Foam Rolling for Muscular Recovery
By Scott A. Jansen
Self-myofascial release, also known as “foam rolling,” has transformed from a once mysterious technique used only by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists to a familiar everyday practice for people at all levels of fitness. Release of information, technology, and accessible products have introduced a great deal of training and recovery methods to the average person.
Self-myofascial release is a fancy term for self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points. This method can be performed with a foam roller, lacrosse ball/tennis ball, or your own hands (palpation). By applying pressure to specific points on your body, you are able to aid in the recovery of muscles and assist in returning them to normal function. Normal function means your muscles are elastic, healthy, and ready to perform normally.
How do I know if I have tight muscles or “trigger points”?
Trigger points are specific “knots” that form in muscles. They are unique and can be identified because they will refer pain and feel like a lump of muscle tissue. Referred pain can most easily be described as the pain felt when pressure is applied to one area of the body, but the pain is felt or radiated in another area.
A common example of a trigger point is felt while foam rolling your iliotibial (IT) band as it causes pain to radiate up to the hip or all the way down the leg to the ankle. When rolling or working on tight/sore muscles you will experience discomfort or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done it should feel better.
Why am I doing something that hurts me?
For many, deep tissue massage is easy to understand. Ideally someone is able to work out the knots in your muscles, and it is commonly known that this process may be uncomfortable and at times painful. Self-myofascial release provides the user the ability to control the healing and recovery process by applying pressure in precise locations, because only you can feel exactly what is happening (sorry masseuses, but it’s true).
Please note, it is always recommended to consult with your physician, physical therapist, or trainer if there’s any sharp pain.
Releasing trigger points helps to reestablish proper movement patterns and pain free movement, and ultimately, to enhance performance. Utilizing stretching alone is not always enough to release muscles tightness, which is why foam rollers have thrived on the mass market. Imagine a bungee cord with a knot tied into it and then envision stretching the cord. This creates tension, stretching the unknotted portion of the muscle and the attachment points. The knot, however, has remained unaltered.
Foam rolling can assist in breaking up these muscle knots, resuming normal blood flow and function. The goal to any corrective or recovery technique is to get you back to the point of normal functioning, as if nothing was ever wrong.
What can cause trigger points and tight muscles?
Both have the same contributing factors including training, flexibility, improper movement patterns, poor posture, nutrition, dehydration, rest, stress, and other lifestyle factors. Our bodies learn to compensate for what we throw at them every day, but we can exceed our ability to recover with too many intense workouts, poor posture, and other lifestyle choices.
This is when you need assistance using recovery techniques or meeting with a professional. If you lived a perfect life with everything in balance, you would theoretically never have these conditions. However, I can attest to life being full of adversity.
How does self-myofascial release work?
Deep compression helps to break up or relax tight muscles and adhesions formed between muscle layers and their surroundings. Imagine you are tenderizing your own muscles. They should be soft and supple like a baby’s muscles. However, if our muscles are not taken care of properly, we can experience loss of flexibility, adhesions, and painful movement.
The deep compression of self-myofascial release allows normal blood flow to return and the restoration of healthy tissue. The body naturally wants to be healthy and strong, but sometimes an extra boost is needed to achieve optimal muscle and tissue health (like a B-12 shot during this cold season).
How do I learn to use a foam roll?
Areas to focus on can be identified in two different ways. The first is through evaluations. I’d recommend you schedule an appointment with one of our trainers for a free 30 minute assessment. They can properly evaluate your movements. You can also take our new GX class (foam rolling and stretching) where our instructors will assist you in discovery and educate you on the method of proper use. Secondly, trigger points and tight muscles can be found through self-exploration, utilizing the following techniques below and exploring each one.
To foam roll properly, apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group using the roller and your bodyweight. You should roll slowly, no more than one inch per second. When rolling, you’ll find areas that are tight or painful…pause for several seconds and relax as much as possible (breath…breath!). You should slowly start to feel the muscle releasing, and after a few seconds the discomfort or pain should lessen.
If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area. The goal is to restore healthy muscles; it is not to test whether you could be a Navy Seal or not. You may also use other objects to work on muscles such as a tennis ball, lacrosse ball (my favorite), or Trigger Point Therapy Kit.
Never roll a joint or bone! Avoid rolling your lower back. To target these muscles, I recommend using lacrosse or tennis balls. Also, if you are having discomfort in your neck, refer these issues to an appropriate medical professional, as these areas they can be more sensitive and require more advanced attention.
What happens after I’m done with foam rolling?
You may be sore the next day. It should feel as if your muscles have been worked, however, you should not push yourself to the point of excessive soreness. Drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and eat clean. This will help to flush your system and fuel your muscles more effectively. Give it 24-48 hours before focusing on the same area again.
In summary, with proper recovery tools like the foam roller you can see more benefits from your workouts. They will also help you be prepared to train harder and more efficiently for the next workout, possibly preventing injury and sidelining your goals.
As always, I wish you the best with movements and the healthiest habits possible this holiday season. Please consult a trainer for more efficient and healthy workout options, and stay the course in making the best version of you!
Stay Healthy and Active,
Scott A. Jansen
Magnuson Athletic Club Fitness Manager