W as in What Why When Where and Who..
The other day I was doing one of my post workout protocols with a foam-roller, and someone asked, “what is that good for?”. Even though I have my routine answer: something like fascia knot release, trigger point stretch, shiatsu and some other fancy words.. Lets say that I realize that I was not happy with my answer. As always: the FLAWD lifestyle means to always get better, similarly, it is (almost) always better to “launch beta and then iterate“, or the mentality of “release early, iterate often and fail fast” – both demonstrate the same principle – Kaizen: always strive to improve and be better. Soo lets jump to it: What is foamrolling? Why should you care? And how can it help you ?
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What is foam-rolling?
Foam-rolling (or pressure wave) is a technique where you apply pressure to specific points on your body. This pressure helps your body in the recovery of muscles and assists in returning them to normal function. Normal function: means your muscles are elastic, healthy, and ready to perform at a moment’s notice. Foam-rolling is thought to improve muscular function, performance, overuse, and joint range of motion (ROM); however, please remember that there is no empirical evidence of this. A study from 2013 concludes however that foam-rolling increases your ROM. Foam-rolling does not increase performance directly but it might do so indirectly and it can speed up recovery according to this study.
Foam-rolling is also called SMR – or Self-Myofascial Release and has become very popular practice lately.This article is based mainly on Breaking Muscle:s more extended great article about foam rolling. SMR is a fancy term for self-massage and it can be done in different ways, by different objects, like a foam roller, lacrosse ball, tennis ball, golf ball, your own hands or by a “superfriend“. 🙂
There are of course other tools and techniques which can increase mobility, recovery and ROM, like for instance ; contract and relax (also called PNF-stretch for that I truly recommend Kristian Bergs book: Prescriptive Stretching), other techniques are; banded flossing, smash and floss (ART: Active Release Treatment) Paper-clipping (oscillation) voodoo flossing (compression). Some even suggest that SMR should replace stretching. But today.. We will focus on foam-rolling.
Why do you have tight Muscles?
First of all: What is fascia?
Fascia is a structure of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, binding some structures together, while permitting others to slide smoothly over each other.
Put in other words it is the soft tissue portion of the connective tissue in the muscle that provides support and protection. A example of fascia would be the skin you remove from a chicken breast.
Second: How does fascia affect us?
The fascia can become restricted due to overuse, trauma, and inactivity. When the fascia is restricted, inflammation can occur and if it becomes bad enough the connective tissue can thicken, which results in pain and irritation, and additional inflammation – and the negative spiral has begun.
Third: What is trigger points?
Trigger points are “knots” that form in muscles or fascia. They are unique and can be identified because they will refer pain. Pain referral, can be described as the pain felt when pressure is applied to one area, but the pain is felt or radiated in another area in your body. When rolling or working on tight/sore muscles you will experience discomfort or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done it should feel better.
Forth: Should I really do something that hurts?
SMR provides you with self-control over the healing and recovery process by applying pressure in precise locations, because only you can feel exactly what is happening. It is always recommended to consult with your physician before starting SMR. Releasing trigger points helps to reestablish proper movement patterns and pain free movement, and indirectly enhance your performance.
Fifth: Isn’t stretching enough?
Utilizing stretching alone is not always enough to release muscles tightness, which is why foam rollers have thrived on the mass market.
As mentioned, stretching is another great tool for recovery, and ROM. If you imagine a bungee cord with a knot tied into it and then stretch the cord. This stretches the “unknotted” portion of the muscle and the attachment points. But “the knot ” will remain the same. Foam rolling can assist in breaking up these muscle knots, resuming normal blood flow and function. The goal to any corrective or recovery technique is to get you back to the point of normal functioning, as if nothing was ever wrong.
What Do I Foam Roll?
You may target specific areas/muscles that relate to the movements you are focusing on, for instance Latissimus dorsi (which btw comes from Latin: Latus=broad and dorsi=back, hence the broad back muscle) which you use very much when doing pull ups.
Trigger points and tight muscles can be found through self-exploration, utilizing the list of techniques below and exploring each one.
How do i foam-roll?
Apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle/muscle group using the roller and your bodyweight. You should roll slowly, no more than 3cm (one inch) per second. When you find areas that are tight or painful, pause for several seconds and relax as much as possible. You should slowly start to feel the muscle releasing, and after 5-30 seconds the discomfort or pain should lessen.If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area. Go slow and keep the full weight of your body distributed over the ball or roller, so your tissues have a chance to yield to the ball (relax). As a rule, the slower you move the more pressure you can handle and the more positive effects the tissues will receive. If you move fast and keep your muscles engaged as you roll around, your efforts will be futile.
The goal is to restore healthy muscles – it is not a pain tolerance test. You may also use other objects to work on muscles such as a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or similar.
Remember: Try remaining completely relaxed—the goal is to sink into the deepest levels of your muscle tissue.
What happens when I rest on the painful area?
According to this article, the reason why SMR is so effective, is that resting 30-45 seconds on painful areas will stimulate the GTO (Golgi Tendon Organ) . The GTO is a mechanoreceptor located at the muscle-tendon junction; it’s main function being to regulate the level of tension within the muscle tendon unit. The GTO stimulates muscle spindles to relax the muscle in question in order to protect the muscle from injury. During SMR, the muscle contraction that precedes the passive stretch stimulates the GTO, which in turn causes relaxation that facilitates this passive stretch and allows for greater range of motion.
With foam rolling, you can simulate this muscle tension, thus causing the GTO to relax the muscle (Robertson, 2008).
Never roll a joint or bone. Avoid rolling your lower back. To target these muscles use tennis or lacrosse balls. If you are having issues with your neck, visit a doctor
To correctly execute this technique, lie on a ball or roller while
What Happens After Rolling?
You may be sore the next day. It should feel as if your muscles have been worked/released, however you should not push yourself to the point of excessive soreness. Drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and eat clean. This will help to flush your system and fuel your muscles more effectively. Give it 24-48 hours before focusing on the same area again.
Benefits of SMR
- Correct muscle imbalances.
- Increase joint range of motion.
- Decrease muscle soreness.
- Decrease neuromuscular hypertonicity.
- Increase extensibility of musculotendinous junction.
- Increase neuromuscular efficiency.
- Maintain normal functional muscular length.
- Relieve joint stress.