The foam roller is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment designed specifically for a technique referred to as self myofascial release. There are many other pieces of equipment that work well for SMFR, and the guidelines I am sharing will work with whatever tool you choose. Some pieces of equipment for this technique can be quite expensive, well over $50.00, while others can be as simple as two tennis balls taped together. Today, I am going to share some guidelines for getting the most out of your SMFR practice. Taking the time to release tight muscles, fascia and adhesions will result in much better training and daily movement. SMFR is also great to reduce likelihood of injury, release muscle pain and detox your body.
1. Invest in a high quality foam roller. This doesn’t have to necessarily mean expensive! The low quality foam rollers break down in a dozen uses and become useless, you can tell by looking at them if they have visible air pockets. Get a foam roller that looks like dense foam and you won’t regret the decision, I am still using the same one after ten years!
2. Use the ends of the foam roller, not just the middle. This will prevent breaking down just the center of the roller, but also give you more versatility.
3. Remember that your body is unique and that your needs will be different than other peoples. Do what I refer to as exploratory foam rolling, looking for areas of tightness or where adhesions (knots) have formed in the muscle.
4. Try various parts of your body. Your legs, back, abdomen, chest, lats and arms can all benefit from foam rolling. For some, certain areas are more important than others.
5. As a general rule, start at the origin and move toward the insertion of a muscle. Always roll your back (erector spinae) from the pelvis upward to put traction onto your spine, and avoid rolling down your back, from neck to pelvis, causing compression on the spine.
6. Begin rolling every muscle with a two to three minute static hold just below the origin of the muscle. This is to allow the muscle to relax through a process called autogenic inhibition. When tension or pressure is applied to a muscle, autogenic inhibition occurs, an invoulantary relaxation of the muscle.
7. Mentally relax. Aid the autogenic inhibition by mentally relaxing as much as possible and specificallly go into the relaxation of the muscle being rolled.
8. Move slowly. Move one inch at a time, feeling the muscle fibers along the way.
9. Stop on every adhesion that you feel. Moving back and forth over an inch or two area can sometimes help. Stay on the adhesion until about 75% of the pain has subsided and remember where it was so you can come back to it next time.
10. Don’t linger on any joints or on floating ribs. The foam roller isn’t going to have any positive effect here, and it is possible you could put excessive stress on something.
11. Don’t overdo it. Too much pressure or relaxation on a muscle can cause an imbalance. Increase the duration of foam rolling sessions as you become more accustomed to it. People often notice tightness in their neck after foam rolling simply from holding their head up at a different angle than they are used to!
12. Drink, Drink, Drink. Drink lots of really clean water after each foam rolling session to help flush out those toxins.
13. Use the foam roller after your workouts. This helps to minimize soreness in targeted muscles. Rolling before training is fine, as long as you let the muscles turn back on gradually. I wouldn’t get off the foam roller and immediately go into box jumps.
Foam rolling is a practice that much like strength training, you will get better as you do it, day after day, week after week. You will see more benefits as you learn where your body needs the most work. I would consider foam rollling for ten to twenty minutes every other day. This will keep you from getting bored but make sure you feel a good benefit too. If you have an injury or excessiv tightness in a certain area, feel free to increase the frequency but be careful of overdoing it. If you listen to your body, it is quite unlikely that you will ever injure yourself on a foam roller. The areas I recommend the most are hip flexors, especially the TFL, the IT band, calf (gastrocnemeus & gastrocsoleus) and the muscles that extend the spine (erector spinae). Other areas that are commonly tight are the glutes, hamstrings and lats, and the anterior tibialis can also be rolled to help prevent shin splints.