When it comes to foam rolling, I've noticed a lot of people haphazardly rolling around back and forth, not knowing that there is an actual method to the madness. Foam rolling, when done correctly, can be very beneficial and I want to make sure you're reaping all the benefits!
Let’s talk about the art of foam rolling.
Foam rollers can come in all shapes and sizes, densities and textures. Despite the colloquial name, they can even come in different materials. You can have a rubber roller, a plastic roller, the classic foam roller, or a PVC pipe. Choosing a foam roller will depend solely on you and your body’s ability to handle the pressure that will be applied to it. The harder the roller, the more pressure there will be. The softer the roller, the less pressure there will be. If you’ve never foam rolled before in your life, I recommend starting out with a softer roll. This will allow your body to adjust, and ensure that you will be able to hold the pressure for the recommend time.
The Purpose of Foam Rolling
Regardless of their differences, all rollers have one objective: to break up adhesions in muscle and restore the muscle back to its optimal level of function. It does this by taking advantage of some of our body's defense mechanisms.
Autogenic inhibition is the inhibitory effect on muscle spindles that occurs when neural impulses sensing tension are greater than impulses causing contraction. In laymen terms, it is the sudden relaxation of a muscle caused by extreme tension. The muscle does this to avoid excessive stress and possible injury.
Myofascial adhesions are portions of a muscle that have developed hardened bands of fibrotic muscle fibers. The bands occur as a result from heightened activity in the muscle spindles. The excited spindles cause microspasms, which eventually form contracted adhesions (knots). These adhesions reduce the elasticity of the muscle and can lead to an array of biomechanical issues. If left untreated, the adhesions can eventually cause a permanent change in the soft tissue structure.
This is where foam rollers come into play.
Self-Myofascial Release (AKA Foam Rolling)
Self-myofascial release, also known as foam rolling, is a stretching technique that focuses on the neural and fascial systems of the body. The goal is to apply pressure to a mysofascial adhesion and force autogenic inhibition. The back and forth, massage type rolling method does not produce autogenic inhibition. This is because the muscle does not perceive it as extreme and excessive tension. It's too quick to have any real effect.
In order to trigger autogenic inhibition, sustained pressure must be applied to the tender adhesion for a minimum of 30 seconds. This will increase the body's awareness of the tension and decrease the muscle spindle's contraction activity allowing them to straighten out.
The Art of Foam Rolling
Step 1: Perform an exploratory search for adhesions on a given muscle. The adhesion will be a tender area and can even feel solid underneath or ontop of the foam roller.
Step 2: Hold pressure on the most tender area of the muscle for a minimum of 30 seconds. Remember, this is where the magic happens. The extreme tension will force the muscle to relax.
Step 3:Move on to another area and repeat.