If you’ve set foot outside in the last few years, you’ve probably seen it. You probably have one sitting in your car, or packed up next to your gym bag if you have one. If you’re a refugee, you likely have a collection of different shapes, sizes and supposed functionalities. We’re talking about foam rollers. This post will cover myofascial release foam rolling for beginners.
Foam rollers are the biggest thing to hit the fitness industry since barbells. Next to fitness tape and muscle bands, they are one of the most faddish gym accessories we see. But why? There must be a reason foam rolling has caught on. This post will explore the essential “Do’s and Don’ts” of foam rolling. If you’re curious to shop some of our most highly recommended rollers, head on over to the Camp Store and shop around. Be sure to read on before you make a decision on a purchase though!
The more scientific and kitchy name for foam rolling is myofascial release. Some might also call it trigger point therapy, deep tissue massage or just “rolling.” The myofascia are the collection of dense, tough connective tissues that surround and link your muscles. So why do your myofascia need to be released?
The myofascia can get knotted up over time, due to inactivity, or simple wear and tear. When this happens, the first thing we tend to experience is limited range of motion and/or pain during an exercise.
The dogma in the fitness world up to this point had been to always do static “lengthening” stretches pre and post workout, as a means to condition your joints, tendons, ligaments and fascia, and, over time, get them to stretch and flex further.
As it turns out, this static stretching (especially pre-workout) has a multitude of negative effects, including decreased performance and power output. There have been studies to suggest that static holds do improve overall range of motion and flexibility, but at a cost to performance.
This is a tough pill to swallow, as static stretches have been a mainstay of the fitness industry for generations.
Is there a better way?
This is where myofascial release comes into play. Studies have actually demonstrated that foam rolling, done properly, increases power output, flexibility and recovery when done pre and post workout. Foam rolling and myofascial release does not carry with it the hit to performance that static stretching does. It also provides a much more targeted method of addressing specific trouble spots.
Some studies suggest that the efficacy of myofascial release is due to the physical breakup of fibers (think of it as untying a knot in muscle tissue). Others suggest it may be something as simple as a placebo effect, in which case our mind rationalizes the pain of foam rolling by associating it with some sort of desired improved end result.
Think of it this way: Someone injured in combat will typically not feel or address their pain until they remove themselves from danger. This is the brain’s way of prioritizing pain for the sake of improvement, survival, or less threatening circumstances. Foam rolling may work in a similar way. The brain prioritizes the pain felt during the rolling process, deems it as progressive, and decreases pain in other areas.
The science behind this is still budding and constantly changing.
What we do know, is that for several reasons, myofascial release appears to be more effective at treating mobility issues, and aiding in recovery, than static stretching by itself.
Myofascial Release – The DO’s
- Myofascial release foam rolling for beginners can be done pre-workout to target specific tough spots and trigger points in your musculature.
- Post-workout myofascial release cimprove recovery and reduce the onset and intensity of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
- Do myofascial release in conjunction with mobility and strength training. Myofascial release by itself will not result in much improvement and may actually impact your training in a negative way. Treat your body as one giant machine, and train it as such: be sure to incorporate mobility work, strength training and myofascial release into your routine for the best results.
Myofascial Release – The DO NOT’s
- Do not do myofascial release on injured joints. If you have knee pain, do not target the knee; instead target the musculature surrounding the knee, as it is likely the culprit.
- Myofascial release should not be done by itself. Work it into your overall fitness program in conjunction with strength training and flexibility/mobility work.
- Do not assume that myofascial release will cure errors in your training or form just by addressing the symptoms of your pain. By not addressing the root causes of your pain, you are likely to risk more chronic or permanent injury by only treating the symptoms.
How to do it?
First address where your sticking points are. If you’re having knee pain, for example, consider the musculature that surrounds your knee. There are several major muscles that must work together to stabilize the knee joint. In many cases, knee pain itself is a symptom of another issue in a separate muscle or muscle group. So the first step is to identify the culprit or cause of your pain or mobility issues.
Once you’ve identified a muscle or area to target, there are several ways to attack it. The method you use will largely depend on your own comfort or needs.
As a general guideline for myofascial release foam rolling for beginners, we recommend starting about 4-5″ above the “trigger point.” The trigger point as we call it, is the knot, or area of the muscle where you feel tightness or sticking points. As you get more familiar with foam rolling, you will become more and more adept at pinpointing these spots.
