As featured on Figure Athlete.
When it comes to tight muscles, there is one simple tool that’ll serve you better than just about any other option. Yes, stretching is excellent for lengthening the muscle; but this little baby targets the tone of the muscle as well, thereby doing something that stretching alone will never do.
I present to you the foam roller.
Get that Lean Muscles
Foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release (SMR), is essentially just like getting a deep tissue massage. The difference is, you control the pressure and areas of concentration; plus, it doesn’t cost you $80 a pop!
SMR allows you to reach and properly stimulate tense, tight areas of your entire body, relaxing those muscles and releasing pressure — which in turn makes them soft and supple.
The entire of goal of SMR is to stretch the fascia (connective tissue that supports and protects the body), releasing bonds between the fascia, integument, muscles, and bones.
These adhesions develop throughout life as areas of major muscle imbalances, knots, and scar tissue from physical trauma; they’re also known as trigger points.
Alleviating these knots and tightness will restore normal flexibility, range of motion, and balance to the body. By rolling over these areas, the fascia is manipulated, causing it to realign and reorganize itself in a more functional manner.
According to many physical therapists, trigger points can put a great amount of strain on other tissues of the body in order to compensate for the weaknesses found in those tight areas.
This process will then cause further breakdown, which as you might guess, leads to a downward spiral of issues.
You can prevent things from spinning out of control by taking care of your muscles. Keep them flexible and healthy before you’ve developed more injuries than you can count on both hands!
In order to get started, you’ll need to purchase a foam roller. You can find foam rollers at most local health and fitness stores or online. There are even rollers that come with a DVD, showing further demonstrations (beyond my descriptions below) on how to complete each exercise correctly.
Once you have your roller, its time to get started. You can typically complete a total body program in less than fifteen minutes, and by the time you’re done, I promise you’ll feel like you just got worked over by Helga and her magic fingers of steal.
Throughout the whole circuit the technique remains the same: Start out by placing the foam roller between the muscle and the floor. Use your body weight to place pressure on the muscle being worked, and slowly roll until you feel it hit a tight (tender) spot.
Hold that spot until you feel the tenderness release by about 75 percent.
Yes, it may hurt a little to hold the tender trigger area under pressure — but once it releases, you’ll feel like Jell-O. Besides, the more you do the program, the less trigger spots you’ll have.
I won’t lie; you’ll most likely find lots of knots when you go through the circuit for the very first time. The good news is that your muscles will be noticeably longer and leaner, and your mobility will increase overall after just a few of these rolling sessions.
The SMR Program
Place foam roll mid-level of lower leg, lift your body up off of the grounding, using hands placed on the floor behind you. Cross your ankles to increase pressure on the area. Roll from back of knee, slowly toward ankle. Perform rolling with foot turned up, out, and in.
Tibialis Anterior (Shin)
Position the body face down with outer shin muscle on foam roll, balancing on forearms. It is important to maintain proper core control (abs drawn in and tight glutes) to prevent lower back from drooping. Roll from knee to ankle.
Adductor (Inner Thigh)
Extend the thigh and place foam roll in the groin (inner thigh) region with your body face down on the floor, using forearms to balance. Roll back and forth from groin to knee.
Hamstring (Back of Thigh)
Place hamstring on the roll with hips unsupported. Roll from knee toward posterior hip.
Sit on the foam roll with one foot crossed over the opposite knee. Roll back and forth on posterior hip region. Increase the stretch by pulling the knee in toward the opposite shoulder.
Quadriceps (Front of Thigh)
Position the body face down with quadriceps muscle on foam roll, balancing on forearms. It’s important to maintain proper core control (abs drawn in and tight glutes) to prevent lower back from drooping. Roll from pelvic bone to knee, emphasizing the outside thigh.
Tensor Fascia Latae (Outer Front Hip) and Iliotibial Band (Outer Thigh)
Position yourself on your side, with the foam roll placed between outer hip and the floor. Your bottom leg is raised, parallel to floor, and top leg is bent, with foot on the floor. Maintain head in neutral position. Roll from just below the hip joint down the outside thigh to the knee.
This one may hurt quite a bit at first, so go slow and remember to breathe deeply.
Latissimus Dorsi (Side)
Lie on your side, with arm outstretched and foam roll placed in underarm area. Your thumb should be pointed up in order to pre-stretch the lats. Roll up and down the underarm and side of rib cage.
This one is a bit tricky. Stay in the same position as in the latissimus dorsi SMR, except move the foam roll to the top of your tricep (near the armpit). Slowly roll up and down the tricep from elbow to shoulder, using the weight of your head to increase pressure on the trigger points.
Rhomboids and Thoracic (Upper, Mid-Back)
Place hands behind head or across chest and place foam roll across shoulder blades, between your back and the floor. Raise hips until unsupported, again keeping core muscles tightened. Roll from shoulder blades to mid-back.
- Spend a minute or two on each area. When a trigger point arises, hold for 30-45 seconds.
- Focus on one leg at a time in order to increase pressure on specific trigger areas.
- Breath slowly and deeply, in and out, as this will help to alleviate the tensing of the body when triggers are found.
- Complete SMR four to five times per week or more if needed, ideally before and after training.
Self-myofascial release should become a part of your normal fitness program, just like stretching. With time, you’ll see that the foam roller is a fantastic addition to your supplementation, training, and diet regimens.
Get to rolling and your tight, tense tissues will thank you!
Note: Those with chronic circulatory problems and chronic pain diseases (fibromyalgia) should NOT perform SMR.
Self-Myofascial Release Techniques. Alan Russell A.T.C., CSCS, PES, and Tyler Wallace, BS, PES. NASM Website.
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