Venture into any health club, physical therapy clinic, or even hotel fitness room and you’ll most likely see someone rolling themselves, either with a self-massager tool in some kind of standing position or with a cylindrical roll of some density and length on the ground. The concept, often referred to as foam rolling but more appropriately defined as self-myofascial release, has gained momentum in recent years. So why the buzz and is this something you should be doing as well? In this month’s article, we’ll explore responses to both of those questions. But first, let’s talk a little science!
The concept of self-myofascial release is based on the manipulation, and some would say communication, pressure offers to a collagen-based connective tissue surrounding and interwoven in every aspect of our body called fascia. Fascial tissue forms a three-dimensional viscoelastic matrix of structural support. By being both viscous and elastic, fascial tissue can contract or relax in response to pressure as we direct pressure to it. This occurs because of special sensory receptors found within our fascia called mechanoreceptors. Mechanoreceptors monitor changes in muscular tension, the position of our joints, how fast our limbs are moving, pressure felt, and vibration and respond by initiating relaxation. This relaxation can be the kind most of us imagine right away, that of calming our body. In fact, self-massage to our fascia has been demonstrated to improve sleep if done before going to bed because it induces a parasympathetic response in our bodies. Heart rate slows, breathing rate slows, and our tissues loosen. The relaxation can also be protective as well. Think of a time when you may have found yourself overextended, like a sudden and unexpected stretch to the back of your legs. Healthy fascial tissue will become instantaneously more elastic as well-tuned mechanoreceptors order our fascia to urgently relax. This action greatly reduces the likelihood of us straining a muscle. Self-myofascial release strategies done regularly can literally train our fascia how to relax for both our protection in unexpected over-extended positions and to relax for our peace of mind.
When you are incorporating self-myofascial release into your exercise programming, there are a few things to consider to stay safe and reap the benefits fully. For one, when working deeper go slow and listen to your body’s response to the pressure. You want to go slow, about an inch at a time holding for 5-10 seconds, to allow the pressure to be felt and the sensation to register. Remember that a primary benefit of rolling is the response pressure and movement provided via those sensory receptors to your central nervous system. To that end, you want the sensation to be felt. It may even be uncomfortable, especially if you are new to this kind of self-massage. That said, the discomfort should always remain tolerable. A good rule of thumb is to monitor your breath. If you’re able to comfortably breathe despite the pressure being uncomfortable, your method is sound. It’s when the pressure becomes so intense that you find your breath being compromised that you should consider lightening up your effort.
Another important principle is to roll toward your heart when applying deep pressure to your legs, lower or upper, or your arms. You want to do this because your veins have little valves that open and close to prevent blood from falling back down your vessel. As blood is pushed through a vessel the valve opens to allow the blood to pass through before closing again to prevent gravity from pulling it back down. If you apply too much pressure against the natural flow of your blood you can rupture valves. This can cause less favorable outcomes like varicose veins and blood pooling to occur.
Speaking of varicose veins, there are some specific situations in which you will want to have conversation with your primary care doctor before participating in self-myofascial release activities. Please look at this list and abstain from trying this until you’ve had the proper chat if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Any kind of autoimmune disorder
- History of clotting of any kind
- Inflammatory disease
- A recent injury that is still inflamed
- Varicose veins
Now that you have a solid understanding of the science surrounding self-myofascial release and some things to be considerate of when doing so, let’s discuss some of the general principles so you can get started.
For starters, I would suggest getting several tools of the trade. For broad strokes a foam roller or massager stick will be good. Nowadays you can find either one of these at any of the bigger sporting goods stores or online. Another great resource can be running shoe stores. Next, I recommend both a tennis ball-sized ball and a softball-sized ball. Now you can get an actual softball and tennis ball. I personally don’t recommend that though, especially starting out. Softballs tend to be too dense and the pressure is hard to manage effectively. Tennis balls can also be challenging because their core is hollow so crushing them is a problem. My suggestion is to find a dense yet somewhat squishy ball of both sizes. I’ve personally used training softballs (they are dense and squish some) and tennis ball-sized bouncy balls found at a toy store. Whatever you decide on, just make sure that you can stand the pressure while still feeling that your breathing is sustainable.
