Foam rolling is one of the biggest trends in the fitness industry right now. You may have seen those strange cylinders of foam and spikey balls sitting in gyms and wondered what they are used for.
Foam rollers and massage balls are tools used to provide self myofascial release (SMR). SMR benefits our muscles by increasing flexibility, reducing pain and improving movement. To understand this technique you must first understand that all of our muscle and organs are encased in a sticky layer of connective tissue called fascia. The purpose of fascia is to provide force transmission between different areas of the body and facilitate friction free movements. When this fascia becomes dysfunctional it can cause pain, tightness and disrupted movement patterns. The purpose of SMR is to apply pressure to these defective spots of fascia (also known as knots or trigger points) to “release” them. Foam rolling uses the pressure from your body weight to provide this release. This is similar to getting therapeutic massages but without the strain on your wallet!
What are the benefits of SMR?
SMR has been shown to improve flexibility of muscles, which in turn can improve your functional movement (1). For example, if you have tight hips and calves, foam rolling these areas prior to squatting may improve your squat depth and technique. SMR has also been proven to diminish muscular pain and reduce muscle soreness (DOMS) after training (1).
How can I incorporate SMR into my training regime?
- SMR can be beneficial as part of your warm up to increase your mobility before undertaking exercise. Additionally, SMR for 10-20mins post exercise in conjunction with static stretching is shown to help improve your recovery (1). Each muscle group you are targeting must be rolled for 30 seconds to 1 minute between 2 to 5 times to achieve desired results (1). Varying your position on the foam roller/ball enables you to target different muscle groups. You may experience spots that are more uncomfortable than others. This is how you know you have found a trigger point. Apply pressure to the area and breath deeply and the pain should slowly diminish. With regular SMR you will often find less discomfort, so persevere through the initial stages!
Below are some examples of effective SMR exercises:
- 1. Thoracic
Place a foam roller underneath your middle back with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Place your hands behind your head, lift your hips off the ground and gently roll back and forth on the roller from the base of the neck to the bottom rib. Don’t roll your lower back.
- 2. Pectorals muscle (Chest) release
This is another great move if you have kyphotic (hunched) posture.
Place a trigger point ball between your chest and a wall. Apply pressure to the ball by leaning in and rocking left to right. You can also take the ball towards the armpit and front of the shoulder.
This one is great if you have tight calves that restrict your ability to squat, or if you do a lot of running and jumping exercises.
Place a foam roller or massage ball underneath your calf on one leg. Cross the opposite leg over your shin. Using your arms lift your hips of the ground to apply pressure to the roller. Slowly roll back and forth from the top to bottom of the lower leg. You can rotate your leg to target the sides of the calf as well.
- 4. Piriformis and glutes release
If you experience hip tightness, a weight shift in you squats or deadlifts or have sciatica-like pain then this is a great exercise to improve your function.
Place a foam roller (gentle) or massage ball (targeted) underneath one glute (for this example lets use the right). Cross the right ankle over the left knee and rotate your hips and body onto your right side. Gently roll the area.
Incorporate these into your next session to enjoy the benefits!
Written by Amy Mitchell, Studio Manager at Fitness Keeper
- Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. The effects of self‐myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: a systematic review. International journal of sports physical therapy. 2015 Nov;10(6):827.