Myofascial release

Myofascial release, also called foam rolling, is meant to release the “knots” in your muscles. These “knots” are known as myofascial adhesions. Fascia is the connective tissue that wraps and bundles muscles together. Myofascial adhesions develop due to a variety of causes such as stress, overuse, training, underuse, movement imbalances, and injuries. Myofascial release can help you feel better and perform better in your workouts by releaving these adhesions. Ignoring them can lead to further dysfunction.

The objective of myofascial release is to help an area to relax, and applying too much pressure can reflexively cause the opposite response.  When applying pressure to a sensitive area, you may experience some discomfort.  But you can learn how to control the amount of pressure and avoid pain. It is better to start with less pressure than too much. Once you are comfortable with your level of control, apply pressure to the most sensitive areas for approximately 20-30 seconds.

You may need to prioritize adhesions if you have multiple tight sites. When prioritizing, address the muscles you are working on that day and/or address the areas that are most sensitive.

Myofascial release can be done prior to and after your workouts. If performed before your workout, only focus on problematic areas. Myofascial release is meant to reduce tension and relax a muscle. Doing this to a healthy muscle may relax it to the point that the muscle is desensitized and affect its ability to contract during your workout. But for muscles that carry excessive tension, spending time on the front end of training can help reduce poor and imbalanced movements during your workout. Post-workout rolling can focus on all of major muscles worked, with an extra emphasis on the areas that appear problematic.

Myofascial release can help improve symmetry in the body.  By taking a few minutes during each workout, or each day if necessary, to work out adhesions, can help prepare for, and recover from, exercise more effectively. Tension can be released from the area, while blood flow and nutrients can increase, leading to healthier muscle tissue and a more effective fitness program.

Myofascial release exercises

Mid-upper back

  • Lean back against the roller, positioning it beneath your shoulder blades.
  • Raise your hips slightly and maneuver your body up and down to find sensitive areas.
  • Keep the roller between you shoulder-blade region. Avoid the neck and lower back, where there is little support.
  • Take slow, deep breaths.

Calves

  • In a seated position, support your body with your hands behind you to prop yourself up.
  • Place one leg on the roller starting at the lower calf (above the Achilles).
  • Roll your calf by moving your body slowly toward the roller.
  • Search for sensitive areas along the calf.
  • Turn the leg inward and outward to explore more areas.

Inner thigh

  • Begin in a face-down position and place the roller parallel to your body.
  • Work your way slowly to the upper groin area until you identify the most sensitive area.

Lats

  • Rest the roller at a slight angle toward the back side of your armpit.
  • Rock your body forward and backward and up and down to search for sensitive areas.

Gluteus maximus/Piriformis

  • For the glutes (Figure A), rest your weight your left elbow with the roller above the hipbone. Find the sensitive area and switch sides and compare.
  • For the piriformis (Figure B), which is often a sensitive area, sit on the roller and support your body with your left hand on the floor. Cross your left ankle onto the right knee and search for sensitive area. Switch sides and compare.
  • Use contact points on the floor to control the amount of pressure.

Outer thigh

  • The outer thigh is highly sensitive. Use caution and ease in.
  • From a side-plank position, place your right elbow on the floor and your left hand and left foot on the floor in front of your body. (Note: These are your main contact points to control the amount of weight you rest on the roller.)
  • Use contact points on the floor to control the amount of pressure.
  • Start above the outside of the knee and slowly maneuver your body over the roller toward your hip.

Types of foam rollers

For additional information, check out this article by Pete McCall, ACE Health and Fitness Expert: How and When to Use Foam Rollers and Myofascial Release in an Exercise Program.

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