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The Benefits of Self Myofascial Massage… Using Tools Wisely

By Tanner | In Training | on June 28, 2012

There’s a growing trend to use myofascial workout like the foam roller to “warm up” before a workout.  Doing so can actually detract from your workout and even lead to an injury.

If your posture, from hours of sitting behind a desk, have your shoulders more round than a beach ball. Or you cannot perform an overhead squat because your shoulders lack full ROM (tight pec minors) you need to address these things with mobility.  But that does not mean doing full body foam rolling or “flossing” before every workout.  Doing so may increase your risk to injury.  Foam rolling, ART, massage and/or most common mobility techniques can attually cause bruising and damage to muscles and tissue.  That equates to local inflammation.  Timing your myofascial work around workouts and recovery is essential part of incorporating them into your training.  I’m not saying  for you to forego the foam roller, etc…  only to use them as needed.

Understanding what these tools do to the body will help:

THE BENEFITS

  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased range of motion
  • Decreased muscle soreness & joint stress
  • Increased mind / muscle feedback
  • Decreased neuro-hypertonicity (tension from CNS)
  • Improved strength and performance

THE PHYSIOLOGY
Muscles contain  receptors… spindles and golgi tendon organs (gto).  Spindles are parallel to the muscle

fibers, while gto are found at the tendinous junction.  The muscle spindles monitor changes in muscle fibers and the CNS’s interaction with the fibers.  When triggered, the spindles cause the myotatic stretch reflex.  A shortening of the muscle tissue that can causes inflexibility, lack of mobility and even pain.  Golgi tendon organs are located at the musculotendinous junction, where the tendons and muscles verge.  They sense changes in muscular tension.  Stimulation of the GTO’s past a certain threshold inhibits the muscle

Reducing muscle tissue tension with myofascial release techniques decreases pain associated with inflexibility and limited range of motion while improving the same range of mobility.  This improved function of the muscle and associated joint, coupled with the better CNS/muscle connection, inherently improves performance.

The science may seem complicated, but the causality is simple.  If you foam roll, your fitness and health will improve.  While it may not be as exciting as a sexy metcon, exhausting as back squats, or as fun rope climbs, we don’t dedicate a full day of it each week to bore you.  I don’t do or program “busy work”.  If I didn’t think this part of our training was worth the while, would I dedicate this much effort to a post on it?

FREQUENCY

Post workout, full body is fine to do every day.  Pre-workout should address only the area(s) that inhibit from that training day.  Therapeutic and in between workouts, should be per your imbalance and mobility issues.  Foam rolling and stretching lighting can be done numerous times a day.  Just keep it light and fast.

HOW TO:  THERAPEUTIC, PRE WORKOUT, and POST WORKOUT
Like stretching, self myofascial release techniques differ with purpose.  Using the foam roller during the day, aside from your workout, will increase the effectiveness of your flexibility and mobility program ten fold.  A therapeutic session should be deliberate.  Stop on any painful spots and hold there for 15-30 seconds.  Roll all four sides of the body… front, back, and both sides and you are done in two minutes or so.

Pre-workout roller work should be the most specific, be stimulating to the CNS and focus on preparing you for the upcoming movements.  In other words, if you are squatting, your release work would still include the upper body, but the focus would be on the lower.

The roller work should be for improving flexibility and mobility of the squat.  This means your emphasis will be on the IT Bands (from hip to knee only), glute work, and lengthening the calves.  If your workout involves opening of the shoulders (see workout below), pulling or pressing, your roller massage should be used to reduce tension in the pecs (especially the pec minors), delts, lats, traps, biceps, triceps, and rhomboids.  In other words, all the muscles that support and actuate the shoulder.  The number one limiting factor on the overhead squat or snatch has nothing to do with the legs or even the squat.  It is tight pec minors.  If tight, they disallow the shoulders to open far enough to support weight over and behind the head the way an OHS requires.

The post workout roll should also lend focus to the worked muscles, but be calming to the CNS.  It should be coupled with a structured stretching regimen, like the Core 4, taught by CFW instructors and explained in depth in the book Stretch to Win.

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