Ashburn, Va (October 6, 2015) – First in a series of article on fitness and wellness by Christopher Perry, MS, CSCS
You’ve done it! You’ve committed to beginning a healthier lifestyle through physical activity and exercise. By engaging on the path towards your fitness goals you’ve dedicated yourself to going to the fitness center, eating a healthier diet, being more active throughout the day, having a consistent sleep schedule, and overall improving your life. Within a few weeks, the first round of results start to become visible in the mirror when you make the realization that changing yourself into a healthier you is indeed possible. And then…it happens. The new way of life brings about unwanted soreness, muscle aches, pulls, chronic tightness, and more.
In every fitness program, whether you are a novice or fitness veteran, the most neglected activity is working to improve flexibility and mobility. Lack of these aspects of fitness can lead to reduced range of motion, poor movement mechanics, decreased recovery rates, and ultimately pain that can lead to chronic conditions. It is important to establish a basic program that emphasizes flexibility, mobility, and recovery to allow for continued progress towards your fitness goals. In order to do such, we can employ various techniques to help us improve our flexibility through self-myofascial release, more commonly known as foam rolling.
Foam Rolling/Trigger Point Massage
What is it?
Foam rolling is an activity used to engage in self-myofascial release, a technique used by athletes, sports doctors, physical therapists, and fitness professionals to inhibit overactive muscles. This is a form of stretching that utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility to relax muscle tissue. In other words, this technique is used to help relax chronically tight areas of muscle that may be painful to the touch or prevent you from moving correctly through a full range of motion during physical activity.
These chronically tight areas are normally caused by stress, poor postural or movement mechanics, poor diet & dehydration, and overuse. Often this tightness is associated as being a muscle knot or trigger point within muscle tissue. A trigger point is defined as an irritable locus within a tight band of muscle that results in myofascial pain. In other words, a trigger point is a knot within the muscle tissue that runs the entire length of the muscle fiber. These areas are easily located through touch by eliciting a pain sensation and can sometimes feel as tight strings or bands running across the muscle belly. Applying pressure to trigger points can also refer pain to other places of the body; most commonly seen in areas of the shoulders and upper traps which when are chronically tight can cause pain up through the back of the head causing headaches.
How does Foam Rolling Work?
By using foam rolling and other trigger point massaging techniques we can elicit structural change in the muscle tissue by applying pressure to these areas. Pressure applied to muscle tissue can help release trigger points caused by chronic overuse, injury, lack of flexibility, poor biomechanics, compensations, etc. The tension applied via the foam roller or object is sensed by muscle spindles which initiate a message to the spinal cord to continue to contract the muscle to prevent injury. Over time of constant pressure with a foam roller or trigger point tool, we can interrupt this natural response, thus causing the relaxation of the muscle tissue. Once the muscle tissue has relaxed, the knot will subside and allow the muscle fiber to return to its normal length. Foam rolling and trigger point release can allow for proper neural activity throughout muscle tissue, increased blood flow, and allow for great ranges of motion. However, relief from these techniques is often acute and temporary; we must combine them with mobility & flexibility work to see lasting changes in range of motion and mobility.
When to do it..
Foam rolling and trigger point massage techniques can be performed at various times for an advantageous benefits:
- Warm-Up – These techniques can be performed after a light warm-up before physical activity (i.e. 5 minutes of walking, jogging, jump-rope, etc.) to promote blood flow to the working muscle tissues. Although we can target various regions of the body, be sure to concentrate on the areas that will most likely affect your movements during the specified workout. Target areas of interest include your calves, hip flexors, upper shoulder girdle (trapezius), pectorals (chest) and the latissimus dorsi (back). These areas are often the most chronically tight areas that can negatively affect posture and overall body mechanics during physical activity. Spend at least 30-120 seconds working each target area before active stretching to help ensure for a more efficient workout.
- Cool Down – One of the best times to perform these techniques is at the conclusion of a workout. After you have completed your cool down cardio activity, it would be of great benefit to foam roll or trigger point release to maximize recovery and to promote gains in flexibility. Before beginning your post-workout stretching routine, spend 5 to 10 minutes foam rolling the targeted areas from the workout, and/or other troublesome areas. By doing this, you will encourage relaxation of the muscle tissue and will be able to stretch to a greater degree allowing for more positive progress in flexibility.
- Various Times Throughout The Day – The key to making progress or maintaining flexibility and mobility is consistency. In order to see change in our bodies, to see pain decrease, to experience greater ranges of motion, we must continually engage in these practices. It would be of great benefit to schedule times throughout the day to engage in brief periods of mobility work to help you towards making progress, and keep you adherent towards achieving those goals. Not only would it be beneficial to engage in these techniques pre-workout and post-workout, but positive progress can also be attributed to performing them in the morning and at night before bed. Upon waking and after taking a shower, it would be a great idea to combine these techniques with a stretching routine to help you jump start the day. At night, these techniques combined with light stretching would not only put you further on the path to making gains in flexibility, but would also help increase relaxation to improve your overall quality of sleep and recovery.
How to Do it..
Foam rolling and trigger point massage can be performed with a variety of objects. Foam rollers vary from the basic foam cylinders of various sizes and firmness ranging from softer to harder versions. Trigger point techniques are normally performed to pinpoint specific places or harder to reach areas. Common tools range from trigger point balls, tennis balls, lacrosse balls, and other various objects. If you are new to these techniques, be sure to start with the softer versions to assess your tolerance and build your way to firmer models.
To perform the techniques, whether lying on mat on the floor or using a wall, be sure to keep proper posture, and core engaged to ensure proper application of pressure to the target area. To apply pressure to the targeted area, roll slowly along the length of the muscle area at one inch per second for approximately 30 to 120 seconds or until you notice the area has become more relaxed or pain level has decreased.
When used correctly and consistently, foam rolling & trigger point techniques can be one the best tools in your fitness tool set. By helping to make improvements in flexibility and recovery, these techniques can keep you on track during your fitness journey. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article which will dive into various stretching & active recovery techniques to keep you healthy & mobile on the path towards your goals.
Viva Loudoun: We Live For LoudounTM
Written by Christopher Perry, MS, CSCS
Special to Viva Loudoun