Foam Rollers: Fad or Vital Tool?
When looking for new techniques to enhance your training routine. You will more than likely be drawn to the reps-sets that promise less time while allowing you to achieve your fitness goals faster. If your still in that mindset that foam rolling is for everyone else, then you could be missing out on an effective tool aiding in physique-building, recovery, and injury prevention.
Self-Myofascial Release Therapy
Foam rollers have been getting a lot of attention recently. This is due to their benefit in self-myofascial release or SMR. SMR Therapy commonly referred to as “the poor man’s massage” is a safe and very effective hands on technique that involves applying low gentle sustained pressure into myofascial connective tissue restrictions to alleviate pain or tension and restore motion. The low gentle pressure allows the fascia to elongate, shifting the fascia from it’s restricted state to a normal relaxed state.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a three-dimensional web that permeates the whole body. The best way to envision the expanse of the fascial system is to think of it as a layer of connective tissue (similar to a tendon or ligament) that starts with the top layer directly below the skin, and extends to two deeper layers. The fascia is a continuous system, running from the bottom of the feet through the top of the head and has three layers:
- Superficial fascia, which lies directly below the skin. It stores fat and water, allows nerves to run through it, and allows muscle to move the skin.
- Deep fascia, which surrounds and infuses with muscle, bone, nerves, and blood vessels to the cellular level.
- Deepest fascia, which sits within the dura of cranial sacral system.
When the fascia is in a healthy state it is relaxed and flexible; but, when it is restricted it is more rigid and less pliable. This restriction can cause pressure as great as 2,0000 pounds per square inch. These fascia restrictions can occur within in any and all layers.
Trigger Points and Tight Muscles
Trigger points are “knots” that develop in muscles. They are unique and can be identified because they will refer to pain. Pain referral, for our purposes, is described as the pain that is felt when pressure is applied to one area but the pain is felt or radiated in other areas.
For example, when applying pressure to your iliotibial (IT) band, pain radiates up the hip or down the leg to the ankle. When rolling on tight/sore muscles you will experience discomfort or pain. However, like stretching this pain should not be unbearable, when you are done you should feel better and looser.
What causes Trigger Points?
Trigger Points are formed from a multitude of factors that include but are not limited to:
- movement patterns
- other lifestyle factors
Our bodies learn to compensate for the stress we put them under every day, but we can exceed our ability to recover via to many intense workouts, poor posture and other lifestyle factors. This is when you need assistance using recovery techniques such as the foam roller or SMR therapy. Ideally if you have lived a perfect life with everything in balance, theoretically you should never develop these conditions.
However, I have yet to meet such a person.
How does this help?
You may be asking yourself how does this improve my training routine?
Well here is the answer! Research shows that the pain, muscle tension, diminished blood flow (decreasing both performance and recovery) that are caused by overuse, trauma or even inactivity can be remedied with SMR therapy (i.e. foam rollers). The use of a foam rollers result in more relaxed muscles , improved circulation, and more efficient stretch reflex in muscles. Imagine a bungie cord with a knot tied into it and trying to stretch it. The tension focuses on the knot (trigger point) and thus causes discomfort or pain, foam rolling remedies this problem. Bottom Line Foam Rolling and other SMR Therapies provide better performance and recovery. Start incorporating it into your training regimen and take advantage of the benefits foam rolling has to offer.