- Exhale as you roll down 2 inches
- Inhale as you roll back up 1.5 inches
- Exhale as you roll back down 2 inches
You will want to establish a breathing pattern as you roll. This helps you roll at an effective pace, but also helps with pain management. If you are rolling correctly, you’ll know it, because your body will respond with pain. The amount of weight you put on the roller will dictate the amount of pain you feel. More pain isn’t always better. You want to target the tough spots effectively, but you don’t want to torture yourself.
Start slow and increase intensity as needed.
Once you get within 1-2″ above the affected joint, stop and move below the joint or sticking point. Repeat on the lower half. The reason for this is that you don’t want to roll directly over a bone or joint like the knee. This will not improve anything, and may actually lead to injury. Many people will make this mistake, thinking of the roller as if it were a dough-roller, and attempting to lengthen the ligaments by physically rolling them out. Sorry folks, your ligaments are not dough.
Myofascial Release Foam Rolling for Beginners: Where to roll?
Like we mentioned before, where you roll is largely dependent on where you feel the most sticking points. Some very common muscles to roll out are the calves, the psoas, the lats, quadriceps and the ball of your foot. The IT Band is also a common area to target, and can be used to address knee pain and hip and knee flexibility.
Check out the videos below for a few demonstrations.
Myofascial Release Foam Rolling for Beginners: The Psoas
Myofascial Release Foam Rolling for Beginners: The Calves/Soleus
Myofascial Release Foam Rolling for Beginners: The Quadriceps
These are just some demonstration videos. Your technique does not to be perfect, and ultimately the method you use to roll will depend on how effective you feel it is. Listen to your body and find out what works best for you. This is not a one-size-fits-all prescription, and anyone telling you “THIS IS HOW YOU MUST DO IT” should not be giving fitness advice.
What Do I Need?
Here’s the great thing. You can use lots of every day objects to achieve the same benefits as foam rolling. You don’t necessarily NEED a foam roller. They are large, sometimes pricey, and bulky. You will see many “experts” recommending that you just use a lacrosse ball or baseball to target small muscle groups. This is an effective, cheap method to use. For myofascial release foam rolling for beginners, we recommend the TriggerPoint Foam Massage Ball.
You can perform self myofascial release with just about any object, but we’ve found the TriggerPoint Foam Massage Ball delivers a “massage” that most closely resembles a trained masseuse performing deep tissue massage with his/her thumbs. The ball isn’t as rigid as a lacrosse ball, and can flex and bend slightly to simulate a masseuse’s thumb.
For larger muscle groups, a ball might not cut it. There are tons of different rollers you can shop for at The Camp Store, but our strongest recommendation is the TriggerPoint 13″ GRID Foam Roller. It’s a great size for larger muscles like the quadriceps and hamstrings, but not too big that you can’t put it inside a pack and take it with you.
The effectiveness of trigger point therapy is largely a result of the skill of the user, but the TriggerPoint products help compensate a little bit for inexperience. Try them out for yourself if you’re just getting started with myofascial release foam rolling for beginners; they’ve been in the business of trigger point therapy for years and they know a thing or two about it.
Is There a One Size Fits All Solution?
The short answer to this question is “no.” The real fanatics have entire rooms dedicated to massage and myofascial release. We feel this is unnecessary. We’ve found that the most functionally effective solution is the Trigger Point 6 Piece Set. The box set has some of the most popular rollers and was one of TriggerPoint Therapy’s original flagship products. We hail it as the one size fits all solution to myofascial release foam rolling for beginners.
We used it for several years with great success before foam-rolling really hit the mainstream. You’ll be able to target all of the most common muscles and groups, and you won’t need to invest in a truckload of specialized rollers.
In the interest of staying true to our refugee roots, we’ve found that Amazon is often the cheapest place to find these products. If you’re more interested in brand loyalty, feel free to shop on the respective manufacturer web sites.
What’s the Verdict?
In summary, myofascial release foam rolling for beginners has been shown to be an effective tool for treating postural, mobility and flexibility related injuries and limitations. Foam rolling for advanced users opens even more doors. It is also effective at improving post-workout recovery. We have used it with great success personally to improve our fitness in multiple areas.
The reasons for this are somewhat contested, and still under much study and scrutiny.
To be effective, remember that your ultimate goal is to treat the cause of your limitations while you address the symptoms. In many cases, stuck joints and muscles are a symptom of a greater injury or limitation. So always be aware of your body, listen to it, and treat it as a sum of its individual parts.
Like rolling? Hate it? Let us know in the comments!