Myofascial Release Part 5
Now that we’ve reviewed so much research regarding the tissues affected by myofascial release and how, it’s time to get into how to actually perform self myofascial release (SMR) and when is the best time to do so. By the way, if you missed any of the other entries in the series just click on The Bio Mechanic above and it will link you to my blog history.
Since there’s no research on SMR and endurance sports and not much research in general on when is the best time to do SMR for most athletes, here’s my disclaimer about the recommendations I make. I’m considering what little research there is and making the best recommendations I can according to what we do know, combined with my and others’ experience using the foam roller and other SMR tools. As more research is done I may change my mind about some of this, but for now these are the best recommendations I can make.
The first step in SMR is tool selection. First of all, there are several different types of foam rollers, including eva foam, soft and hard molded foam, the grid, the rumble roller and the vibraroll. In addition to these rollers, you may also use Trigger Point Therapy tools (massage ball, quad roller, foot baller, baller block), cold roller, muscle trac massager, posture ball, and spikey ball. These items can be found in some sporting goods and running stores, and online at fitness product websites such as performbetter.com, power-systems.com, and spri.com. If you’re looking for a more economical option, SMR can easily be done with unopened 2 liter soda bottles as a substitute for the foam roller, frozen water bottles as a substitute for the cold roller, a rolling pin in place of the stick, tigertail, or muscle trac massager, and softball, baseball, tennis and golf balls instead of the myoball and foot baller. Since some SMR tools can be expensive, these alternatives are just as effective for a fraction of the price.
With all the options available, there are a couple things to consider when determining which tools will be most beneficial for you to use. One factor is to consider the area of the body on which you want to perform SMR. The size of the tool determines the surface area it will affect, and if you’re trying to release smaller muscles such as those in the lower leg, feet or shoulders it is best to use one of the smaller tools (myoball, tennis ball, etc.) Also, if you have tension deep within muscles, using one of the smaller tools can be more effective even on larger muscles. In general, the smaller the surface area the tool affects, the deeper the pressure and more effective the release will be. Another factor is the density of the tool you are using. Soft foam rollers have more give, which results in less pressure applied to the muscles. This could be good for people who are new to myofascial release and/or do not have high pain tolerance, or for use as something of a warm-up to help lightly release muscles before using a more aggressive form of release tool.
In my opinion, the best time to perform the roller can vary by the individual and the number of trigger points that are present. If you have muscles that are chronically tight or painful, I recommend at least doing SMR on these muscles on both sides of the body prior to training. For pre-training SMR, staying within the times used in the performance studies is probably best, so spending 1 minute per muscle group is sufficient. For athletes who are using SMR for treatment of tight muscles and for prevention of developing trigger points, I believe it would be beneficial to use the foam roller as a recovery tool. For recovery, you could use the roller after moderate workouts. I would be cautious rolling after really intense workouts that cause lots of soreness. In this case, there is a higher level of inflammation in the muscles (which causes the feelings of pain) and I’d be hesitant to apply too much pressure in this case. You could also use the roller in conjunction with your lower intensity or lower impact workouts such as swimming, yoga, or stretching, since there is less trauma to the muscles during these types of workouts. When using SMR as recovery, I would not hesitate to spend several minutes on areas that have lots of trigger points rather than limiting to one minute per muscle group.
There are already lots of resources for how to use the roller so rather than explain everything here I’m including links to some helpful videos to get you started. Once you get the idea of how it works, you will learn how to position your body to massage the muscles you want. As I mentioned before, for larger muscles you can try using smaller tools that will get deeper into the muscles. For example, I use a softball on my hamstrings.
You can use a golf ball for the SMR shown in this video. They mention rolling the forefoot but don’t demonstrate it. You can roll the ball between the bones in the ball of the foot, which is great relief for women who wear heels.
This video has good tips for using a small ball on the shoulders and other areas of the body. Although the video is described for seniors the tips are useful for anyone, especially if you’ve experienced tired shoulders while using the roller.
Enjoy your self massages!