So why do trainers keep bugging you to use that $%#@ foam roller?
Your first guess might be that they just want you to suffer. Though there may be an element of truth to that it’s not their primary motivation. Foam Rolling is a form of myofascial release, rather self-myofascial release since you’re doing it to yourself.
So there is your answer. Your trainer wants you to release your myofascials. Wait! What?
You may have heard that term before. Some you actually know what it means and most of you probably have a passing idea of what it might be. So that everyone is on the same page, let’s clarify. The word is latin in origin. The first part myo- refers to muscle tissue. The second part –fascial refers to the fascia or the tough membrane that wraps around individual muscle fibers, muscles and groups of muscles. Fascia acts to support and connect the muscle tissues (and other types of tissues) together. The theory is that imbalances occur within muscle and fascia leading to pain, tension and restricted movement of the muscles. Though it’s not implied in “myofascial”, nerves and other sensory organs within the muscle also play a role in these imbalances. Many different metaphors are used to describe imbalances: knots, adhesions, trigger points, etc. These imbalance vary in degree and can involve a few muscle fibers and their surrounding fascia, several areas within a muscle or even entire muscles or groups of muscles.
The benefits that your trainer wants you to get from foam rolling include(1):
- Correction of muscle imbalances
- Muscle relaxation
- Improved joint range of motion
- Improved neuromuscular efficiency
- Reduced soreness and improved tissue recovery
- Suppression/reduction of trigger point sensitivity and pain
- Decreased neuromuscular hypertonicity
- Provide optimal length-tension relationships
- Decrease the overall effects of stress on the human movement system
If you’ve never used the foam roller it’s best to get some instruction from your personal trainer, though the principle is relatively simple. You will use your own body weight to pin the target muscle onto the foam roller. Normally this is done with the roller on the floor but walls and other stationary objects can also be used to counter your bodyweight. With the foam roller in place you will follow the direction of the muscle fibers for the full length of the target muscle. Slowly roll the targeted area until the most tender spot is found. Hold on that spot while relaxing the targeted muscle and the discomfort reduces; between 30 seconds and 90 seconds(1). There are many areas of the body you need to exercise caution with, notably the neck, ribs and low back. You also should be familiar with the attachment points of your target muscle so I’ll reinforce my recommendation to get professional instruction if you’ve never used a foam roller. Further, Foam rolling is not appropriate for people with certain medical conditions including those with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or any organ failure, bleeding disorders, or contagious skin conditions(1). So get advice from your doctor prior to foam rolling or starting any fitness routine.
Foam rollers come in a wide variety of densities and texturized surfaces and are one of the more popular tools for self myofascial release. Self myofascial release can be done with a variety of other tools including medicine balls, softballs, golf balls, blocks, etc. Using different tools will help to reach target muscle in ways that foam rollers can’t so get some suggestion from your trainer on which tools will work best for your situation
1. Penney, Stacey (2013, August 21). FOAM ROLLING- APPLYING THE TECHNIQUE OF SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE. Retrieved from http://blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-release/
Kevin McCullough is a certified Personal Trainer, Massage Therapist and Nutrition Educator.