The following article appeared in OpenSweat on August 10, 2016. Here it is in its entirety.
I have been a runner and athlete my entire life and always refused to stretch before and after cross country and track practice in high school. I don’t know why; just me being stubborn I guess, which probably comes from my spicy Puerto Rican side. Either way, I was a runner back then.
As I got older I continued running and increased the mileage up to 10Ks, half marathons and full marathons (26.2 miles). I started getting shin splints more often and began having knee pain, hip pain, ankle pain and more. When I ran my first marathon, it was a great but extremely painful experience! You may have faced some of the same trials and tribulations I did in that first marathon and now you can fix them.
It wasn’t until I became a Certified Personal Trainer that I learned about Self-Myofascial Release and started foam rolling regularly. The changes in my running were unbelievable! I was able to run longer and faster without pain, and run more efficiently; all the while getting stronger and fitter than ever before! My muscles were finally happy, elongated and refreshed.
Self-Myofascial Release is a soft tissue therapy and stretching technique used to improve flexibility and function of tight muscles, inhibit overactive/overused muscles, reduce inflammation, improve joint range of motion (ROM), and more by focusing on the body’s neural and fascial systems.
Relaxing Muscles through Proper Stretch
For various reasons including disuse, lack of stretching and injury, the fascia and underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together, which is called an adhesion. Adhesions result in restricted movement, causing pain and soreness, reducing flexibility, and inhibiting range of motion. By applying gentle force to the adhesion, or trigger point, the collagenous fibers are changed from a bundled position into an alignment that is more parallel with the direction of the muscle and/or fascia. Together, muscle and fascia make up the myofascial system within the body.
When muscles become fatigued and overused due to acute physical trauma, poor posture, repetitive movement mechanics, over-training, inadequate rest and poor nutrition, trigger points (tender spot/painful area) accumulate in the muscle. Trigger points are created in muscles that must remain contracted for very long periods of time without rest. Some of these muscles are commonly used to support the neck and shoulder joints.
Self-Myofascial Release uses the concept of autogenetic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility, thus relaxing the muscle and allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle (opposing muscle responsible for returning the limb to its initial position). When you increase this pressure/tension in the muscle to the point where it is at risk of injury, the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) responds by relaxing the muscle (autogenetic inhibition). By stimulating the GTO, you are able to cause relaxation of the muscle and consequently the fascia surrounding it to achieve a proper stretch and increased range of motion.
Self-Myofascial Release is based upon two principles:
1) Breaking-up fascia within the body
2) Manipulation of various neuromuscular receptors to release muscle tightness.
Where and When to Use Self-Myofascial Release
Self-Myofascial Release is most commonly performed on the calves, shins, hamstrings, adductors (inner thigh), quadriceps, hip flexors, iliotibial (IT) band, glutes/buttocks, chest and lower/mid/upper back.
The mid/upper back can be rolled by lying on top of the foam roller, the glutes/buttocks by sitting on top of the foam roller with your legs partially crossed, and most of the other muscles require sitting or lying on the floor with one or two legs, or an arm, propped-up on top of the foam roller.
Self-Myofascial Release is hard work and sometimes painful. By far, the most painful area for most people is the IT band. When I first started using Self-Myofascial Release in the latter part of 2006, I would almost cry while being on the foam roller, especially on my IT bands. I could only handle it for a few seconds at a time before collapsing on the floor.
By performing Self-Myofascial Release a minimum of three times a week in conjunction with strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and various other forms of stretching, you can reduce muscle pain, correct imbalances, and minimize future injury no matter who you are and what type of lifestyle you live.
Equipment for Self-Myofascial Release
Self-Myofascial Release, aka foam rolling, uses a cylindrical piece of extruded hard-celled foam called a foam roller. Foam rollers are inexpensive and come in various sizes and densities. The most common foam rollers are 36 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. However if you travel with a foam roller, which I highly recommend, you should consider one that is approximately 12 inches in length.
How To Perform Self-Myofascial Release
You perform Self-Myofascial Release by using your own body weight on a foam roller to ‘massage’ or ‘roll’ away trigger points (tender spot/painful area). The feel of the foam roller and the intensity of the self-massage/rolling should be properly geared to the age, comfort, and fitness level of the individual.
One of the advantages of foam rolling is that you can control the intensity with your own body weight. Self-Myofascial Release should ideally be performed 1-2 times daily including pre- and post-workout. There is no excuse not to foam roll. If you watch television at home, perform SelfMyofascial Release on the floor while watching your favorite shows!
We don't have enough space to detail examples of commonly foam-rolled muscles groups. They are available for your whole body in my eBook: Self-Myofacsial Release for the Human Body available at SMR eBook. Also available is my hardcopy book, Results Fitness, available at Renov8 Fitness.
I use Self-Myofascial Release with the members of my private fitness coaching center, Renov8 Fitness, every day. I hope you find it just as rewarding. Find your athlete within!