Have you ever gotten a massage? One of those “oh wowww” massages that just loosens up all your tight muscles and makes you feel like a new person? If you are working out or running often, you probably have some tight muscles or imbalances that need to be massaged. And you can actually do it all by yourself with just a foam roller and these self-myofascial release tips.
What is self-myofascial release?
It’s a mouthful, that’s for sure. Self-myofascial release (sometimes referred to as “foam rolling”) is a method of stretching or massaging the connective tissue in your muscles that may develop tightness, knots, or trigger points.
Sometimes muscles can become too tight, causing an imbalance that leads to injury. If you’ve ever felt knee pain after running, you may have had tightness in your IT band. Hip pain after a lot of lower body exercises? That could be due to a tight piriformis.
When you squat, do your heels come off the floor? One reason that happens is overly tight calf muscles. Foam rolling or SMR of these muscles can help to release tightness and prevent injury caused by muscular imbalances.
I first learned about self-myofascial release when I became a NASM certified personal trainer, and it’s amazing what a difference foam rolling can make!
Benefits of foam rolling
- Prevents injury
- Relieves soreness
- Helps with recovery
- Improves range of motion
- Improves ability to perform exercises correctly
- Helps correct muscle imbalances
- Can help reduce general tension in the body and mind
Does Foam Rolling hurt?
It really shouldn’t be painful to foam roll tight muscles. If it’s painful, you could have too much inflammation and should wait until the intense soreness subsides.
However, you will most likely feel some degree of discomfort with SMR. The muscles you are rolling or massaging are tight and may have knots. After you apply sustained pressure to those areas with SMR, the muscle fibers will stretch and relax, resulting in less pain over time.
How do I do it?
Before engaging in exercise or stretching, you should foam roll any muscles that are tight or cause trouble with activity. This will help to loosen up your muscle fibers before you add stress to them.
Can you imagine doing work with muscles that don’t allow your body to demonstrate full range of motion? By releasing your muscle tension before you exercise, you are able to move with proper form and get the full benefit of the exercise you are attempting.
Additionally, you can foam roll at the conclusion of your workout (during your cool down time) to potentially reduce muscle soreness or stress on the joints from overly tight muscles.
Foam rolling is not something that should be rushed or done quickly. It takes time and deliberate movement to effectively release the muscle fibers.
- Start outside any “tight spots” and gently move toward the area.
- Use your body weight to apply pressure to the muscle you are targeting, until you find a spot that feels somewhat tender or tight.
- Hold still on the area for 30-60 seconds, then gently move side to side for another 30-45 seconds to help the muscle release.
- Move on to foam roll other areas.
- Remember to breathe through it and visualize your muscles lengthening and relaxing as you relax your mind and body as well.
- Drink lots of water.
Here is a video that shows some common foam rolling positions:
What equipment should I use for self-myofascial release?
There are a few different tools that fitness professionals use for SMR: a foam roller, a massage stick, and a lacrosse ball are the most common.
A handheld massage stick can help with quads, IT bands, and is handy for travel. Some athletes swear by a massage gun, but I don’t own one myself. My chiropractor has used it on my tight neck/upper back muscles with amazing results though, so I may get one soon!
Have you ever tried foam rolling or SMR? Has it helped your performance in your workouts? Share your thoughts below!