If you are of the belief that foam rolling or self-myofascial release is simply for top end athletes or the ‘hard core’, then you could be missing out on one of the most effective methods of recovery around. In addition to stretching, myofascial release is a quick and easy way to help aid recovery at very little cost. We’ve all heard of the ‘sports massage’ where (despite being put through excruciating pain for an hour) you receive huge benefits and relief but given that this can cost up to £60 per hour, a £10 roller and 20 minutes a day is a great alternative to replicate some of the benefits of this style of treatment.
What is myofascial release?
So what on Earth is myofascial release? Well, in order to make things clearer we are going to have to get technical…
The term ‘myofascial’ can be broken into two parts, ‘Myo’ means muscle and ‘fascia’ means band. Fascia, an embryological connective tissue, is a 3D continuous web of elastin and collagen fibres surrounded by a viscous fluid called the ground substance. Fascia surrounds, infuses and protects every other tissue, tendon, muscle, bone, ligament and organ of the body. In healthy conditions the fascial system is relaxed and wavy in configuration. This provides a cushioning and supportive mechanism allowing us to move safely without restriction or pain.
Following physical and emotional trauma, and through poor posture or exercise, fascia scars and hardens in the affected site and sits in a clumped state that causes pain at the sight. In a traditional sports massage, a sports physiotherapist will identify areas of fascia in which there are ‘knots’ (bands of myofascial that has clumped together) and will apply a low amount of pressure over prolonged period to help break down these knots and free up the fascia. Foam rolling is an alternative to this where the individual applies the pressure through the use of a foam roller.
What are the benefits?
Despite being painful (anyone who has had a sports massage will know what I mean), the benefits of myofascial release are numerous. From increase flexibility to improve performance, below is a list of the key ones…
- Increased blood flow around the body
- Increased range of motion
- Limits soreness
- Reduces cellulite
- Decreased risk of injury
- Decreased recovery time leading to increased sessions per week / month
- Breaks down scar tissue
- Removes Lactic Acid to aid recovery
What sort of foam roller should I use?
Now we know what myofascial release is and the benefits it can provide, the next step is to determine the right foam roller for you. The market is pretty saturated when it comes to foam rollers and there are a few things to consider when looking for your weapon of choice…
- Density– Beginners are advised to use foam rollers that are made with less dense foam to just gauge how much pressure they can handle. For those who want to apply more pressure then a denser foam could be in order.
- Durability– We all want our rollers to last, otherwise you could just as well use a PVC pipe right? The most expensive rollers aren’t always the best, but the cheapest ones are the lowest quality you’ll buy into, do go ahead and spend a couple of extra bucks on this.
- Surface Texture– In general, the best thing you can do is to start with a smooth surfaced foam roller. Give yourself some time to get used to the idea and the feeling before you even try using a square of grid surfaced roller.
For us, the best foam roller for beginners is the high density foam roller. It’s a cheaper alternative to some of the more expensive models on the market a standard high density foam roller is a great place to start. For those who are more experienced then The Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller might be a good way to go. It features several contours, which provide variety to the foam rolling experience. The contours aren’t a must have but they are a nice feature.
For an extensive list of exercises for foam rolling we recommend the following site…
When it comes to incorporating myofascial release into your workout regime, the amount you should foam roll depends on how often you exercise. We would recommend a minimum of three times per week for any training regime but daily for those who work out 6 times a week or more. Each exercise should be performed for 30-60 seconds, rolling the foam roller over the muscle in long, slow motions with an even tempo. There is no upper limit from this but overdoing it could lead to injury.
In our opinion myofascial release is a must for anyone who regularly trains. There are numerous studies that highlight the benefits of myofascial release from improved sporting performance to aiding recovery. In addition, it is significantly cheaper to use a foam roller for self-myofascial release than it is paying a physiotherapist £50 per session. We’re not saying you shouldn’t use a professional physio (as the benefits will be significant) but a bit of fitness ‘diy’ will save you significant sums of money.