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What Is Foam Rolling & How To Do It

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a self myofascial release (SMR) technique used by athletes and physical therapists around the world to aid in the recovery and maintenance of muscle. Self myofascial release is really just a fancy, scientific term for self massage. Traditionally performed with a foam roller, SMR can also be performed with simple everyday items. Some of these include:

  • PVC pipe
  • Rolling pin
  • Filled water bottle
  • Any dense ball shaped object such as a tennis ball or golf ball
  • Any object that will allow for you to move freely over it

Note: The smaller the object/surface area, the more intense and acute the release.

What Is Fascia?

What Is Foam Rolling & How To Do It - fascia

Image of living fascia at 25 X magnification taken with an endoscopic camera by Dr. J. C. Guimberteau. Note: seperation is not normal. This is due to surgery and instruments used to obtain this image.

Fascia is a specialised interwoven system of the body which not only individually wraps the components of the human form, but also binds the structures of the body together – muscle, bone, nerve, organs etc. Fascia has a very close resemblance to a spiders webbing and was commonly overlooked in medical journals as the fascia surrounding muscle was removed to perform research. Much like the trees in the forest, it was ignored because it is literally everywhere. Strenuous exercise can cause fascia to become dehydrated through lost fluids (sweat). Hydrated fascia is healthy fascia. Fascia is much like a sponge. When a sponge is dry it becomes brittle and can be easily damaged with very little force. A wet sponge however is easily pliable and improves fascial movement around working muscle. This also improves range of motion and overall posture. Maintain fascial health by consuming water during exercise and allow for ample recovery post exercise.

Benefits of Healthy Fascia from Foam Rolling:

  • Aids in the prevention of injuries
  • Improves flexibility and posture
  • Ensures proper alignment of the muscle fibers, blood vessels, nerves, and other tissues within the muscle itself
  • Transmits forces and loads evenly throughout the entire muscle
  • Creates a uniformly smooth surface that essentially “lubricates”the various surfaces that come in contact with each other during movement

Most injuries stem from unhealthy fascia. Unhealthy fascia can lead to scarring. Scarring restricts movement of fascia and therefore muscle. This restriction of movement can lead to a pandora’s box of injuries as load tension is unevenly distributed throughout muscle. In extreme cases this uneven distribution of force may lead to postural misalignment through uneven muscular balance (agonist/antagonist muscle groups).

How SMR / Foam Rolling Works

SMR is the breakdown of fascial scarring tissue to allow for fluid movement. It achieves this through the promotion of blood and oxygen flow whilst actively stretching fascia. By ‘wrapping’ the muscle around an object – foam roller, pvc pipe, tennis ball etc an active stretch is created within the fascia. Movement and compression whilst in this stretched state breaks down scarring and releases fascial tension.

How To Do It

  • Simply apply foam roller or SMR object of choice to tight muscle and roll back and forth. Working with the grain of muscle fibers works best
  • Find a ‘hotspot’ and hold
  • Allow the muscle to relax over SMR object
  • Take deep breaths to assist with relaxation
  • Once muscle is relaxed continue rolling and find a new hotspot
  • Repeat as necessary

Below is an example of how to foam roll the hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are often the root cause of lower back pain. The same SMR principles apply to other muscles. grid_oxy

  1. In a seated position on the floor, place foam roller behind knee where calf muscle ends and hamstrings begin – Its always best to work one muscle at a time throughout the entire length
  2. Place hands on floor and slowly ‘skateboard’ yourself forward allowing the foam roller to roll up the hamstrings towards the glute
  3. Using hands propel yourself back to starting position
  4. Take note of any ‘hotspots’ along the way. Congratulations you’ve found some scarring!
  5. After a few passes, return to ‘hotspots’ and allow for roller to penetrate muscle
  6. Hold position for a count of ten seconds whilst trying to relax through deep breathing
  7. Continue rolling until tension is released

It Hurts So Good!What Is Foam Rolling & How To Do It - hurts so good

“No pain, no gain”. This omen could not be any more true for SMR. As the muscle contorts itself around the SMR object to activate the stretch, it’s best to stay relaxed to minimise soreness. Soreness however, is the tell tale sign of fascia tension. As the tension releases the soreness will subside. Push through the pain. Your body will eventually thank you for it.

Summary

  • Foam rolling is imperative to myofascial health
  • Healthy fascia reduces the risk of injuries
  • Healthy fascia improves posture, muscle balance, range of motion and strength
  • Stay hydrated throughout training and allow for ample recovery post training to maintain fascial health