CESFitnessNewsletterTraining Benefits

Foam Rolling- Applying the Technique of Self-myofascial Release

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) stretching technique that has been embraced throughout the fitness industry. This effective and simple to do technique delivers positive, feel good results. Foam rollers have become easily accessible, either shared at the gym or found in almost any sporting goods aisle to bring home for a minimal investment. Using the foam roller can deliver improvements in flexibility, muscle recovery, movement efficiency, inhibiting overactive muscles, and pain reduction with just minutes of application

Why SMR?

SMR can be done with a variety of tools beyond foam rollers, such as medicine balls, handheld rollers or other assistive devices. Foam rollers vary in density, surface structure, and even temperature modifications. Whatever the tool or variation selected, SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements (1). These mechanically stressful actions are recognized as an injury by the body, initiating a repair process called the Cumulative Injury Cycle (Figure 1) (1). This cycle follows a path of inflammation, muscle spasm, and the development of soft tissue adhesions that can lead to altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalance (1-4). The adhesions reduce the elasticity of the soft tissues and can eventually cause a permanent change in the soft tissue structure, referred to as Davis’s Law. SMR focuses on alleviating these adhesions (also known as “trigger points” or “knots”) to restore optimal muscle motion and function (1,5).

Figure1

SMR is based on the principal of autogenic inhibition. Skeletal muscle tissue contains muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTO), two neural receptors. Muscle spindles are sensory receptors running parallel to muscle fibers, sensitive to a change and rate of muscle lengthening. When stimulated, they will cause a myotatic stretch reflex that causes the muscle to contract. The GTO receptors, located in the musculotendinous junctions, are stimulated by a change and rate of tension, and when they are stimulated will cause the muscle to relax (2). When a change in tension is sustained at an adequate intensity and duration, muscle spindle activity is inhibited causing a decrease in trigger point activity, accompanied by a reduction of pain (1,6-7). In simpler terms, when the pressure of the body against the foam roller is sustained on the trigger point, the GTO will “turn off” the muscle spindle activity allowing the muscle fibers to stretch, unknot, and realign (5).

          Davis’s Law: Soft tissue models along lines of stress.

Autogenic Inhibition: The process by which neural impulses that sense tension are greater than the impulses that cause muscles to contract, providing an inhibitory effect to the muscle spindles.

The Benefits of SMR

SMR benefits include:

  • Correction of muscle imbalances
  • Muscle relaxation (1,2)
  • Improved joint range of motion
  • Improved neuromuscular efficiency (1,3,4)
  • Reduced soreness and improved tissue recovery (1)
  • Suppression/reduction of trigger point sensitivity and pain (2,6,7)
  • Decreased neuromuscular hypertonicity (1)
  • Provide optimal length-tension relationships
  • Decrease the overall effects of stress on the human movement system (1)

Guidelines to Start Rolling

Foam rolling should be done before static or dynamic stretching activities, improving the tissue’s ability to lengthen during stretching activities. Foam rolling can also be done as part of the cool-down (1-2). Foam rolling activities should be performed on tissues identified as overactive during the assessment process.

Most clients can enjoy foam rolling on their own once they’ve been instructed on how to properly perform the exercises. Foam rolling is not appropriate for all clients, including those with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or any organ failure, bleeding disorders, or contagious skin conditions. If clients have medical issues, have them seek the advice of their medical professional before starting SMR or foam rolling activities (1).

Slowly roll the targeted area until the most tender spot is found. Hold on that spot while relaxing the targeted area and discomfort is reduce, between 30 seconds and 90 seconds (1,7). During the exercises it is important to maintain core stability. Use the drawing-in maneuver (pulling the navel in toward the spine) to maintain stability in the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (1). Take the time to experience the exercises and discover how slightly modifying positions or angles can target different areas of the muscle.

Here are some of the top foam roller exercises to get you and your clients started on a path to moving and feeling better.

Calves (Gastrocnemius/Soleus)

Figure2

Place foam roller under the mid-calf. Cross the opposite leg over the top of the other to increase pressure. Slowly roll calf area to find the most tender spot. Hold that spot for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Especially beneficial for runners or those who regularly wear shoes with elevated heels (8). Switch legs and repeat.

Adductors

Figure3

Lie face down and place one thigh, flexed and abducted, over the foam roller. Slowly roll the upper, inner thigh area to find the most tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Switch legs and repeat.

Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) 

Figure4

Lie on one side with the foam roller just in front of the hip. Cross the top leg over the lower leg, placing that foot on the floor. Slowly roll from the hip joint down toward the knee to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Switch sides and repeat.

Piriformis

Figure5

Sit on top of the foam roller, positioned on the back of the hip, crossing one foot over the opposite knee. Lean into the hip of the crossed leg. Slowly roll on the posterior hip area to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Repeat on other side.

