Foam Rolling – What is it?
If you’re a member of a gym, you’ve likely seen foam rollers around the functional area. They are the cylindrical tubes that range from smooth, pointed to hard as a rock. When foam rollers first made their way onto gym floors, many weren’t sure how to use them or even what they were. Now, they’re a staple in most fitness fanatic shows. The foam roller, also known as SMR or auto-myofascial release, involves applying the correct amount of pressure to specific trigger points on your body.
What are the benefits of the foam roller?
The benefits of SMR are many. First, SMR increases blood flow throughout your body. One of the inexplicable problems that people face these days is poor circulation. So before you buy all the compression sleeves on the market, give SMR a try to see if the problem subsides. SMR also helps increase your range of motion, thereby improving your overall movement. Additionally, SMR can lower your risk of injury and help you recover through intense training sessions faster.
When is the optimal time to do SMR?
One of the most common questions from clients is: “When should I do my SMR / Foam Rolling, before or after training?” The answer is both. Before your workout, it’s ideal to foam your trigger points and then move on to your dynamic stretching routine. A cool down foam roll post-workout is also beneficial, but if time in the gym is short, opt to do it before your workout.
What Causes Trigger Points / Tight Muscles?
Another common question from customers is why do they have these specific trigger points and areas of pain when they roll foam? This is a question that will be different for each individual. There are many factors that explain why we have these areas of pain and tight muscles. As we age, our level of fitness and flexibility may decrease, which can cause muscle strain, but some of the more common factors to consider are:
Amount of training and intensity involved
Rest (lack of it)
Other lifestyle factors
How does SMR work?
By putting pressure on the foam roller itself, deep compression helps to break or relax tight muscles that can form between layers. Here are some photos of the most common foam laminating techniques. After determining the trigger areas, gently roll over those areas for 20 to 30 seconds until you begin to feel the pain dissipate. SMR is a technique, similar to training, that takes time to improve. Focus on the areas that are most painful on a daily basis and a great improvement in fitness, flexibility and well-being will soon be apparent.
Typical Foam Lamination Movements
1. Gastrocnemius (calf muscle)
One of the most common places of stiffness is the calf area, especially in women. Posture and high heels can exacerbate pain, but by ensuring that the muscles are broken, the squat technique will improve dramatically.
Position the roller just below the top of your calf muscle. Push yourself up for maximum pressure and twist back and forth until you feel the tightest part of the muscle. Then twist or hold it over the tight muscle until the pain subsides. Repeat on the other side.
2. TFL / IT band
The TFL (tensor fascia lata) located at the top of the hip is connected to the IT band (iliotibial band) lower towards the knee. This is another area that can become extremely tight and painful adhesions develop. Again, this can affect how you squat and perform other exercises as well.
Lying on your side, place the roller under your hips. Use your elbows to push yourself up and begin rolling slowly from the TFL to the end of the TI band. It is recommended that when starting this roll, a softer roll is used until flexibility improves in this area.
3. Adductor / VMO
In a prone position, place the roller on the inner thigh. Stand on your elbows and with pressure, roll from the top of the adductors (inner thigh) to the top of the inner knee (vastus medialis oblique).
4. Piriformis and buttocks
The piriformis is a small muscle located deep in the hip joint near the gluteus maximus. Because this muscle is close to the sciatic nerve, when it is tight, it can cause the nerve to swell and spasm.
Sitting on the roller, cross one leg over the other, lie down, and roll back and forth until the pain is relieved. This movement will also help relieve tension in your glutes.
5. Lattisimus Dorsi
Latissimus dorsi, also known as lats, is one of the most overlooked areas in SMR. The lats are a large muscle group and, if tight, can cause a variety of problems. It is the origin of the most common problems: neck tension, shoulder pain and dysfunction, and back pain in general.
Lying on your side, place the roller between your armpit and your upper back. Lift your hips and roll back and forth until the tension begins to decrease.
6. Back muscles
It is not always recommended to roll the foam back shown in the photo above, as the roll does not tend to have the difficult areas of tension. But if your back only needs a full stretch, this position can be a great relief. If there are specific areas around the back that need a little more detail, a tennis ball or massage ball would be more suitable for this.
7. Quadriceps / Thighs
The quadriceps are also quite a large muscle group and have a tendency to accumulate a lot of lactic acid during training. Without a doubt, after sabotaging the leg extension machine, this is fantastic for stretching the muscle and providing much-needed relief.
With the foam roller in the group, carefully lie on top making sure the roller is on top of the quad muscle. Supporting yourself on your elbows, roll up and down slowly until the tension is relieved.
SMR is an extremely important technique to add to your current training and fitness program. Not only will it improve your technique and performance in the gym, but it will also work to prevent injury and reduce recovery times. So be sure to do your daily foam roller.