Why We Roll…
When you walk into a fitness club, you will most likely notice two groups of people: the “weight lifters” and, as I like to call them, the “cardio junkies”. They love those types of fitness (as they should) and, yes, those types are amazing. However, they are missing an important element of fitness: flexibility. Even though a good majority of today’s athletes are realizing the importance of a proper cool-down and stretch, you will still find many individuals doing grueling workouts, dripping sweat, and utterly exhausting themselves just to end with a simple 30 seconds of stretching – if that! What these individuals don’t realize is that, as time goes by, their knees, hips, and/or shoulders will start to hurt. They might notice a tightness in their muscles or even acquire an injury that was seemingly caused by a simple movement. It could have been a movement they had performed a 100 times. But, on this particular day, that movement pulled a muscle or – worse yet – did more damage. This is where flexibility training comes in.
Flexibility has been described as “…the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allows full range of motion of a joint and optimum neuromuscular efficiency throughout all functional movements” (NASM: Sports Performance Training, 2015). By incorporating a flexibility program into your routine, you can correct muscle imbalance, increase joint range of motion, decrease muscle hypertonicity, relieve joint stress, improve the extensibility of the musculotendinous action, and maintain the normal functional length of all muscles (NASM: Sports Performance Training, 2015). In other words, a tight muscle will eventually go out of alignment. If it isn’t aligned correctly, it doesn’t function properly. This brings on dysfunctional patterns in the body that affect the neuromuscular system and the muscles which leads to injury. Now we have a problem. One of my favorite forms of stretching is Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), or as we know it…foam rolling. There are many benefits to SMR which includes injury prevention. That alone makes foam rolling worth it.
Our first benefit is the mobility of the fascia. Fascia is a layer of connective tissue that surrounds all of the muscles in our body. Fascia is continually being created and laid down throughout our body. Without proper movement (which a lot of us lack), these fibers won’t form in the correct pattern. This creates pain and pain doesn’t allow us to move with proper form. The daily stresses we put on our body affect how our fascia is made. It can be from our daily run, sitting at a desk every day for work, or carrying heavy items on our shoulder. All our movements affect fascia. SMR helps target trigger points and keeps scar tissue broken up within the muscle and fascia allowing better tissue extensibility which equates to a great range of motion (NASM: Sports Performance Training, 2015). It relieves stress and tension which takes place in the muscles. I have heard many fitness professionals describe SMR as a “self-massage.” As you place the muscle on top of the roller and begin to follow the proper way of rolling, you are putting pressure on that muscle as it moves. This forces the blood to easily move through the body as well as create better circulation. As blood flows better throughout the body it brings nutrients into the cells that may be damaged so that the muscles can be repaired. If you are sore, this will help speed up the recovery process.
Not only does SMR increase flexibility it also improves muscular endurance and neuromuscular efficiency. As we touched on blood circulation briefly above, one of the key nutrients mentioned is oxygen. When we get more oxygen into the blood, it can be available to oxidize fats and carbs to turn them into energy when we need it. Thus improving one’s overall athletic performance (NASM: Sports Performance Training, 2015). To put in layman’s terms…the more flexible the muscle are the more they stretch apart, as they spread apart from each other they create power. A great example of this would be a rubber band. If you have a rubber band and pull it back just a little bit, it won’t go far when it’s released. However, if you stretch it by pulling it a little more, the distance greatly – and easily – increases when it’s released.
These reasons should be enough to start rolling and releasing!