Latissimus Dorsi

Figure6Lie on one side with the arm closest to the ground outstretched with thumb facing upwards. Place the foam roller under the arm in the axillary region. Slowly roll back and forth to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Repeat on other side.

Thoracic Spine

Figure7

Lie on the floor with the foam roller behind the upper back. Cross arms to opposite shoulders. Raise hips off the floor and slowly roll back and forth to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds.

Be sure to check out NASM’s YouTube station for more SMR videos!

References

  1. Clark MA, Lucett SL. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training, Baltimore, MD:Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2011.
  2. Clark MA, Lucett SL. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training 4th ed. Baltimore, MD:Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2012.
  3. Edgerton VR, Wolf S, Roy RR. Theoretical basis for patterning EMG amplitudes to assess muscle dysfunction. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996;28(6):744-751.
  4. Janda V. Muscle weakness and inhibition in back pain syndromes. In: Grieve GP (ed). Modern Manual Therpay of the Vertebral Column. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1986.
  5. Reid DA, McNair PJ. Passive force, angle and stiffness changes after stretching of hamstring muscles. Med Sci Sports Exer 2004;36(11):1944-48.
  6. Hanten WP, Olson SL, Butts NL, Nowicki AL. Effectiveness of a home program of ischemic pressure followed by sustained stretch for treatment of myofascial trigger points. Phys Ther 2000;80:997-1003.
  7. Hou CR, Tsai LC, Cheng KF, Chung KC, Hong CZ. Immediate effects of various therapeutic modalities on cervical myofascial pain and trigger-point sensitivity. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2002;83: 1406-14.
  8. Grieve R, et al. The immediate effect of soleus trigger point pressure release on restricted ankle joint dorsiflexion: A pilot randomised controlled trial. J Bodyw Mov Ther.2011;15:42-49.

 

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The Author

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FNS

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FNS

Stacey Penney is the Content Strategist with NASM and AFAA. A 20+ year veteran of the fitness industry, she's worked with the top certification and continuing education groups. At NASM and AFAA she drives the content for American Fitness Magazine, blog and the social media platforms. Stacey received her degree in Athletic Training/PE from San Diego State University and an MS in Exercise Science from CalU, plus credentials in Health Promotion Management & Consulting (UCSD), and Instructional Technology (SDSU). Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she’s developed continuing education curriculum for fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, and co-coaching youth rec soccer.

90 Comments

  1. Michele
    August 24, 2013 at 4:51 am — Reply

    The information about foam rolling is ever changing. We are dealing with muscle and fascia together as one unit with this type of intervention, as you know. Some manual therapies claim to deal with just fascia. I can’t comment on that. That being said, the properties of fascia are very unique with several types of mechanoreceptors and if stimulated beyond a certain capacity, can become nociceptors. Finding a sensitive spot and really holding it could cause a problem unless someone is experienced with this and properly hydrated. A dehydrated person finding very sore spots could produce the opposite of the desired affect. I have sources I can send you if you like. I really just found this out in January and am continuing this area of research for my grad school studies. Crazy amount of info. out there for manual therapists, BUT it applies to us foam rolling folk as we are applying pressure to the same tissues.

    • Kerry Ann Munroe Madden
      November 11, 2015 at 3:34 pm — Reply

      Hi Michele!
      I too have been studying Fascia and the use of the release technique (MFR).
      I am eager to find other experts who address the questions you bring up. The research by Dr Robert Schleip is amazing! I am reading his book Fascia in Sports and Movement. Please feel to connect with my off boards. Kerry.madden@me.com and on Facebook Kerry Ann Munroe Madden.
      THANKS!

  2. Curtis
    August 25, 2013 at 1:40 pm — Reply

    You are missing the directions to roll out the Piriformis. The directions to roll out the Latissimus Dorsi was copied twice. Please correct and send I would like to print this for my clients.

  3. Anastasia Encarnacion
    August 25, 2013 at 7:15 pm — Reply

    Hi Stacey,
    Did you leave instructions for the piriformis and thoracic spine off for a reason, or was it a publishing error?
    Let me know, please,
    Anastasia

  4. August 26, 2013 at 9:17 pm — Reply

    Sorry for the duplicate and missing instructions. This has been fixed

  5. David
    September 3, 2013 at 2:13 am — Reply

    I found this video regarding myofascial release using a foam roller. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92AEO0-YM78

  6. […] Well let’s take a little more in-depth look at why we get sore. One theory is that when exercising “your soft tissue (fascia) develops adhesions that lead to neuromuscular control and imbalance“. […]

  7. Titan Strength Fitness Nutrition
    October 27, 2014 at 11:46 pm — Reply

    share

  8. judith meigher
    December 24, 2014 at 4:20 am — Reply

    Very helpful. I need proper piraformis technique.

