Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a type of exercise designed to release tight muscles. It works by strategically applying pressure to soft tissue that is taut. These are generally referred to as “muscle knots.” This pressure helps both connective tissue and muscle tissue relax. It also breaks down scar tissue, making it easier for the muscle and surrounding tissue to release.
Some trainers use a tennis ball to promote myofascial release. They have clients roll the ball under their glute muscles to reduce muscle tightness in that area. Or they position the ball against the wall, rolling it under the shoulder blade to assist with upper body muscle recovery. Another common option is to engage in foam roller exercises.
Foam rolling has grown in popularity, so trainers and clients alike have some level of familiarity with this method of relaxing tight muscle and connective tissue. But there are a few key secrets the best trainers know when using SMR exercise in client programs. Check them out to see if your SMR technique and approach are on point.
How often do you use a foam roller in your clients’ training programs? If this form of myofascial release is more the exception than the rule, you may want to reconsider.
Studies show that performance, fitness, weight loss, lean body mass gain, and endurance training can all benefit from SMR techniques. That makes it beneficial for clients with a wide range of goals.
Even a client looking for hypertrophy can benefit from a workout program that incorporates SMR. Better range of motion means a better ability to recruit more muscle fibers. This helps maximize each exercise.
Let’s face it, foam rolling takes time. So, it’s not uncommon to face resistance if clients don’t want to spend their time with a fitness professional sitting on a foam roller.
One of the best trainer secrets is to get clients to understand how foam rolling can help them get to their goals faster. This increases their willingness to engage in this SMR exercise. Explain how using a roller massager aids in recovery. Talk to them about the benefits of easing muscle tension.
If the client is unfamiliar with foam rolling, make the connection between it and stretching. Most people have heard how static stretching or dynamic stretching can help muscle relax. A foam roller is another way to achieve this purpose. Depending on how you choose to use it, it essentially becomes either a static stretch or dynamic stretch that incorporates the use of a foam rolling tool.
Next, spend time teaching the basics so the client knows how to do it on their own before the training session starts. One of those basics is to use proper form.
It’s easy to think foam rolling is time to relax. Meaning, clients and trainers tend to pay less attention to form when it’s more about the internal feeling they’re looking for when rolling. Their focus is placed solely on the pressure and where it is applied.
Yet, proper form is important so you don’t inadvertently cause issues. Any form of exercise, when performed incorrectly, can make muscle imbalance worse. Foam rolling is no different. So, watching a client’s form should be a part of your SMR techniques.
Pay attention to whether clients drop their head or let it fall forward. Also notice their lower back, making sure it doesn’t arch. Finally, check to see if their shoulders raise up when engaged in myofascial release. With the discomfort that often comes with SMR, it’s easy for all these things to happen.
The best trainers know to keep a watchful eye on their client’s form. This helps ensure that the exercise is being done correctly. It also decreases the chances that the movement will further add to the tension or adhesion.
One of the secrets to using foam rolling is all about efficiency and effectiveness. To maximize your time with clients, only focus on the most problematic muscle or muscle group. This doesn’t mean the most painful muscle. Instead, it means the muscle that is preventing good range of motion (ROM).
For example, a client might have sore lats and want to roll them, but it’s a lower body day. In this case, their time would be better spent working on their hip flexor, quad, or hamstring muscles. This provides greater joint ROM in the areas being worked.
Clients, and sometimes trainers, have clients roll back and forth at a moderate pace. Like some of the other secrets, this might feel good but doesn’t add to the overall value of SMR.
When clients hold a tender area for at least 30 seconds, they get what they’re looking for: the overactive muscle to calm down. It takes this amount of time to signal the brain to relax the muscle fibers. So, find the tender area and keep applying pressure for at least this long.
When foam rolling a tender area, it’s uncomfortable. Subconsciously, clients will tense up in other areas to relieve this discomfort or pain. While this is natural, it can cause bad form. It can also reduce the benefits linked to foam rolling exercise.
The best trainers know that if the pain is too much, it’s better to use a less dense device or regress the intensity. This decreases the tendency to tense up, providing better results.
It’s not uncommon for clients and trainers to think foam rolling after a workout is the best bet. It might feel good, but clients can gain more when rolling before a workout instead of after. This has to do with having the best range of motion pre-exercise.
The increased range of motion helps make the workout more effective and reduces the risk of injury according to research. Using it after the workout is a bonus, in the experts’ opinion. But the real benefit is before the hard work begins.
It’s common to think if your clients just foam roll after the workout, they won’t be as sore. This isn’t exactly how this myofascial release works.
Research does say that rolling can reduce the amount of soreness time. It may even speed up muscle recovery. But experts know that exercise causes muscle damage and there’s no magic cure to avoid the delayed onset muscle soreness linked with a tough workout.
Soreness is often part of exercise, especially if the workout is new to the client or an increase in intensity. The key is to know the difference between soreness and pain. Soreness is part of the muscle growth process. Pain, however, may mean that the tissue is damaged more than is healthy.
If the client experiences pain versus muscle soreness, medical treatment may be necessary to find out what is going on. Stop the workout and encourage them to see a doctor. This is important to not further damage the tissue or hinder muscle performance.
The IT band, which runs down the outer thigh, is connective tissue. More specifically, it is incredibly thick and resistant connective tissue. This means, foam rolling will do little more than cause discomfort in this area.
The goal of SMR is to increase range of motion and get clients to move better. So, time is better spent on pliable tissue muscle. Expert trainers realize this and spend their time having clients roll their tensor fascia latae (TFL), which is where the IT band connects.
Sometimes clients think the discomfort in rolling the IT band means it’s working. But the experts realize that pain is usually the symptom and opt for a more useful approach.
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