Myofascial Release Part 3
I got some feedback from readers that I’m writing a little too technically. Sorry everyone, when I get in science mode it’s hard to get out! This time around I’ll try my best to make things as understandable as possible, but feel free to comment with questions or requests for further explanation.
The next area I want to address regarding SMR is how it affects performance. After reading about what’s happening in the myofascial system to create painful trigger points it’s easy to see that doing SMR regularly is probably a good thing. However, as with any training method, it is important to know when and how to implement the foam roller to maximize the benefit.
In searching for scientific research on this topic I must admit there is little. I found only one study and one thesis that actually tested performance measures after using the foam roller. There were no studies to measure how it affects running or cycling, which I know is an area of interest for many of my readers. The studies that I did find measured multiple factors. In general, if I mention a difference occurring it means the effect of the foam roller was statistically significant, which means the effect was enough for us to care.
One study looked at quadriceps function without doing any SMR, and after doing 2 1-minute bouts of SMR on a PVC+foam roller. They measured isometric strength (strength of the muscle in a static position), range of motion, and other factors at 2 and 10 minutes after foam rolling. They found that the muscles were able to activate as well and produce similar amounts of force with and without performing SMR. When they measured range of motion, subjects’ ROM at the knee increased an average of 9 degrees after SMR. Another interesting result of the study was that for the control condition (no SMR) as range of motion increased, strength decreased. When the subjects performed SMR and were tested again, range of motion no longer affected strength. The researchers also noted that the increases in range of motion they measured were similar to studies measuring the effects of static stretching, with the difference that SMR did not decrease muscle strength production while static stretching did.
Another study compared a general warm-up only, general and dynamic warm-up, and general warm-up and SMR on plyometric power measured through jump height. The foam roller was done on the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes for one minute per muscle group. Subjects were tested for performance after each type of warm-up on 3 different days with at least one day rest in-between. They were tested on three different jumps:
- squat jump-subjects held a 90 degree squat position for 2 seconds then jumped as high as possible
- countermovement jump-subjects squat down and immediately jump as high as possible with no pause
- depth jump-subjects stand on a .5m (~20 inch) box, step down to land on both feet and jump as high as possible upon landing
The analysis showed that the dynamic warm-up increased the height of the countermovement jump, but no other differences were found. In this study, the foam roller had no effect on power production.
For now, this is all we have to go on regarding foam rolling and performance. It’s not much, but what we can get from this is that range of motion is improved with no decrease in performance with the foam roller, at least in strength and power exercises. Although we cannot assume the outcome would be the same for endurance activities like running and cycling, we are at least one step closer in understanding how SMR affects muscle force production. In my next entry I’ll make my recommendations for what I believe is the best way to implement SMR into your training program, and how to do it. Thanks for reading!
MacDonald, G.Z., Penney, M.D.H., Mullaley, M.E., et al. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.
Fama, B.J., Bueti, D.R. The Acute Effect Of Self-Myofascial Release On Lower Extremity Plyometric Performance. (2011). Theses and Dissertations, Sacred Heart University.