I was first introduced to foam rolling through Beachbody’s program, P90X2. At first it was a love-hate relationship with far less emphasis on the love. I was a P90X graduate, had continued to practice weekly Yoga, and was about to be humbled by entering the world of SMFR (Self-Myofascial Release or Self-Massage). Little did I realize how valuable this little roller would be to my rider fitness and overall health and performance in all my daily activities.
What is Self-Myofascial Release?
SMFR is a really fancy phrase for self-massage. Since most of us are not ‘cirque-du-soleil’ enough to reach every place we need a massage, the rumble roller is the tool to fill those ‘I am not a contortionist’ gaps.
Why does do you need SFMR when your warm-up and cool down consistently include stretching?
When you work out, your muscle develops a waste called lactic acid. When the waste material is allowed to build up, the muscle swells and becomes congested. This excess fluid causes the fascia that surrounds the muscle to tighten. When the muscle and surrounding fascia are in this tightened state, the muscle is unable to either further contract or properly relax. These bound up areas are called “trigger points'” and should be released to allow full and proper function of the muscle.
What causes trigger points?
When a muscle is pushed beyond its limit by either lifting too heavy, by doing an activity for too long or at too high an intensity, the body will bind up the muscle and fascia fibers as a protection mechanism to keep from further damaging or tearing the fibers. While the ‘fiber binding’ does create protection, it also causes pain and restricted movement even after the insult to the fiber has stopped.
What area on my body should I foam roll?
Interestingly enough, the area that you feel the pain may not be the area that is bound up! For example, a runner suffering from plantar fasciitis will feel pain on the bottom of the foot and tightness in the calf. Foam rolling the foot does not often create a long term solution to the pain; however rolling and releasing trigger points in the calf may help release the bottom of the foot pain. Rather than going straight to the worst spot, it can be more productive to find places that are not terribly painful but feel slightly restrictive and start with those areas. For more information on plantar fasciitis and a foam rolling video to release trigger points in the calf, check out my blog post on foot pain.
Horseback riders, and many athletes in general, often suffer from low back pain. The cause for low back pain can be from trauma, lack of core strength, improper form, and tightness in the hips and/or quadriceps.
As riders, it is essential that we address the tightness in the hips and quadriceps in order to be able to ride fluidly and rhythmically with our horse. If we allow the lower back to take over for inflexible hips and tight quadriceps, not only we will suffer, but we can create discomfort for our equine riding partners.ceps (just to name a few causes). While every joint in the body should have a certain amount of flexibility, the lower back is actually for stabilization rather than excessive motion. When the quadriceps or the hips (or both) are limited in movement, particularly because of trigger points, the lower back is forced to take on motion for which it was not intended.
There are several different kinds of foam rollers on the market, from those with a smooth surface to those that target a smaller more specific trigger point. My personal favorite is the Rumble Roller®. If you are new to foam rolling, don’t be surprised if you break into a pretty good sweat at first! The pain can be pretty intense until the trigger point releases.
Below is an informative video from Dr Mark Cheng on foam rolling the quadriceps. Dr Cheng has a PhD in Chinese medicine and acupuncture, specializes in orthopedics, and has an extensive background in martial arts and functional fitness. He is also the creator of Beachbody’s Tai Cheng program.