Foaming Rolling: A Self Massage Technique for Myofacial Release

By Luke Wakefield,  BS, CSCS, USAW-1, FMS

Anyone who is serious about training, whether it’s an athlete, coach, or fitness enthusiast, has their own set of tools they like to incorporate in to training. These tools can be absolutely anything, from exercise variations, to nutrition protocols. But one tool that should be in everyone’s toolbox should be Myofascial Release.

Most people know myofascial release as the self massage technique of ‘Foam Rolling’. It is becoming more and more popular within the health and fitness industry and especially with elite athletes, but what are the actual benefits of foam rolling and is it really worth it?

Just some of the benefits of foam rolling include:

  • Increased muscle density
  • Assistance in optimizing muscle length / increased range of motion
  • Increased blood flow
  • Increased muscular lactic acid removal
  • Elevated nutrient and oxygen delivery
  • Reduced muscle soreness
  • Breakdown of scar tissue

When both dynamic and static pressure are applied to a muscle, the Golgi Tendon Organs (stretch receptors found in the muscle tendons) are activated, which prevent contraction and assist in the relaxing/lengthening of the muscles, also known as autogenic inhibition. Pressure is also placed on the blood supply in the muscles, which in turn increases blood flow to and from the area (increasing nutrient delivery and waste removal).

To perform successful myofascial release:

  • Perform myofascial release before and after every workout. Gray Cook says that to get the most from a workout, the muscle must first be at optimal length. You should train with the muscle at optimal length and then recheck the muscle after exercise.
  • The body should have an elevated blood flow and muscles should be sufficiently warm. When performing myofascial release prior to workout, a light warm-up on a treadmill, bike, or rowing machine for about 5 minutes is ideal. This allows the activation of the muscles before rolling.
  • Prior to exercise, a light session of rolling should be performed, as this allows activation of the muscles. Post exercise should be a solid session for about 5-10minutes. About 20-30 passes of each muscle group is recommended.
  • Don’t just roll in small sections, try to roll the whole length of a muscle group, from the top to bottom. This allows lengthening of the entire muscle.
  • If a particularly sore area is encountered, apply static pressure for about 5-10 seconds, this activates the GTOs and allows release without excessive pain.
  • Vary levels of pressure by providing extra support from the arms or legs, rolling both legs at the same time, or just by using a softer roller. If more pressure is needed, use a harder roller such as a PVC pipe.
  • When rolling, avoid going directly over exposed joints or areas where the bone protrudes as this can cause bruising of ligaments, tendons and is just generally painful. Areas such as the knee, top of the pelvic bone and upper neck should be avoided.
  • For smaller muscle groups or if deep massage is needed, use a softball, field hockey ball, golf ball etc. These penetrate deeply and are perfect for the foot and shoulder.
  • Pain should not be the gauge of how hard to foam roll. Pressure should be enough to cause a little discomfort in the muscle, too much can cause excessive damage to an area and create more pain than there was originally.

Now after talking about all the benefits of foam rolling and with myself being such an advocate, it is NOT the cure for everything. What is pain and soreness in a muscle caused by? Quite often, pain is associated with the overworking or damage of a muscle, but more commonly, performing an activity incorrectly is the cause. The activation and recruitment of the wrong muscle by the nervous system is often the cause of poor stabilization and recruitment. Cook suggests doing foam rolling and corrective work is “like mopping up water and assuming the problem is solved. However, managing the water on the floor only gets the representation of the problem under control. Fixing the leak is the real solution.”

So how do we activate the nervous system properly to prevent this? There are many ways of performing nervous system activation (which will all be addressed in future articles), the most effective being: movement training, vibration training, and dynamic activation/recruitment. In researching information for this post, the article ‘Get off the Foam Roller’ by Mike T Nelson, provides a solid discussion as to why foam rolling isn’t all its cracked up to be, and is definitely worth a read.

Rollers can be purchased from most sporting goods stores for around $15-$30 depending on the type. A cheaper option is to make your own with a PVC pipe, some pipe insulation foam and athletic tape. Either one is sure to make you feel a difference in your workouts and hopefully life in general.

For more information, please go to pure-ft.com to get in contact with one of our coaches.

Sources:

Baechle, Thomas R., Earle, Roger W. , Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008.

Cook, Gray., “The Secret”, 14 Sep 2011. Retrieved 14 Dec 2011. feed://graycook.com/ ?feed=rss2

Nelson, Michael T., “Get off the Foam Roller”, Mike T Nelson Ramblings, 11 Jan. 2008. Retrieved 15 Sep 2011. http://miketnelson.blogspot.com/2008/01/get-off-foam-roller.html

 

Luke Wakefield, BS, CSCS, USAW-1, FMS, is a 2nd year Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Louisville, studying for a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology. He captained the University of Louisville’s Swimming and Diving team to their first Big East victory in 2010. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, USA Weightlifting Coach, and Functional Movement Specialist, specializing in elite athlete sports performance coaching.

 

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