Massage therapy has been used widely in professional sports, and it has also become a common practice for regular exercisers who don’t mind spending the money.  Recently, self myofascial release (SMR) has become increasingly popular due to the similar effects and cost efficiency of tools.  For example, the foam roller can provide unlimited self-massage for under twenty dollars.  In his book , Advances in Functional Training, Mike Boyle expresses the importance of myofascial release and when it is appropriate to use SMR (p. 51-55).

In order to understand how important SMR is to our fitness and sports performance, we must understand what happens to our muscles over time after trauma.  Exercise can be considered muscular trauma, and it leads to muscular density among some of its acute effects.  Though muscular density may sound appeasing, it is actually a term for what we call knots or very tight muscles.  Tight muscles can decrease range of motion, which is important for athletic performance and injury prevention.  To decrease the muscular density, Boyle suggests foam rolling to relax the dense muscle and follow with static stretching… Yes, static stretching.

This is all done before exercise, even though many contemporary strength and conditioning specialists recommend saving the static stretch for post workout since it may lead to power decreases when performed before exercise. The reason Boyle suggests static stretching is to return the relaxed muscle to original length.  Roll first, stretch after, then dynamic warm up to prepare the muscles for exercise.  “Any potential power decreases should be negated by the dynamic warm-up that follows a static stretch” (Boyle p.55).

Positioning is everything during the foam rolling and stretching; therefore, it is important to be specific about how we want to stretch.  Peter Freisen, Carolina Hurricanes trainer and strength coach, has a theory: “Eliminate or abbreviate the stretches your clients are good at and work harder on the ones they don’t like” (Boyle p.55). Strengthen, or better yet lengthen, our weaknesses, and we will be healthier and more balanced people!

Next time you come into SPARC, grab a foam roller and get to work on those dense muscles. Keep it up on a consistent basis, and you’ll see and feel improvements before you know it. Feel free to ask a Specialist for help!

By: Trenten Merrill, SPARC Intern