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What's the deal with Foam Rolling?

Foam Rolling

The proper name (industry terminology) for foam-rolling is Self-Myofacial Release (SMR).  Most call it foam-rolling probably because it’s easier to say and more well-known as that.  From now on I am going to refer to it as SMR for short.  SMR has been used in physical therapy for years.  It recently become main stream in the fitness realm.  SMR functions like a deep tissue massage without the heavy price tag.


SMR is primarily used to correct muscle imbalances in the body. Through our normal (outside the gym) lives we develop some imbalances due to improper postural and activity habits .  An imbalance reduces muscle strength and causes postural deviations, thus increasing your risk of injury. These imbalances are increased by heavy loads as in lifting weights, bad posture, improper biomechanics (movement patterns), and suboptimal joint alignment.


What are the benefits?


There are multiple uses for SMR.  First, there is relief from muscle soreness (DOMS).  A person who foam-rolls targeted muscles after a workout tends to be less sore than someone who didn’t.  Second, it encourages proper posture.  Most people really don’t think that this is a big deal.  However, strength is more neurological than muscle size.  People with less muscle imbalances have better posture.  Good posture means that opposing muscles are neither too long and weak, nor too short and tight; and thus will be able to fire with proper effort and timing producing the desired outcome.  This allows greater neurological communication and further increasing strength.  The increase in your core strength gained by the correct posture gives a third benefit; injury prevention.


What muscles can be foam-rolled?


There are a lot muscles that can be foam-rolled.  When rolling for posture you, roll all the tight muscles in your body, and spend time strengthening the weaker areas.  The weaker areas will ALWAYS be opposite of the tighter muscle group.  For example, if your heels rise off the floor on a overhead squat then you need to foam-roll your calves, the outside of your thighs (IT band) and Piriformis (Glutes).  You’ll also need to strengthen your inner thighs, using side to side lunges, adductions on a machine, or Pilates Ring.


When rolling for to prevent soreness just roll over the muscles that were worked during the workout.  Some of the basic muscles:


  • Calves
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Inner thigh (Adductor)
  • Hip flexors
  • Glutes
  • Piriformus
  • Latisimus Dorsi


Where to not roll


For safety concerns, here are some places not to roll.  


  • Joints such the lower back, and neck – DO NOT roll these muscles with a foam-roll.  You can get to these areas with other objects explained below. These specific areas of your body don’t really have very many protective muscles, and the ones that are there aren’t very strong.  You may roll your neck, and erectors in your lower back with a tennis ball, golf ball, of some similar object.  The same can be said about your feet.  The smaller size of the objects allows you to get to your muscles without putting any strain on your spine.


  • Ribs – due to the small amount of muscle in the rib cage area and the large amount of bodyweight isolated in a small area in the ribs you shouldn’t roll here due to a risk of cracking or breaking a rib.  While the chances are slim, it’s not worth the risk of it.


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