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How to Foam Roll – The Art of Self-Myofascial Release

Apr 19, 2020

You may be feeling the effects of either doing too much exercise during lockdown, from tackling daily workouts at home without face to face guidance or tackling exercises your body isn’t used to. Or, it may be the opposite, and the lack of activity from not getting out and about so much is taking its toll. Maybe you’re just missing your regular massage!

The good news is, a foam roller could be your new best friend!

Here’s a quick, no nonsense guide to help ease any tight, achey areas and improve your warm-up, performance and prevent injury with some simple foam rolling! It’s all about the fascia!

What is fascia?

Firstly, fascia is a dense connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, joint and organ in the body.

There are 3 types of fascia; superficial, deep and visceral.

  • Superficial fascia lies just beneath the skin.
  • Deep fascia penetrates and surrounds muscle tissue.
  • Visceral fascia helps keep vital organs in place.

Everything in the body is connected through fascia, but some areas are more connected than others, forming thickened sheaths and bands of fascia. These are bundled together, inseparable from the muscle tissue (myo) and it’s accompanying web of connective tissue (fascia), forming a 3D myo-fascial web throughout the body. Think of a 3D spider’s web in the shape of your body & you’re getting close!

When working optimally, this myo-fascial web helps provide support, stability, movement dynamics, force transmission and optimises sporting performance.

Why should I foam roll?

  • For warm-up pre running, as it’s far more effective that static stretching (5)
  • To increase nutrient-rich blood flow to muscles that need it.
  • To improve the mobility and flexibility of muscles and joints (4,6,7).
  • To increase athletic performance (8,9).
  • To recover from exercise faster (1,2,3).
  • To reduce inflammation and remove toxins/chemical waste products.
  • Longer term, to break down adhesions in muscle and connective tissue.
  • You can also successfully self-treat minor injuries such as muscle strains and trigger points.

When should I foam roll? 

  • Before exercise: when paired with a dynamic warm up to increase blood flow to areas that may be lacking it.
  • After exercise: used within a cool-down procedure to flush out blood that has pooled in working muscles and to allow fresh nutrients and oxygen in to kick start the recovery process.

If you’re used to getting ‘hands on’ treatment but the lockdown means this is no longer possible, this can be a great alternative.

Rolling for only a few minutes can have a dramatic impact on the quality of your training session. So, if you’re stuck for time, pre-exercise rolling would provide most benefit.

How to foam roll

Remember this easy guide and apply it to each muscle group that you’re working on.

  • 4 linear rolls (to search the muscle for areas of tightness, we call these ‘hot spots’).
  • 30 second holds on each hot spot.
  • 4 joint movements (to move the muscle underneath the roller).
  1. Underside of the foot (plantar fascia)
  • Place the roller under the sole of the foot.
  • Apply pressure and roll slowly towards the heel and back to the sole of the foot, 4 times.
  • Hold pressure on any hot spots you may find.
  • Once this hot spot starts to reduce, maintain pressure and add in movement of the toes by flexing and extending them all 4 times.
  • Repeat the process 3-4 times.
  1. Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus)
  • Zone A = achilleas to mid-calf.
  • Zone B = mid-calf to just below the knee.
  • Roll zone A, followed by zone B.
  • Begin by sitting on the floor with the roller on your Achilles tendon.
  • Place your hands behind you and the other leg on top to add pressure.
  • Roll up and down searching for hot spots. If any are found, hold this pressure for 30 seconds.
  • You can also ‘span’ the muscle by turning your foot inwards and outwards whilst maintaining pressure on a hot spot.
  • Repeat this process 3-4 times before moving on to zone B.
  1. Thighs (quadriceps)
  • Zone A = front of the hip to mid-thigh.
  • Zone B = mid-thigh to just above the knee.
  • Roll zone A, followed by zone B.
  • Begin by lying on your front with the roller at the front of your hip just below the bone.
  • Support yourself with your elbows out in front and the other leg bent up to the side.
  • Roll up and down in search of hot spots. If any are found, hold this pressure for 30 seconds.
  • You can also ‘span’ the muscle by turning your foot inwards and outwards whilst maintaining pressure on a hot spot.
  • Now, once on a hot spot, bend and straighten the knee 4 times.
  • Repeat this process 3-4 times before moving on to zone B.
  1. Buttock (gluteals and piriformis)
  • Begin by sitting on the roller with your hands behind you for support.
  • Shift your weight onto one side as you bring that leg up and cross it over the other.
  • Aim to have the roller ‘in your back pocket’.
  • Roll along the length of your glute in search of hot spots. If any are found, hold this pressure for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the process 3-4 times.
  1. Upper back (paraspinals, rhomboids, trapezius)
  • Lay on your back with the roller just below the shoulder blades.
  • Place your arms behind your head or cross them in front of your chest.
  • Lift your hips off the floor and use your legs to roll up and down the spine.
  • Carefully extend your back over the roller.
  • Add in side bends to target various muscle groups.
  • Again, if any hot spots are identified, hold this pressure for 30 seconds before moving on.
  1. Chest (pectoralis major/minor)
  • Lay on your front and place the roller (or trigger point ball) just inside the shoulder joint, on the pectoralis tendon.
  • With the arm above the head roll up and down in search of hot spots.
  • If any are found, hold this pressure for 30 seconds.
  • Add in arm movements to manipulate the soft tissue underneath the roller. 4 straight-arm scoops should do it.
  • Repeat this process 3-4 times.
  1. Latissimus Dorsi
  • Lay on your side with one arm above your head for support.
  • Place the roller at a 45° angle just underneath your armpit.
  • Shift your weight to roll up and down in search of hot spots.
  • If any are found, hold this pressure for 30 seconds.
  • Add in straight arm movements to release the tissues further, 4 movements followed by 4 rolls.
  • Repeat this process 3-4 times.

Here’s a handy videos you can watch to help demonstrate some foam rolling techniques.

Check out our YouTube Channel for more videos.

We also have a handy little download for you here: Foam Rolling for Runners ‘Super Six’


References

  1. Pearcey GP, Bradbury-Squires DJ, Kawamoto J, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG, Button DC. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015;50:5–13.
  2. Macdonald et al. (2014) Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2014;46(1):131–142.
  3. Rey E, Padron-Cabo A, Costa PB, Barcala-Furelos R. The effects of foam rolling as a recovery tool in professional soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;
  4. Bushell JE, Dawson SM, Webster MM. Clinical relevance of foam rolling on hip extension angle in a functional lunge position. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29:2397–403.
  5. Su H, Chang NJ, Wu WL, Guo LY, Chu IH. Acute effects of foam rolling, static stretching, and dynamic stretching during warm-ups on muscular flexibility and strength in young adults. J Sport Rehabil. 2016; 1-24.
  6. Kelly S., Beardsley C. (2016) Specific and cross-over effects of foam rolling on ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 11(4), 544-551.
  7. Macdonald GZ, Penney M, Mullaley ME, Cuconato AL, Drake CD, Behm DG, Button DC. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27:812–821.
  8. Peacock CA, Krein DD, Silver TA, Sanders GJ, von Carlowitz KPA. An acute bout of self-myofascial release in the form of foam rolling improves performance testing. Int J Exerc Sci. 2014;7:202-211
  9. Monteiro et al. Acute effects of different self-massage volumes on the FMS overhead deep squat performance. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2017; 12(1): 94-104.
  10. Monteiro ER Correa Neto VG. Effect of different foam rolling volumes on knee extension fatigue. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2016;11(7):1076‐1081.

 

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