It’s time again to ask ourselves Why should we do it? This month our focus is on self-myofascial release, specifically the method of foam rolling. Odds are if you’ve frequented the Honest studio you’ve seen clients rolling around on long foam cylinders prior to or after a workout. They knead their arms, legs and back like muscular pillsbury dough people and periodically let out painful grimaces. But why?
Let’s start with the basics.
What is self-myofascial release?
Myofascial release is a hands-on technique that provides sustained pressure into myofascial restrictions (tightness, scar tissue, injured areas) to eliminate pain and restore motion. There are multiple techniques one can use to perform self-myofascial release. Today we are focusing on foam rolling.
The term “myo” means muscle and “fascia” means connective tissue. The fascial system is very densely woven connective tissue that covers and interweaves through every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein as well as all of our internal organs, holding everything in place (thank goodness for fascia right??).
What’s even more fascinating is that rather than being separate coverings, it is one structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. Understanding this helps inform how each part of the entire body is connected to the other by the fascia. Think of it as a spider web. If one part of the web is broken or damaged, the web doesn’t fall down but it creates strain or tension that is distributed across the web in its entirety to account for the weakened section.
What causes trauma to the fascia?
Normal, healthy fascia is relaxed and has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When we experience physical trauma, scarring or inflammation, the fascia becomes tight and is no longer pliable. It becomes a source of tension to the entire body (remember how it’s all connected?). Contributing factors beyond injury can be a number of things, including habitually poor posture or repetitive movements through daily activity or exercise.
What happens if we don’t foam roll?
When there is trauma or injury to an area, it can lead to weakness or soft tissue adhesions. These adhesions can lead to altered neuromuscular control, muscle imbalances, reduced elasticity of the soft tissues, weakened flexibility and stability and eventually it can cause a permanent change in the soft tissue structure.
What are the benefits of foam rolling?
Increased blood flow throughout the body – Knots (adhesions) and tension in the fascia can restrict blood flow in the area. Ridding your muscles of these restrictions will help keep your muscles and connective tissue well hydrated and increase circulation.
Reduced muscle soreness – Increased circulation to your muscles and connective tissue aids in maintaining its healthy, relaxed state and you’ll experience less muscle soreness.
Maintained normal, functional muscular length – Relieving tension will help your muscles return to their normal length, improving muscle function.
Increased range of motion – By breaking up the adhesions in the fascia, your muscles and connective tissue can move more fluidly and freely, enhancing movements during exercise and daily activities.
Decreased risk of injury – Healthy fascia enhances your bodily functions and performance thus decreasing your risk of injury significantly.
Encouraged movement of your lymph – The lymph system (a major component of your immune system) relies on movement pressure to move fluid in your body. Self-myofascial release can encourage the flow of the lymph back to the heart which will help to fight infection in the body.
Decreased recovery time – Your well hydrated muscles and tissues will recover and heal much more quickly.
With all these benefits it’s hard to justify skipping sessions with your foam-filled cylindrical friend. But I sense you are still a bit hesitant to try it. Let’s keep talking.
Can’t I just stretch?
Imagine your muscle is a bungee cord with a knot tied into it. What happens when you stretch the cord? That’s right, the knot gets tighter. Static stretching has many benefits but when it comes to breaking up adhesions, self-myofacial release is the way to go. In fact it’s best to foam roll right before you perform stretches.
But doesn’t it hurt?
You don’t have to be a masochist to benefit from foam rolling. Sure it hurts sometimes, but it hurts so good. Ironically, the more you need it the more it hurts. The silver lining is that the more consistent you are with foam rolling, the less pain you will ultimately experience. Keep in mind however that it’s meant to be uncomfortable, maybe even a little painful, but not unbearable. You know your body best and should only continue if it is tolerable.
Ok, ok so how do I foam roll and how often should I do it?
There are many different foam rolling techniques. The basic premise when foam rolling your quadriceps for example would be to lay your upper legs across the widest part of the cylinder and roll your body back and forth along the muscle from hip to knee. Using your body weight to apply pressure, you’ll search along the muscle to find out what areas are tense. When you find the most tender “oh $#!%” spot, hold the pressure steadily on it for as long as you can (30-90 seconds). You should feel relief after repeating this process.
You will benefit most by foam rolling every day, specifically before performing any static or dynamic stretches preceding exercise. It can also be used during the cool-down process after a workout. Basically if you feel knots and tension…foam roll!
If you’re ready to take better care of your body and learn all about foam rolling, you can start by attending our next Honest Talk on Saturday, April 23rd from 11:30-12:30! Our fearless leader Paisley Meekin will be demonstrating fundamental foam rolling techniques and further explaining the benefits of self-myofascial release. It’s important to learn proper foam rolling methods as you can injure yourself with incorrect technique.
As if that wasn’t enough already, our lovely fitness director Michelle Nixon will be making delicious smoothies for you to sample along with recipes for you to take home and try yourself! Click here for more details and register today! Sign up soon before the class fills up!
*It’s important to note that foam rolling isn’t appropriate for everyone. Certain individuals with chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, kidney failure (or any organ failure), bleeding disorders or neuropathy should consult with a medical professional before attempting self-myofascial release.