The Importance of Self Myofascial Release or “Foam Rolling”
If you are looking for ways to increase your flexibility and joint range of motion you should definitely try the foam rolling technique. As a dancer we often use static stretching(30-60s holds in the desired position), active stretching(activating one muscle to allow the other to relax and holding for 1-2s then repeating) and dynamic stretching(taking joints through full range of motion at a steady pace), but I have never seen a dancer use SMR.
I believe this is probably because of the lack of knowledge and know-how in this practice. As of recently, I have started to incorporate SMR with my own stretch routines as well as with my students who either have muscles imbalances or have a hard time with muscle extensibility. I have been amazed at the results and how quickly positive adaptations have been made. With that being said, let’s dig into how exactly SMR is used and why. SMR is a proven inhibition technique that increases the range of motion and muscle flexibility as well as improving muscle imbalances and altered joint mechanics.
One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to foam rolling is that you should “roll fast to get your muscles ready for activity.” Using SMR as an activation technique is not supported by scientific evidence and therefore is not suggested. Instead, you should roll desired muscle slowly until you find a spot of tension. Once the tender spot is found simply hold with no movement for 20-30 seconds before finding one or two more spots and repeating. You may feel the need to tighten the muscles surrounding the muscle being rolled, instead try to relax and allow the foam roller to work its magic. The timed hold is important because of the principal of autogenic inhibition.
Each of our skeletal muscles has two important mechanoreceptors involved with flexibility, muscle spindles and Golgi Tendon organs(GTO). When your muscle length changes as in stretching, the muscle spindles are stimulated causing the muscle to contract to protect them from stretching too far. When this contraction happens it creates tension and as the stretch is held more tension is created. This change in tension stimulates the GTO and causes the muscle to relax and elongate. This process is known as Autogenic Inhibition. If the stretch or tension is not held long enough to produce ample amounts of tension that will then stimulate the GTO, the muscle will remain in a contracted state until you are no longer in stretching position. Therefore not allowing joints to move into a greater range of motion with increased muscle length. This process can lead to permanent adaptations in the muscles and associated tissues if SMR is used correctly over time.