It looks like it’s going to be another hot and sunny day here in Carlsbad, the morning fog is burning off and the sun is brightening up the day. In today’s blog I will be talking about self myofascial release.

There are many different tools out there intended for this purpose, each with their own unique benefits and drawbacks. For the scope of this article, I am going to give general guidelines for whatever tool you are using. I encourage anyone that is getting started with SMFR to begin with a high quality foam roller and add to their equipment from there. When I say high quality I am mostly referring to the quality of the foam. Many of the cheaper rollers not only fail to offer the resistance needed but they also break down in only a few weeks of use. Spending twice as much on your foam roller may just be the difference between one that lasts weeks and one that lasts many years. Other great tools are tennis/lacrosse balls, “The Stick” and even PVC pipe for those that love good pain! I will be focusing on the foam roller, however, these techniques apply to almost any tool you are using.

Why SMFR?

  • Foam rolling will lengthen your muscles as it unties the knots that cause the origin and insertion to pull together.
  • Foam rolling will make you stronger! This is partially because tight muscles are constantly in a state of autogenic inhibition (relaxation) due to constant tension on the golgi tendon organ. This is a self defense mechanism to prevent the muscle from tearing if it should work too hard under excess tension.
  • SMFR will increase your circulation to your muscles, increasing healing time and decreasing the amount of recovery needed.
  • SMFR will help toxins and lactic acid move out of the muscles and surrounding fibers.

Exploratory foam rolling:

Everyone’s body is so very unique that it will be up to you to determine where you need to spend the most time releasing the tissue. With that in mind, most people benefit a great deal from rolling the hip flexor, IT band and calf, and the lower back (spinal erector) and upper back (traps, rhomboids and lats). Remember to keep these tips in mind:

    • Try not to put too much pressure on the floating ribs at the bottom of your ribcage.
    • No need to linger on the joints, there isn’t any benefit.
    • Causing injury on a foam roller is highly unlikely but always stay mindful and listen closely to your body
    • Even if it feels really good, try not to get too carried away on any one area. This will often lead to another knot developing further down your kinetic chain as other muscles just aren’t ready for dramatic change in tension.
    • Long foam rolling sessions can often lead to tightness in your neck and other areas, because you are having to support your bodyweight in different ways than you are used to.

Autogenic inhibition:

The first thing I want to talk about with technique in self myofascial release is stimulation of the golgi tendon organ. When you do this properly you will “turn off” or inhibit the muscle that you are rolling, this is the only way to get the benefit of this practice. A tense muscle simply cannot benefit from this method and you are likely to feel a lot of discomfort with little to no positive result.

  • Spend two to three minutes resting and relaxing the muscle on the pressure of the foam roller before rolling up or down the muscle. Do this at the origin of the muscle (where the muscle starts) before rolling to the insertion (where the muscle ends)
  • While resting with pressure on the muscle to stimulate the GTO, make sure to use your brain to consciously relax the muscle. Often the discomfort here will cause you to tense up and the muscle won’t inhibit until you relax consciously.

The Roll:

After you have spent a few minutes relaxing the muscle onto the foam roller, you can start rolling along the muscle. Keep these tips in mind as you proceed:

  • Roll very slowly, about an inch every ten seconds.
  • Stop on every “knot” or adhesion that you feel, stay there until about 75% of the discomfort has subsided.
  • Using a slight back and forth motion can sometimes help when you find a big enough adhesion, try not to move more than an inch or so when you are focussing on an area this way.
  • If you notice the muscle tense up when reaching an area of particular discomfort, go through the relaxation and GTO stimulation again.

Other considerations:

  • When rolling your back (spinal erectors) only roll up your back (from pelvis to head) and not down. This will release your spine with traction and not compress the vertebrae and discs.
  • Drink lots of water when you are done, you may notice you have the urge to urinate after foam rolling as your body wants to remove the toxins.
  • Limit your sessions to fifteen to twenty minutes at first, and gradually increase over the weeks as you get accustomed to the various positions you will be holding on the ground.
  • Do your SMFR after your workout, or long enough before, to make sure your muscles have “turned back on” from the relaxation before using them.
  • Stand up slowly, try not to tense the muscle directly after rolling it, let it wake back up gradually.
  • You will learn where to roll and what equipment is best to use as you practice, be patient and stay tuned in to your body.
  • Avoid using only the middle of the foam roller. You will notice even the highest quality rollers will break down in the middle and not on the ends. For hips and legs you may notice the ends work better.
  • The area of the pain in your body usually isn’t the site of the problem. For example, if your back is tight you probably want to roll your hip flexors.

The amount of time you should spend performing SMFR is different for everyone.  The tighter you are and the more active you are, the more necassary it will be. Use the guidelines I have provided for you and experiment, learn and improve.

Thank you for reading, I hope you find your time releasing your muscles to be as helpful to your practice as I do. Feel free to ask me any questions as you progress with this wonderful technique. Please also check out my recently published Ebook on The Kettlebell Swing.

Peter