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What is foam rolling and why do we do it?

Let’s start at the beginning. Self-myofascial Release (SMR), or foam rolling, is a great way to help muscles recover, relieve stiffness, and increase mobility and range of motion when performed correctly. It is essentially a self-massage technique using some sort of implement (foam roller, lacrosse balls, large PVC pipe, hand, etc.) to release knots, break up adhesions, and relax tight muscles, aiding in the restoration of proper muscle function.

That sounds great, how do I it?

Often I’ll see people grab a foam roller, hit the floor, and begin rolling away with reckless abandon, without rhyme, reason, or purpose. This is probably not the best approach to becoming an SMR ninja. Below are some pointers to up your foam-rolling game.

Start slow – You should be rolling slowly, and purposefully. Think about covering an inch or two every second, not your whole back or quad. This will help you find those knots and adhesions mentioned earlier.

Relax – Once you’ve found yourself a knot or adhesion, spend some quality time with it. Try to relax the muscle, and gradually increase the pressure applied. This should be uncomfortable, but not so painful that you’re gritting your teeth and grimacing. After you’ve spent a little time on these spots (15-60 seconds), you should start to feel some improvement.

Focus – Foam rolling can be unpleasant, to say the least. So focus on a particular area or two each day, instead of spreading yourself thin by trying to hit everywhere everyday. Unless you have a solid 20 minutes or so, you’ll end up only scratching the surface of what can be done.

Why does it hurt in other places?

Sometimes you will hit what’s called a trigger point. Trigger points are knots or adhesions that cause pain referral, meaning when pressure is applied to it pain is felt elsewhere. A common example of this is the illiotibial (IT) band referring pain to the knee or hip. Tread lightly with these spots, but definitely spend some quality time with them, as they may actually be the cause of the mystery knee pain that’s been nagging at you.

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