Some of you have tried it, some are addicted to it, and some avoid it with a fiery passion. Either way, self myofascial release (or foam rolling) is an excellent method of improving the health and mobility of your joints and muscles.
Self myofascial release is just a fancy way of saying “self-massage”. It can be done with any number of tools, including racquetballs, tennis balls, and foam rollers. These instruments work to apply pressure while lengthening the muscle tissue.
Why foam roll?
Imagine a piece of rope. This piece of rope represents a single muscle fiber in your body. As you go through your day-to-day life, it’s natural to develop habitual movements – which can lead to imbalance – and result in knots in the muscles (like the second photo).
Normal flexibility training can help to lengthen this muscle fiber, but it only works to lengthen the fiber as a whole. Imagine pulling on either end of the rope in the image above. You can stretch the rope, but the knot doesn’t go away – it gets tighter.
What you need here is pressure. Using a foam roller allows you to stretch the muscle fiber one segment at a time while applying pressure to massage out those small knots. This is really beneficial for larger muscle groups like the legs and back.
A few things you want to keep in mind when going through your foam rolling routine:
First, start slow. If you’ve never experienced these exercises, you’ll want to ease yourself into it.
Using the right foam roll is important in those first few sessions. They come in various sizes, designs, and densities. For beginners I’d recommend using a larger, low or medium-density foam roll (the material gives a little bit when you press on it, putting less pressure directly on the muscle tissue).
Take plenty of time going through all of the muscle groups. You don’t have to roll the entire length of the muscle; break it up into small sections and gradually move down.
How to do it:
Start out sitting on the foam roll, and begin rolling back and forth to massage the glutes, then progress down the hamstrings. Roll to one side and take some time rolling out your iliotibial (IT) band on the outer thigh, followed by the other side.
Turn over and massage the quadriceps next. Then finish the lower extremity with your calves. Sitting on the roll once again, begin with the lower back, rolling up and down the lower section of the spine. Gradually migrate up to the mid back and finally the rear shoulders. Remember to relax as you move along the muscle tissue.
Know that some discomfort is expected, especially in those first few sessions. You’re going to come across some tight/painful spots. The important thing is to take your time with those areas and not to avoid them.
If you find a sensitive spot in the muscle, pause there and take a few breaths, trying to relax as much as possible. Trust me, you’ll feel great afterwards.
For bonus points, get a little exercise out of it! Engage your abdominals and get a great core workout while massaging your muscles.
Perform these exercises as frequently as you can, before or after a workout. You’ll greatly improve your flexibility, posture, and performance in daily activities.