Have you ever wondered what that black tubey looking thing is sitting over in the corner at the gym? Have you watched someone use it and wondered, “what in the world is the point of doing that? What muscle does it work out?”
Admittedly, the foam roller entered my life right before I started studying for my personal training certification. And trust me, there’s been no looking back.
To get started, let’s talk about the geometry of a foam roller. It’s a cylindrical tube made out of ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, foam. I’m not a chemist, so you will have to research the safety of this material on your own. I don’t think EVA is made from carcinogenic substances, but a few articles I found online recommend infants and young children to NOT come in contact with products made from EVA. EVA is a durable, semi-soft material that is highly conducive to long-term usage. It can withstand repeated use over an extended amount of time.
Next up, foam roll sizes. Foam rollers come in multiple sizes, colors, and density. A good rule of thumb is the darker the color the harder the density. I personally own a 3 ft black foam roller, but for traveling purposes it may be better to also purchase a smaller foam roller (I’ve seen some as small as 5″ x 5″!). There are several brands to choose from. I don’t endorse any particular brand, but I purchased mine from a small business fitness equipment company. Feel free to email me if you’re interested in receiving the company’s information. There are also foam rollers that help target various trigger points, or knots within muscles, on the body.
Next, let’s chat about a physiological concept called, “self myofascial release,” or SMR, for short. Self myofascial release helps correct muscle imbalances, overactive muscles, and helps alleviate knots within muscles. Foam rolling is a way of performing self myofascial release. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends SMR to be conducted prior to stretching and physical activity. You can also do SMR after exercise.
You may be wondering, why should I do SMR before stretching and exercise? SMR helps break up any muscle adhesions and knots PRIOR to activity; thus, it helps elongate your muscles. Lengthening your muscles plays a significant role in static and active stretching, let alone subsequent physical activity. Lengthened muscles allows you to get a deeper stretch and increased flexibility helps increase overall neuromuscular efficiency, or your body’s ability to efficiently utilize muscles in all planes of motion, within your workout.
So, what exactly happens when you do SMR? SMR focuses on both the neural and fascia systems in our bodies. When we apply gentle and steady pressure to the knots within our muscles, we help flatten and realign muscle spindle fibers. Our muscles’ tendency is to contract, but thankfully, our Golgi tendon organs help our muscles relax and trigger a process called, autogenic inhibition. In order for autogenic inhibition to occur and for us to truly maximize SMR, we must hold pressure on the knots within our muscles for a minimum of 30 seconds. It’s important to relax and hold steady pressure on knots. It may take longer for some of us to relax and allow autogenic inhibition to kick in. Be patient and ease into the slight discomfort of steady pressure on your muscles.
Let’s start foam rolling!
The best way to tell you is to show you how to do SMR. Please review the following video that provides a comprehensive overview of SMR. Enjoy!
Do you have questions or comments about SMR? Comment below!
Additional reading about foam rolling and self myofascial release:
Penney, S. (2013). Foam rolling-applying the technique of self myofascial release. Retrieved from http://blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-release/
MacDonald, G.Z., Penney, M.D.H., Mullaley, M.E., Cuconato, A.L., Drake C.D.J., Behm, D.G., & Button, D.C. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.