Next step is to educate yourself a bit about how to go about self-myofascial release. You can do a search online using “self-myofascial release techniques” or “self-myofascial release exercises” as your search words. You can visit with a personal trainer or physical therapist to learn first-hand or to ensure that what you’re doing is being done correctly. You can purchase a great book. Whatever you decide, be sure to apply the principles discussed in today’s article. Remember they were to take it slow when applying pressure and holding that pressure constant on tight spots for at least 5-10 seconds before moving on, always take the pressure toward your heart when working your limbs, keep the pressure firm without being so firm that your breath is being compromised, and get the green light from your primary care doctor if you have one or more of the risk factors that were listed.
Self-myofascial release can be a very therapeutic and rewarding part of your exercise program. If you decide it is a good fit for you, take it slow. It’s one of those activities where consistency versus intensity is key. As always, if you have any questions about anything discussed in today’s article or simply want more information, feel free to contact me directly via the “Contact” tab on our website. Simply go to our website, scroll over “Contact” and click “Contact Us” when it drops down. Write your message, and click “Submit”. I’ll be in touch.
Gregg Sinner came all the way from Boston to start his training sessions at BodyBasics! He just didn’t know it at the time when he and his wife Allison, Larry and Lois their two rescued dogs, and Bruce Springsteen their rescued rock and roll Amazon parrot drove to Tucson from the Boston area to relocate. As fortune would have it for us and for Gregg, the move provided a realization that his fitness was in need of improvement. A further prompt from his son who noticed his exhausted state while helping him unload stuff and a final encouraging nudge from his daughter who actively sought out a personal training studio for him to train at using an online app called “Thumbtack” set his current path in motion.
Since his start in November of 2016, Gregg has been incredibly diligent. Opting for twice weekly sessions, he has made measurable changes in his primary goals of both balance and flexibility. In addition, he’s added some new pursuits like improving his pushups. As a septuagenarian, Gregg recognizes how essential not only moving sound and often supports healthy aging, but also how much an engaged mind is integral. He brings a wonderful mix of focus and playful word play to every session.
In His Words: My goal is to continue the process of improving mobility and increasing strength – in order to live into an emerging personal story of improving mind, body and spirit balance. Little by slow, my trainers help me do this. In so doing, am feeling less exhausted, more positive, increasingly centered, energetic, playful, and joyful!
Welcome New and Returning Clients
The greatest compliment we can receive is a referral from one of our clients or allied health network!
Rod Freeman – found us through our website
Gretchen Elder – referred by Diana Wingfield at Oro Valley Outpatient PT
Cale Donley – referred by Lance’s wife Shanna
Beverly Bechtel – referred by Dr. Lemke
Shout outs are about us voicing victories we witness you all having at BodyBasics. We’ll keep it to our top 5 each month.
Jon Green – for achieving an all time personal bench press record of 255!
Ben Ritchie – for increasing his session duration from 30 minutes to 45 minutes!
Gregg Price – for producing so much change to his muscle tone and density that his massage therapist commented on it, not knowing he had been working out so regularly!
Richard Furash – for notably stepping up his exercise intensity during his group workouts!
Vivian Kaplan – for demonstrating incredible tenacity returning not even a week later to do some kind of workout rather than nothing at all after fracturing her tibial plateu as the result of a recent fall!
Recipe – Caprese Pasta Salad
All I can say is SO GOOD! This is a wonderful, light, refreshing salad that can be made into a complete meal. Embrace flavors of summer from fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese in this recipe!
3 oz fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb whole wheat pasta ( or substitute gluten free pasta)
1 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered
8 oz mozzarella balls quartered
1 tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- In a small food processor, combine basil and olive oil until thoroughly pureed.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pasta pot.
- Toss pasta with most of the pesto. Add quartered tomatoes and mozzarella, salt and pepper and toss with pasta and remaining pesto.
- Portion into bowls and drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar on top. Garnish with extra basil if desired.
Note: to boost the protein content we added grilled shrimp. You could add grilled chicken as well.
Nutrition Content per serving:
Calories: 343, Total Fat: 13 g (3.5 sat fat) Sodium: 278mg, Carbohydrates: 44g, Fiber: 6g, Protein: 14 g
Video – Foam Rolling 101
Chris, Kris, Myrya, Kristian, Lance, Rachel, Mike, and Ben