgi send a message to the Muscle Spindles to relax the muscle to prevent injury. The process that protects the muscles and tendons from injury is autogenic inhibition.
So when you put a muscle with high tone on something with a focal point of pressure like a foam roller or lacrosse ball you create autogenic inhibition and the Golgi Tendon Organ sends a message to the muscle spindles to relax the muscle. If you perform these techniques regularly over time the overall tone of the muscle is lowered and you end up with more pliable tissue. In addition, if you do SMR regularly you also get the benefits of breaking down accumulated soft-tissue adhesions, scar tissue, and increasing blood flow to muscles but those topics could be a whole other blog post!
Now you can get the similar results with treatments such as deep tissue message or active release treatments but honestly who gets these done on a regular basis besides professional athletes? So doing some SMR work regularly gives you an effective, convenient and inexpensive method to improve the quality of your soft tissues. I like to think of it as a poor man’s massage.
This literally is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic and the interrelationship with mobility and posture. However, for your viewing pleasure below is a video of my SMR routine. The routine is pretty comprehensive but you may want to spend more time on certain areas where you have greater tension than me. Also realize that I have been doing this for a long time and my tissue quality is pretty good so this is mainly a maintenance program for me. If you are new stick with it and over time you will see amazing differences in your tissue quality.
To wrap this post up here are some instances when you would NOT want to do SMR techniques. Those would include performing it on recently injured areas, over boney areas/joints, over areas with circulatory problems or areas of chronic pain caused by something like fibromyalgia. For the youth reading this blog, I typically begin using these methods around the age of 14-15. This is not the magic age where tissue quality starts to decline but instead I like to introduce the methods so they get to practice them and make them a part of their training routine as it becomes more and more important with age.
If you are interested in buying one I have been impressed with the quality of this Foam Roller by OPTP.