Foam Rolling for Flexibility

foam-rollerInhibited muscles create a myriad of potential problems from discomfort and soreness, to faulty movement patterns, to an increased risk of injury, to compromised joints. Static stretching techniques can be useful, but when the deeper fascia is affected, superficial stretching techniques are often unable to produce the type of release needed to free joints and improve movement.

The answer: Self-Myofascial Release. Self-myofascial release is a specific technique that involves the use of foam rollers or other trigger point tools.

Myo refers to muscle, fascia to the tissue that surrounds the muscle fibers. By putting pressure on tender areas along the muscle tissue, the golgi tendon organs help trigger the relaxation of the muscle spindles, helping to dissipate the adhesions, increase blood flow, and enhance overall movement.
If you seem to remain excessively tight and lack flexibility despite your best efforts (or minimal efforts with stretching) incorporate foam rolling into your pre-workout series to help alleviate tension. Less tension in the muscles prior to a workout means that they’ll be less likely to pull or strain. Self-myofascial release before a workout also ensures greater range of motion for a joint since the muscles and connective tissue will in essence be less bound up.
Commonly tight muscle groups that benefit greatly from foam rolling include the piriformis/deep hip, hamstrings, it band, and rhomboids/upper back. Determine which muscle groups are most tight on you and then apply the foam rolling techniques to those areas. Use self-myofascial release to also address muscle groups that you will be using in that workout session—for example, if you are about to do a lower body workout and run, concentrate on the hip flexors, calves, quadriceps, it band, hamstrings and glutes.

Enhancing Flexibility

Incorporate self-myofascial release into your next training session by following this sequence:

  1. Use a foam roller to alleviate adhesions by placing pressure on the tense area, holding for 20-30 seconds, and then rolling gently back and forth over the muscle fibers. Think of the knots in your muscles as balls of cookie dough - the foam roller acts as the rolling pin to lengthen and relieve the bound-up spot.
  2. Follow with a static stretch for the affected muscle, holding the stretch for upwards of a minute.
  3. Next, perform a mobility exercise to enhance range of motion for the involved muscles and joints.
  4. Finally, finish with a strength exercise to balance your body.

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