By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
What if you could reset your body to undo the cumulative effects of minor (and major) injuries, poor posture and repetitive movements over the years? Imagine the effect this could have on your performance and your enjoyment of physical activity. Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) is a simple technique you can perform at home that does just that.
The idea behind SMR is simple. By breaking up scar tissue that forms in the fascia covering your muscles due to injury or stress, you release the muscle to move freely. The technique is also simple and uses simple tools, typically an inexpensive foam roller and a tennis ball. Although a few sessions can make a difference, SMR is most effective when used consistently over time, making it a great way to wind down at the end of the day or a beneficial add-on to your regular fitness routine. For examples of how to use this at home, check out this YouTube segment.
The claimed benefits of SMR are valuable:
- Correct muscle imbalance
- Improve joint range of motion
- Relieve joint stress and alleviate muscle soreness
- Increase performance
- And more
While it’s easy to simply use the roller to massage your muscles, the key to SMR is actually in finding the points of discomfort and holding the foam roller or tennis ball there until the discomfort dissipates slightly (usually around 30 seconds). These areas of discomfort are where the scar tissue has formed in your muscular fascia. Providing pressure to these areas will break down the scar tissue over time, freeing your muscles to perform more effectively and increasing their strength and range of movement. This link provides a breakdown of individual exercises as well as a few reminders about how to perform this technique properly.
SMR, or foam rolling, can be done any time, but it’s good to consider foam rolling when your muscles are already warm to decrease some of the pain you may feel, like after a workout or a shower. Breathing is something that can be forgotten while performing SMR, but it is essential to being able to relax the trigger points. Also, although you can hold on the tense areas, try not to hold them longer than a minute and avoid rolling over boney areas.
Gentle SMR is also a nice way to wake up in the morning. Once you get out of bed, lie on your back with the foam roller placed behind your neck. Slowly turn your head side to side. Then, lie on the roller, it should be running parallel to your spine. Raise your arms straight above your head so you’re one long, straight line and gradually lower your arms to your sides. Repeat several times. You can continue warming up in the morning by going through some of the moves shown in the YouTube segment mentioned above. I also recommend keeping a foam roller handy in your living room so you can use it while watching TV or unwinding in the evening.
Weigh In: Have you used SMR? How has it impacted your performance and wellness?