As I have gotten older, believe it or not, I have gotten more active. I used to not care too much about stretching and flexibility, but I like to think that I have gotten wiser with my age and I now realize the importance of stretching. I am a distance runner and it has helped me stay mobile and hopefully injury-free. Along with my stretching, I have added foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release (SMR). If you are wondering what SMR is all about, this article may help with understanding it a little better.

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release technique. It is a type of therapy that can be used to eliminate general fascia restrictions. It is often used as a warm-up for mobility or it can be used as a cool-down for recovery. It should not be used to replace stretching, but both put together could be a good combination. According to Acefitness.org, studies indicate that when foam rolling precedes static stretching, a person could achieve a deeper stretch because the muscles are warm and more pliable. This technique focuses on reducing pain or discomfort that comes from myofascial tissue (which are the tough, but thin, membranes that cover and surround your muscles). This type of pain comes from “trigger points” in deep areas within the tissue.

Before you foam roll, you must know how to properly use a foam roller. According to Acefitness.org, using your body weight you can position yourself to target almost any soft tissue areas by rolling back and forth (about 2 to 6 inches) from your core to your extremities, avoiding bones and joints. Lightly rolling won’t have much of an effect, so make sure you put some pressure into those target areas by positioning yourself appropriately over indirect areas of pain before you target specific spots. Slowly roll the tender areas for 30 to 60 seconds. The specific manual pressure and stretching used in foam rolling loosens up restricted movement, leading indirectly to lower pain levels.

You should expect some discomfort during your first few sessions. It may feel tender or bruised at first, so be sure to start with just five to 10 seconds per area and rest a day in between foam rolling sessions. If you have not experienced myofascial therapy work before, start with a softer foam roller. Drinking plenty of water after a session will help accelerate the recovery process. Avoid direct foam rolling to the lower back (lumbar spine). The roller should not be placed perpendicular to the spine, but instead position it parallel to the spine to target the upper back and then the glute/sacrum area. According to Acefitness.org, by loosening up other muscles surrounding the lower back, you can decrease the pain and increase mobility, while still protecting the spine and kidneys.

Self-myofascial release technique is similar to a sports massage and may provide many benefits of your overall muscle health. As per studies, this technique can bring reductions in soreness and increased flexibility when used on specific areas twice per week for 15 minutes at a time. Foam rollers come in many shapes and sizes and can be purchased at most of your local sporting goods stores.

As with any part of an exercise regime, it is always best to ask your doctor or therapist if foam rolling is right for you before you begin, particularly if you have any heart or vascular illness or any chronic pain conditions. If you need more guidance in this area, a YMCA personal trainer would be happy to assist you.

Source: acefitness.org – foam rolling 101

Rachele Eller is an ACE-certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified running coach at Columbus Family YMCA.

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