Widely used by elite athletes and weekend-warriors alike, SMR (or Self Myofascial Release), is a warm up and recovery mechanism at the heart of a lot of uncertainty, intense debate, and hot training takes.Overall, though, the research and support of SMR is relatively positive, albeit somewhat “weak”.While by no means is there concrete proof of any guaranteed benefits, most research (and many athletes’ personal experience!) would seem to indicate that it can cause short-term increases in flexibility and range of motion without negatively affecting muscular performance, improve mobility long-term if used consistently, and may provide a relief from pain associated with post-workout soreness.Here at PLT4M we certainly do not ascribe to the idea that SMR is any sort of “be-all, end-all” cure for mobility, recovery, or performance. That being said, we do believe in its power to be an effective pre- or post-workout tool within a larger, balanced training program.But what is it, really?
Your muscles are surrounded by a soft, fibrous connective tissue called Myofascia, or just “Fascia”. You can think of it like a strong but flexible sleeve of sorts, that surrounds all components and compartments of the body to maintain integrity, support, and protective structure.For any number of reasons, this tissue can become restricted, and thus inhibit the movement or range of motion of certain joints or muscles. Whether it be the result of too much intense activity, or not enough, acute injury, general inflammation, or even emotional distress, your fascia can lose elasticity (it’s “stretchiness”) and begin to bind together, causing fibrous adhesions. Essentially, the fascia and muscle fibers have become stuck together. These adhesions restrict muscle movement and can cause soreness, limit range of motion, and negatively affect performance. Such adhesions are often referred to as knots or trigger points.
SMR is simply an attempt to undo these adhesions and restore elasticity to the connective tissue.Self Myofascial Release is really just a fancy name for a massage you give yourself, often performed with a foam roller or other instrument. We are simply applying pressure to the muscle with slow controlled movement.By applying pressure, we incite blood flow to the tissue and work to physically break up those adhesions. The goal is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and the muscle may move more freely, independent of one another. Returning this relationship to its original state improves mobility by maximizing muscle range of motion while reducing soreness and speeding up recovery. We can also apply the same principle to breaking up scar tissue within a damaged muscle.While the research may still be up for debate, we do believe there are some encouraging results.Rolling out prior to a training session has been shown to temporarily increase joint range of motion for up to 10 minutes, without negatively affect strength or power. This can enhance our positioning and improve our movement efficiency under load, which in turn can improve our performance.Meanwhile, rolling out after an intense training session has been shown to potentially reduce the effect of the dreaded “DOMS” in the days following. At worst, rolling offers up a placebo effect that lowers athletes’ level of perceived pain post-exercise.In our coaches’ opinion, when it comes to SMR in general, there are no discernible downsides and a handful of potential benefits. Therefore, taking a few minutes before or after training to “roll it out” seems like a worthwhile endeavor!
How to Roll?
So you want to roll, but you’re unsure how to go about it.
To put it most simply: you really can’t do it incorrectly. Pressure, light movement, and blood flow is the name of the game. So long as you are applying pressure to soft-tissue areas, and creating gentle movement you are increasing blood flow to the area while massaging the fascia itself. When it comes to the concept of sets and reps, there is also no real “right or wrong” as yet identified.
Frankly, we would recommend taking 5 minutes before and after every workout just to try it out and see what works for you!
In the videos linked below, we walk you through 2 very basic foam roller progressions to get you started!