As both a fitness professional and athletic enthusiast the importance of unrestricted movement or movement without pain is essential to every day life. Whilst foam rolling is not the most thrilling of practices, self myofascial release (SMR) accompanied by mobility training is one of the most important features of a good training program. In fact, some would advocate that it is the most important part of a training routine.
How can you possibly maximise the effectiveness of a group of muscles in a deep squat if the connective tissue in and around the hip, knee and ankle joints is restricting the range of movement achieved by the individual performing the squat?
To understand why SMR is so important, it’s pretty essential to understand what exactly it is that you are releasing. Within every day life, poor posture, long periods of time spent sitting (in your car, at your desk, on the sofa) along with repetitive movements and trauma to the muscles through exercising (if indeed one does exercise) can create movement dysfunction within the human movement system (HMS). This dysfunction is interpreted by the body as an injury and is consequently treated as such. If the body perceives itself to be injured then it responds by producing inflammation. This activates our pain receptors and initiates a protective mechanism that increases muscular tension and causes the muscle/tissue to spasm. As a result of this spasm, adhesions (knots or now referred to as trigger points) begin to form within the soft tissue. These adhesions basically alter the elasticity of the tissue and prevents it from stretching to its full range of movement.
If left untreated, these adhesions can make permanent alterations to the structure of the soft tissue and over time the body will likely become stuck in a pattern of relative flexibility. This means that our body seeks the pattern of least resistance in order to achieve the desired movement. With time this will result in muscular imbalances, restricted mobility and movement, and injury to one or more structures of the body. Put more simply, for anyone who enjoys exercise, there is nothing worse than being 4 weeks into a 6 week training cycle and needing to take a break because your body is just too beat up and restricted by built up scar tissue.
SMR is a technique used to inhibit over active neuromyofascial tissues in the body. Here are some of the key benefits of performing SMR as part of your daily exercise routine:
1) external pressure stimulates receptors within the muscle, fascia and connective tissue to override the dysfunctional yet protective mechanism created via the inflammation injury cycle
2) sustained external pressure significantly reduces muscle pain and trigger point sensitivity
3) continued use of SMR increases flexibility of the muscle and joint range of motion
4) with increased joint motion and lengthened muscles, the individual can address the process of strengthening the weakened (previously inhibited) muscles and learning to activate and integrate these muscles in the correct sequence in order to produce functional, uninhibited movements
5) this allows the body to re-establish neuromuscular efficiency which will help the individual to contract the right muscles, with the right amount of force to produce the required movement. This in turn will help the individual to achieve greater levels of strength, muscular growth or muscular definition as the muscles will be achieving their desired outcome effectively without relying on secondary muscle groups
6) applied external pressure has been shown to increase vasodilation within the tissue. This means that it can receive adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients whilst removing harmful byproducts (via blood) to aid the process of recovery and repair
7) due to better tissue dynamics the individual experiences greater muscular contraction and a complete range of motion about the joint meaning more weight can be lifted in a more effective range of motion which equals??? Better results!!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the benefits of foam rolling. But it does highlight a number of the benefits for including this into your training. So before you hit your next gym session, grab a foam roller, a medicine ball, a PVC pipe, a hand held roller or a sturdy tennis ball/trigger point ball and tackle your pain head on. Hold tender spots for 30-90 seconds and perform what is known as “pinch and move”. Instead of moving over the trigger point repeatedly, hold the pressure directly on the trigger point and then move the associated joint. So if foam rolling your quadriceps, move up and down the foam roller until you hit a tender spot, hold yourself still on top of that spot and then contract and relax the muscle and trigger point by bending the knee and bringing your foot towards your butt. Combine this with some pre-training mobility exercises and watch how much your performance in the gym improves!