If you’ve been to the River Valley Club lately you’ve probably seen people rolling around on the floor with a big blue, white, or black foam roller. You’ve also probably seen their faces contorted in pain. All visual evidence to the contrary, this is a good thing. The official term for what they are doing is “self-myofacial release”. The unofficial term is foam rolling or the poor man’s massage. (I personally like to call it ‘exercise induced Tourettes’ for the uncontrolled gasps and swearing that occur when it’s working.)
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go to Youtube and search for “foam rolling.”
If you’ve ever had a deep tissue massage you’re already ahead of the game in knowing what I’m talking about. You know that the massage therapist is going to find some knots and then work the heck out of them. Deep tissue massage is myofascial release. Since the foam roll lets you do this torture…er…technique to yourself, it’s called SELF-myofascial release (SMR). Got that? Good.
Fascia “is a seamless web of connective tissue that covers and connects the muscles, organs, and skeletal structures, located between the skin and the underlying structure of muscle and bone. Muscle and fascia form the myofascia system. The fascial system is [a single] structure that is present from your head to foot without any interruption. Injuries, stress, inflammation, trauma, and poor posture can cause restriction to fascia. Since fascia is an interconnected web, [with time, the restriction or tightness to fascia at any given point in the body] can spread to other places in the body like a pull in a sweater. The goal of myofascial release is to release fascia restriction and restore its tissue health.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)
I happen to have some postural and tightness issues in my legs and hips, specifically my Ilio-Tibial (IT) band (The IT runs from your upper rear hip area down the side of your leg and into the knee. See picture.) The more I exercise, the tighter my muscles become, the more they pull on my tendons, the more the tendons torque the bones, the worse my posture becomes and the more problems I have. For instance, when I go hiking or running for any length of time my knees start to hurt. It’s not actually my knee that is the problem but my IT band where it connects to the knee. It’s called IT band syndrome. The same is true for a pain I often have in my hip/low back. I’ve found that many of my clients have aches and pains, many chronic, that if dealt with myofascially, can be alleviated.
The point of foam rolling is to loosen the knots, realign the fascia, and put you back into proper alignment. To do this yourself, roll a section of muscle (again, see Youtube for some techniques), find a spot that is knotted – believe me, you’ll know when you do (see Tourette’s reference above) – and hold yourself on that spot until you feel the tightness and pain dissipating. It will take a minute or so. The different color rolls indicate firmness – at RVC, white is softest, black is hardest. You may want to start with white.
In a perfect world we would all be doing this before and after we work out. In the real world, I do it when I feel tightness and am probably already in some sort of pain. Next time you’re at the gym, give it a try.