Releasing tension with this foam rolling routine

In years gone by, the only real way of releasing tension throughout the body was a visit to a sports therapist or masseuse. This would not only cost you an arm and a leg, but almost always involved you walking away in more pain than what you went in with!

However there is an alternative available which you may or may not have been aware of. This technique is foam rolling, a.k.a self-myofascial release (SMR), essentially a means of self-massage. Initially SMR was only used by professional athletes, but is now used widely among individuals of all fitness levels and sporting backgrounds. And with rollers starting as little as £7 it is no wonder that they’re such a hot selling product.


What exactly is SMR?

As mentioned above, it is a means of self-massage aimed at releasing tension in both muscles and fascia, which is a specialised, connective tissue surrounding the muscles. Tension or adhesions within the fascia layer can be responsible for reduced flexibility and painful movement. Conventional stretching is unable to alleviate tension in this layer, but SMR can via deep compression, allowing normal blood flow to return to and restore the afflicted area.

What are the benefits of SMR?

SMR can provide the user with a number of benefits, including increased blood-flow throughout the targeted area and enhanced mobility and range of motion, which allow your muscles to be worked more thoroughly when lifting. All of these improvements will subsequently reduce the risk of injury and decrease recovery time after training, which means that the user can train more frequently and at a higher intensity.

foam rolling upper body_2

2 key foam rolling upper body techniques

1) Upper back

Due to the increasingly sedentary nature of individuals in modern times, humped backs or curved spines are becoming more and more common. Therefore it makes sense to make the upper back (a.k.a thoracic spine) a primary target of your foam-rolling routine.

– To do this, sit down on the ground and lie back until you are on top of the roller. With it just under your shoulder blades, place hands behind your head or across your chest. Then slightly extend your back to apply additional pressure onto the roller.

– Once you are properly positioned, raise your hips and roll backwards and forwards from the middle of your back to the top of your shoulder blades, but stop before you reach your neck.

2) Latissimus Dorsi

– Pick a side to begin with, let’s say your right side for now. Lie on your right side, with your right arm extended along the floor and position the roller under your right arm pit, perpendicularly to your body.

– Place your left hand on the floor for support and then simply roll backwards and forwards, so that the roller targets everywhere from your armpit to just above your waist.

Additional guidance

For both of the exercises outlined above, spend about 1-2 minutes on each, rolling slowly and controllably because the slower you roll, the more thoroughly you will stretch and relieve tension within the muscle and fascia tissues you are targeting. As you roll, breath slowly and deeply to help your muscles relax, optimising the effect of the rolling.

Take care not to roll onto your joints as that will cause more harm than good, the roller should always be in contact with your muscles. Should you hit an overly tender spot, known as a trigger point, then hold the roller on that spot for 30-45 seconds. For anybody new to foam rolling, limit the number times you do it at 2-3 times per week for the first 2-3 weeks. After this conditioning period, you should safely be able to do it once or twice daily, or both before and after each workout.

When should SMR be performed?

Ideally SMR should be performed both before and after a training session.

– Before a session, it should be part of a dynamic warm-up and should be performed first, before stretching or cardio, this promotes optimal blood-flow in areas which otherwise might not be receiving as much blood. It also reduces tension within the targeted muscles.

– When used as part of a cool down routine, foam rolling assists with the flushing of blood (which might have pooled within the worked muscles) from the fatigued muscles and accommodates the supply of fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients, allowing the healing process to begin.

But as is the way in the 21st century, if you are pushed for time and cannot commit to two SMR routines per session, then opt to roll at the start of the workout, rather than the end, to gain the benefits outlined above. You will probably find that you are sore the next day, this is okay, but give yourself 24-48 hours before working on that area again. Now go forth and keep roll away!

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