  9. judith meigher
    December 24, 2014 at 4:21 am — Reply

    Very helpful. I need proper piraformis technique. Piraformis.

  10. Rakesh Gulia
    December 24, 2014 at 9:09 am — Reply

    If the client is seriously obese…can we do dis….?

  11. December 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm — Reply

    If you enjoy foam rolling, I truly encourage you to investigate Yamuna® Body Rolling. Yamuna’s cutting edge techniques take foam rolling to a much deeper and therapeutic level, creating sustainable changes in muscle length, balance and structural alignment. The ball designed for the practice comes in different sizes and densities and provides a much more satisfying and complete release than the foam roller. Rather than randomly rolling back and forth as in foam rolling, you only roll in one direction, from origin to insertion of the muscles, moving in the direction of the muscle fibers and you always roll out both sides, creating balance in the entire body. The balls can safely go in places a foam roller cannot and sinks much deeper into the body than foam. I have been a practitioner for over 10 years, and use it with my clients with very dramatic and exciting results. Check it out, if you’re curious! http://www.holistichealthrevolution.com/yamunareg-body-rolling.html

  12. February 19, 2015 at 2:57 pm — Reply

    Excellent post!

    I myself posted an article explaining how to use a foam roller which can be found here: http://fitness-mojo.net/use-foam-roller/

  13. April 25, 2015 at 11:58 pm — Reply

    Great post and excellent explanation of SMR.

  14. […] Foam rolling is applying gentle, consistent pressure to a sore or tender muscle through a device like the one picture above. That pressure will send a signal from your muscle to your brain telling it to relax. If you are familiar with a massage, then, you can think of foam rolling as a self-massage. […]

  15. August 27, 2015 at 4:00 am — Reply

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  16. September 17, 2015 at 2:16 am — Reply

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  17. September 29, 2015 at 8:01 pm — Reply

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  18. October 12, 2015 at 11:49 am — Reply

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  21. Mark Harman
    November 18, 2015 at 11:43 pm — Reply

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  44. […] Have your client foam roll (self-myofascial release) “hot spots.” These are the areas where you noticed imbalances when you assessed your client. This should take five minutes. […]

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  47. […] As a result of overtime work, those muscles end up working too much. At this point, we simply want to calm the muscles. One of the easiest ways to calm the muscles down is through self-massage. Self-massage is also known as trigger point release. […]

  48. […] “Lie on one side with the arm closest to the ground outstretched with thumb facing upwards. Place the foam roller under the arm in the axillary region. Slowly roll back and forth to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Repeat on other side (NASM).” […]

  49. […] Yoga has tools to relieve tense, knotted muscles in the neck or back.  Students can apply self-myofascial release with foam rollers, which helps promote relaxation, repair past injuries and encourage physical […]

  50. […] with self-myofascial release (foam rolling) to loosen up any tight muscles. Then warm up with movements like the ones the client will be doing […]

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  54. […] the foam roller is great for everyone. You can read more about the importance of foam rolling here. […]

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  58. […] Self-myofascial release (SMR) using a foam roll, lacrosse or tennis ball, or other device to help improve range of motion (how? check this out.) […]

  59. […] in the NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training text, this is one of the primary reasons why self-myofascial release should be integrated into most exercise […]

  60. […] NASM’s Corrective Exercise Continuum consists of first inhibiting the overactive muscles with self-myofascial release (SMR), lengthening the muscles which were identified as being shortened, then activating the underactive […]

  61. March 31, 2017 at 9:55 pm — Reply

    […] the Corrective Flexibility category, Figures 1 through 4 below describe self-myofascial release (SMR), static stretching (SS), and active stretching (AS) techniques to increase glenohumeral internal […]

  62. […] affordable (about $20), using a foam roller is like having a massage. The foam roller is a form of self myofascial release , which essentially means that you are rolling out the knots in your muscles which can become very […]

  63. […] Before you exercise, use a foam roller to bring awareness to your body, paying attention to any extra-sensitive spots to help increase blood flow and stimulate proprioceptors.  This can also be performed post-workout as well. Learn more about how to foam roll and why it’s useful. […]

  64. […] S. (2017) Foam Rolling- Applying the Technique of Self-myofascial Release. [Online] Available from: http://blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-releas… [Accessed 21 April 2017]. […]

  65. […] I said before, SMR offers many more benefits that stretching ever thought it could. SMR benefits include shorter recovery time, fewer hamstring injuries, reduced soreness, improved range of […]

  66. May 2, 2017 at 5:27 pm — Reply

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  77. August 26, 2017 at 7:08 am — Reply

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  80. October 20, 2017 at 11:34 am — Reply

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