What are foam rolling excercises?

Foam rolling excercies or SMR (self-myofascial release) are the mechanical compression of soft tissue that alters the contractile threshold of muscle and/or fascia. In simple terms it’s a way you can massage your own muscles using a piece of foam to increase mobility of joints. Foam rollers can also help with toning, such as with these cellulite-burning foam rolling exercises.

Why should I do it and how can it help me?

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Laws of mobility

The body will become good at what the body is required to become good at. Dean Sommerset uses this line and it sums up why we should foam roll. What he means by this is, if we sit for a large portion of the day, our body becomes good at sitting down, if we are on our feet all day our body becomes accustomed to standing all day.

This almost sounds like it would be a good thing, but what happens is we create muscle imbalances because the body also finds the path of least resistance, meaning it will find the easy way to do things.

Look at how we sit. As we sit, it actually takes effort to sit upright with good posture. Most of us don’t do that because it takes effort and as we said before the body will take the path of least resistance. Instead of sitting tall with the shoulders back and down, we sit flexed at the low back with the shoulders rolled internally, which cause shortened or tight hip flexors and weak low backs as well as tight pectorals which cause shoulder issues.

These would be muscle imbalances, which can sometimes cause pain and dysfunction in everyday life. By foam rolling, we can change the tone of the muscle, which gives the tight muscle a chance to relax and bring the joint in question back to centration or alignment.

This helps decrease the risk of injury, especially if you like to exercise.

Why can’t I just stretch to fix the imbalances?

Stretching causes the sympathetic nervous system or the fight or flight response to activate, which puts the muscle being stretched into a constant state of excitation. In order for muscles to operate optimally, it must be able to contract and relax fully. If we are only stretching the muscle never gets to relax. This is not to say stretching is a bad idea, but it is best balanced with foam rolling.

Foam rolling can inhibit sympathetic activity, which brings you down and helps your muscles relax. This is really important considering prolonged tense muscle and fascia can produce enough force to misalign joints and create dysfunction.

Factors that affect alignment/centration

Some of the basics that can cause misalignment of joint are bony architecture, repetitive strain, posture, gout, diabetes, previous injury due to scar tissue, faulty motor patterns, apprehension, fatigue, over stretching when unnecessary, over-strengthening a particular muscle group over its antagonist.

What do foam rolling excercises do?

Foam rolling decreases neural tone and decreases resistance to movement. This give us more mobility which decreases the risk of injury. Rapid force (Stretching) causes muscle spindles to tense up whereas slow force (foam rolling) decreases tension and pressure in associated joints and encourages breathing.

According to Sommerset, if the pain of foam rolling is above a 4 on a pain scale of 1-10, take it back a notch because it will inhibit breathing. When we stop breathing properly we tense up which means we will never get the desired effect.

This is the same reason women use breathing techniques when in labor only the pain is above 4.

Things to remember

Go slow when foam rolling.
When done slowly foam rolling can increase range of motion in joints
Do it daily. Without doing it on a regular basis the effects are minimal
According to research, if you are planning a plyometric session, don’t foam roll as it puts you in a parasympathetic mode which decreases explosiveness needed in plyometric training.
Scan the area being foam rolled. If you find some “hot spots” take more time. If not move on.

Best exercises that are easy to learn

foam rolling exercises2

Adductors: Knee pain

Begin with the foam roller at 45 degrees at the top of the leg
The foot should be about 45 degrees from the floor
Slowly roll towards the knee to that tear drop muscle on the inside of the knee
When you find that “hot spot” pause for a few seconds and move on to the next one
Breathe

foam rolling exercises

IT band or Vastus lateralis: Knee pain

Start slightly below the hip on the outside of the leg
Roll towards the knee without hitting the knee
When you find that “hot spot” pause for a few seconds and move on to the next one
Breathe

For quick knee pain relief, check out the 7 exercises from another WatchFit expert.

foam rolling exercises

Pec minor: Shoulder pain

Begin with the edge of the foam roller about 1 inch above the collar bone
Bring the hand on the side of the pectoral you are rolling out to that side
Turn your head the opposite direction
Breathe

foam rolling exercises

Serratus anterior: Shoulder pain

Begin with the foam roller perpendicular to your body.
Place under the middle of the ribs on the hard surface of the serratus anterior
Turn your palm up to the ceiling
Open and close your body instead of rolling back and forth
Breathe

Check out this WatchFit guide to better understand shoulder pain.

foam rolling exercises

TFL: Knee pain/lower back pain

Gently roll the roller under your low back
Bend the knees at 90 degrees
Support yourself with arms 45 degrees from the body
Slowly rotate at the hips and rest on the saddle bags/TFL
Breathe

For more help, check out these additional exercises for lower back pain.

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