Foam Rolling – Why You May Need Some SMR

There are many conflicting views on foam rolling and whether it truly helps and plays a role in recovery, muscle relaxation / activation or whether it’s just another ‘fad’ which has clouded an already polluted industry, especially when it comes to gimmicks.


But as always, we remain open minded about these things and believe that if you, as an individual, feel it benefits you, assists you in relieving muscular tension and enhances your recovery, then why should you stop doing that very thing because others believe it doesn’t.


The same could be said for training on Bosu Balls, but that’s another blog post altogether.


Foam Rolling is also known as Self Myofascial Release – SMR is just a fancy way of saying self massage, tension release and trigger pointing.


So in layman’s terms, using a Foam Roll is a great way to massage away muscular tension, target area’s of muscle soreness and accelerate your recovery.


But we don’t just stop at the standard foam roll, you can advance on to a tennis ball for more intricate area’s of the body, or even eventually on to a golf ball, if you can tolerate the level of pain which comes with it.


But the smaller the object you progress on to, the ‘deeper’ the SMR will no doubt be. Be sure to build up to this though, as it’ll also leave you feeling bruised and beaten if you jump to the golf ball right away.


As with most types of massage, your aim is to push blood back towards the heart. With that being said it’s important that you start the SMR at the most distal point of the body and work inwards / upwards.


For example, if you’re foam rolling your Calf Muscles (Gastrocnemius & Soleus), you’d start towards the Ankle and foam roll up towards the Knee.


During SMR, your goal is to locate points of tenderness / tightness and apply a small amount of pressure on said site, to release the muscular tension, break down any scar tissue which has developed (post injury) and assist the re-alignment of muscle fibres.


As of result of those outcomes listed above, you’ll enhance recovery, aid muscular development, performance and posture.


Like most individuals, time is quite important, but the good thing about Foam Rolling and other SMR techniques is that they don’t consume too much of it. A good Foam Rolling session may take only 5-10 minutes. You may work on a particular muscle for that whole time to begin with, but as your muscular tension releases, your soreness fades away and your recovery times reach new speeds, you’ll be able to divide that time across various parts of the body, rather than just one site specifically.


What could be causing me to have tight muscles / knots?

Like many of us, we don’t often stretch, relax or book ourselves in for a massage with the local therapist. With the lack of time and effort put into our recovery programmes, there is no wonder the knot’s start to occur and pain increases. Our bodies remain active on a daily basis yet we forget to stretch, relax and unwind. So as time goes on, the imbalance shows its face.


Why is SMR so painful to begin with?

As i’ve mentioned above, knots have started to develop, we learn poor postural habits and muscles become weak and tight or overactive and adaptive. SMR is a technique used to create balance, but when the knots, imbalances and tightness are relatively quite high, the balance won’t occur overnight. To begin with, like anything, there may be a slightly higher level of pain experience than after a few weeks / months. But as the muscles start to relax, tension dissipates and balance is restored, pain levels will become more tolerable.


How does SMR work?

Much like a visit to your massage therapist, a good SMR session will help relieve you of pain as it works towards re-aligning muscle fibres and breaking away adhesions that have built up through the high activity / low recovery imbalance mentioned above. The increased blood flow will ensure adequate nutrients reach the site to help recovery, whilst the tissues are able to relax.


What am I expecting to notice after a number of self-treatments?

After a period of time you may notice an improvement in muscular strength, elasticity and flexibility. Having said that, if you’re only conducting SMR work once a week, improvements will be limited. You may find that movement patterns, range of movement and ease of movement improve quite substantially. Movements that you may have associated with pain in the past may now become pain free, whilst strength levels can also increase as a result of greater recovery.


Here are some things that you may need to consider before commencing with some SMR:

– Carefully select your tool. Start with a soft Foam Roll, progress to a harder version, then potentially on to a tennis ball and eventually a golf ball. 

– Have all of the above available, as some area’s of the body are hard to SMR. Using the right size tool will enable you to approach all areas.

– Also have all of the above available, as some muscles may be tighter / require more attention than others. Your Quadriceps (front of the thigh) may take to a tennis ball, whilst your ITB (Illio-tibial-Band / outside of upper leg) may need the soft Foam Roll to begin with. 

– SMR each area based on the RPE Scale (Rate Of Perceived Exertion). 1 being no pain, 10 being the most.
Aim for each body part to reach, but not exceed, 6-8 on the RPE Scale. 

– Much like using a rolling pin, apply equal pressure throughout the muscle length, ensure you follow the fibres direction.

– When you find a tender spot, hold still. Keep your selected tool on the site and apply a little more pressure. You’ve found a built up area which no doubt requires more attention. 

– When you’re applying pressure to a tender spot, see out 5-10 seconds without moving. This will allow adequate time for the muscle to be worked on. 

– During SMR pain levels may be tested, so ensure you take deep breaths, especially when on the tender spots mentioned above.


self myofascial release / massage 1

Using your upper body, lift your lower body off the floor to ensure pressure it put through the muscle into the Foam Roll.

self myofascial release / massage

You can apply further pressure by overlapping your opposite leg on the leg you’re working on.

As you move further up the leg you may find more 'knots' which require work.

As you move further up the leg you may find more ‘knots’ which require work.

Again, overlapping the resting leg will apply more pressure onto the working area. Concentrate on breathing here, as your pain levels may be tested.

Again, overlapping the resting leg will apply more pressure onto the working area. Concentrate on breathing here, as your pain levels may be tested.

You can eventually move on to a tennis ball, or even a golf ball, to really get into the intricate area's.

You can eventually move on to a tennis ball, or even a golf ball, to really get into the intricate area’s.


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