This is the first part of a 2-part article by guest author Cameron Stache.  Cameron currently works as a Fitness Coach/ Assistant Fitness Manager at the Rush Fitness Complex in Greensboro, NC.  He’s pursuing his Exercise Science degree and plans to use this degree to either work at a large college and be a strength and conditioning coach, or go into ergonomics. If you are interested in brands Cameron supports, check out  http://cstache.qhealthzone.com .

pic: what is foam rolling
What Is Foam Rolling?

The technical name for foam-rolling is Self-Myofacial Release (SMR).    Most people just call it by foam-rolling because it’s easier to say and it’s more well-known as that.  I am going to refer to it as SMR for short.  SMR has been used in physical therapy for years.  It has only recently become main stream in the fitness realm though.

SMR is primarily used to correct muscle imbalances in the body.  As we go through our normal (outside the gym) lives we develop some imbalances.  An imbalance reduces muscle strength and posture, thus increasing your risk of injury, especially when those imbalances are accentuated by heavy loads as in lifting weights.

It works basically like a deep tissue massage.  When rolling across a muscle you apply pressure to the muscle spindle.  The muscle spindle is what reflexively contracts your muscle when it stretches too far or too fast.  (Technically, that’s how your muscle contracts.  It doesn’t really shorten.  The muscle itself actually lengthens the muscle spindle then contracts it.  Some food for thought: While your muscle may appear shorter when it contracts, in one or more of the three planes of motion it may actually be lengthening.  That is how your muscle remains tense.)  By using the muscle spindle as self-applied force on the muscle, it will cause it to stretch because you are holding a segment in place while it is pulling from the other end of the muscle.

What are the benefits?

There are multiple uses for foam-rolling your muscles.  First, there is relief from soreness.  A person who foam-rolls targeted muscles after a workout is less sore than someone who didn’t.  Second, is for proper posture.  Most people really don’t think that this is a big deal.  However, as Darrin has stated before, strength is more neurological than it is muscle size.  People with less muscle imbalances have better posture.  This means that opposing muscles are neither too long, nor too short; thus able to fire with proper effort and timing.  That allows for greater neurological communication and further increasing strength, without any lifting at all.  The increase in core strength gained by the correct posture also gives the third benefit; injury prevention.

What muscles can be foam-rolled?

There are multiple muscles that can be foam-rolled.  When rolling for posture you need to roll all of the tight muscles in your body, while strengthening any weaker areas.  The weaker areas will ALWAYS be opposite of the tighter muscle group.  For example, if your knees bow out on a hip-width overhead squat then you need to foam-roll your outer thighs (IT band) and Piriformus.  This also means that you need to strengthen your inner thighs.

When rolling for to prevent soreness just roll over the muscles that were worked during the workout.  The basic muscles are as follows:

  • Calves
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Inner thigh
  • Hip flexors
  • Glutes
  • Piriformus
  • Traps
  • Latisimus Dorsi

SEE BELOW FOR EXCEPTIONS!!!

In the next article I will touch on the technique of how to actually roll each muscle.  For today I will, for safety concerns, inform you of places not to roll.  As usual I will try to explain why.  I will reiterate these in the next article to refresh your memory.

They are as follows:

  • Joints, lower back, and neck – DO NOT ever roll these muscles with a foam-roll.  These specific areas of your body don’t really have very many protective muscles, and the ones that are there aren’t very strong.  I would like to point out one exception.  You may roll your erectors in your lower back with a tennis ball, golf ball, of some similar object.  The same can be said about your feet.  The smaller size of the objects allows you to get to your muscles without putting any strain on your spine.
  • Ribs – due to the small amount of muscle in the rib cage area and the large amount of bodyweight isolated in a small area in the ribs you shouldn’t roll here due to a risk of cracking or breaking a rib.  While the chances are slim, it’s not really even close to the risk of it happening.
  • Calves during pregnancy – Foam-rolling your calves during the third trimester of pregnancy can cause you to go into premature labor.  (I’m mainly talking to you ladies here.)  Your lower body nerves are all connected and it could send you into labor earlier than intended.  Personally I never tell anyone pregnant to foam-roll calves.  Even if they aren’t near that term.  I’d just rather not deal with it.

Stay tuned for part 2 next week!

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