Blog #4: How to foam roll – explaining myofascial release - Performance Training Academy

On our Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training course, we have put a lot of effort into delivering  practical workshops that introduces a learner to not only different training methods but also other techniques that fitness professionals should have in their repertoire.

One such technique is that of Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), this is done using a Foam Roller. We always get a positive response to this workshop as it is a technique that a lot of individuals have not had much or any experience in. In fact following the workshop a lot of learners actually purchase their own Foam Roller to use on themselves and on their clients.

This technique has really been embraced by the fitness industry and utilised on all different genres of athletes, from endurance athletes to strength athletes alike. The foam roller itself has now become a standard piece of kit in most gyms, unfortunately though a lot of gym members are not always sure of what to do with it or what it is for.

Why apply Self-Myofascial Release with a Foam Roller?

SMR focuses on the ‘ fascial’ and ‘neural’ systems of the body.

The fascial system comprises of fibrous connective tissues that surrounds structures within our bodies, such as muscle, bone (Periosteum), nerves and blood vessels. Some fascias bind structures together while others permit movement, allowing a gliding movement.  When it comes to SMR, we are concerned with the muscle fascias, Epimysium, Perimysium and Endomysium. These fascias surround the muscles, fascicles and muscle fibres and when this connective tissue is working efficiently it should allow the underlying muscle to glide smoothly in movement without friction.

SMR not only focuses on the fascial system of the body but also the neural system, specifically the Golgi Tendon Organs and Muscle Spindles, Proprioceptors.

Both of the neural and fascial systems of the body can be affected by negative mechanical factors that can cause the body to recognise injury within the body. These factors can stem from one of the following:

  • Poor posture and lack of flexibility
  • Repetitive motions
  • Dysfunctional movements or Trauma
  • Overuse and even Disuse

One of or a combination of these can cause a cycle of injury:

Tissue trauma – Inflammation – Muscle Spasm – Adhesions – Altered neuromuscular control – Muscle imbalance

If not corrected, activity can cause this cycle to repeat. It is the adhesions element of the injury cycle that I would like to focus on, if not treated adhesions can cause permanent change to the soft tissue structure .

Adhesions can be described as when the muscle fascia and the underlying muscle become stuck together. This is felt as pain, soreness and reduced flexibility or range of movement. Overuse or trauma causes tears in fascia, if some parts of the fascia don’t repair properly they then stick to underlying muscle, stopping your body from performing strong and natural movements. For a muscle to function, the fibres need to be able to glide smoothly alongside one another, but when stuck together they cannot do this and the affected area will not function, contract or stretch. Over time, a local area of muscle fibres can mat together into a hard lump, or knot.

SMR  focuses on alleviating these adhesions, also known as ‘trigger points’ or ‘knots’, to restore optimal muscle motion and function. So how does rolling with a foam roller assist in the repair of adhesions, it is a similar effect that you would get from sports massage albeit not as targeted or effective. The pressure of the foam roller on the trigger point causes the Golgi Tendon Organ, which detects excessive tension on a muscle, to inhibit the Muscle Spindles, receptors running parallel to muscle fibres that detect change in length and stimulates a myotatic reflex causing muscles to contract.By inhibiting the muscle spindles it allows the muscle fibres to stretch, unknot and realign. It also breaks down any scar tissue, soft tissue and adhesions.

What are the benefits of applying SMR?

  • Correction of muscle imbalances
  • Improved range of movement and flexibility
  • Aids muscle recovery and reduces soreness
  • Improved neuromuscular efficiency and movement efficiency
  • Inhibits overactive muscles
  • Decreases the overall effects of stress on the human movement system

To roll simply roll the target muscle for 30s – 2mins, if you find a tender area or ‘trigger point’ maintain pressure and small movement for 30s -60s. Roll both prior to training with warm muscles and post training, sometimes even during.

The main target muscles would consist of

  • Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Tibialis Anterior
  • Hamstrings and Quadriceps
  • Tensor Fascia Latea, Iliotibial Tract (IT band, this however is debatable, see below), adductors
  • Gluteals, Piriformis
  • Latissimus Dorsi and Rhomboids, mid to lower Trapezius

Be careful with the Iliotibial Tract, or stay clear of rolling altogether. The IT Band is not a muscle but a fibrous reinforcement of the Fascia Latae muscle. Because the IT band itself is pretty much a tendon, rolling it will not always release tension. You are better off rolling the muscles that pull on the IT Band, specifically the Tensor Fascia Latea (TLF ) Gluteus Medius and Maximus. Because the Vastus Lateralis muscle of the Quadricep group sits underneath the IT Band, tight TLF and Gluteals can cause the IT Band to be pulled taught against the Vastus Lateralis causing their connective tissues to adhere to one another. Foam rolling directly on top of the IT Band can also cause this to happen. My advice would be to roll the TLF and Gluteals only.

When to Roll!

The technique of SMR can be done Pre, Post and During activity. Preferably after a slight warm up. It can even be done at home, all you need is a foam roller and the knowledge to apply. It will all assist in the benefits listed above.

Here are some videos to help with your foam rolling, stretching and mobility routines:

Video #1 – The PTA mobility routine

Video #4: The PTA foam rolling routine

Trailer for our Mobility and Myofascial Release practical workshop

You can also further your learning on this subject by attending our Mobility and Myofascial Release practical workshop:

Click here for more details

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