Foam rolling or “Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)” can help improve mobility, muscle activation, etc. When incorporated correctly, it can be an integral part of any dynamic mobility warm-up.
Far too often, athletes will perform SMR too quickly, for too long of a period of time, or with poor technique, and this can decrease the effectiveness of any type of SMR work.
Here a some quick tips to improve the effectiveness of your SMR work:
1. Maintain Good Technique
One common fault that is seen is when clients or athletes place their bodies in positions that decrease the effectiveness of their foam rolling.
One common example of this is when people perform foam rolling on their quads:
As seen in the top picture, the athlete is up on their hands with an arched back position. Not only does this decrease the effectiveness of the SMR work, but if someone is dealing with extension based low back pain, it could potentially make their symptoms worse. It can also perpetuate any type of movement dysfunctions that may be present.
By maintaining a neutral spine position as shown in the second picture, this will improve proximal core stability in an effort to improve distal quad mobility.
2. Incorporate Active Range of Motion
When performing SMR work, most people will go through the motions of moving up and down a desired muscle group and then move onto the next area.
SMR Without Active Motion
Instead, try incorporating active range of motion into your SMR work:
Active motion can be incorporated with any movement. By using active motion, it allows for “reciprocal inhibition” of the muscle you are performing SMR to. In other words, it helps to down-regulate the muscle you are working on or improve its ability to relax. By doing this, it improves the quality of your SMR work.
Also, by incorporating active motion into your SMR work, you are teaching your nervous system how to stabilize and be able to control the “new mobility.” When not incorporating active motion, the body has a difficult time understanding how to control this “new mobility” and will have a tendency to create “tightness” in adjacent musculature as a compensation pattern to attain stability and control.
3. Performing SMR for Too Long
SMR work should be performed with the goal to help prime the nervous system for good, quality, movement. Foam rolling should not be performed for long periods of time. Scar tissue is not being broken up. The jury is still out on what SMR actually does, but if there are improvements in mobility in a short period of time, neuro-modulation of tone is likely what is occurring.
If there are particular problem areas or areas that are prone to being “tight”, then spending up to 60 seconds is fine. For other non-problematic areas, 15-20 seconds at most will suffice. Remember, you are going to the gym to train and improve your physical fitness. Spending more than 10-12 minutes warming-up is taking away time from getting stronger and more fit.
4. Performing SMR Too Quickly
On the flip side, performing SMR work too quickly is also decreasing the effectiveness of the warm-up. When you are foam rolling, if you look like you are trying to start a campfire with the foam roller and your body, then you are performing SMR too fast.
Perform the movements under control.
There are 4 Quick Tips to Improve Your Self-Myofascial Release/Foam Rolling work. Give those a try to help!
Stretching and mobility work has its place. Some professionals believe it does nothing while others swear by it. Like most things, it depends whether or not an athlete or client needs mobility work. One drill that is common in athletes and gym goers programs is the hip flexor stretch.
Most often, it is performed like so:
Most people feel a stretch throughout the front of their hip, into their thigh, and occasionally throughout the low back.
The problem with performing a hip flexor stretch like so is that this places increased stress on structures in the hip joint itself, specifically the hip capsule/ligaments, bone, etc. Also, it is not as specific of a drill because it is not placing a sufficient stretch on the anterior hip musculature, specifically iliacus and psoas.
Clients and athletes will occasionally feel this stretch in their low back because this specific position places clients into an anterior pelvic tilt and increases the amount of lumbar spine extension. Again, another area where we don’t want to feel the stretch.
So, instead of cranking on the front of your hip and trying to feel a “strong” hip flexor stretch, what should you do?
Start in the typical hip flexor stretch position. Make sure your ear, shoulder, hip, and knee on the down leg are all stacked on top of each other.
Take both hands and press down into the leg that is in front of you. By doing this, it helps to activate your anterior core musculature and place you in a more neutral alignment.
Then, squeeze the trail leg gluteus maximus, which will also enhance posterior pelvic tilt, decreasing anterior pelvic tilt and placing more emphasis on the hip flexor musculature.
When performed like so, an adequate hip flexor stretch is felt without ever having to move the body forward.
So, if you or your athletes or clients are performing hip flexor mobility drills or stretches, try implementing this quick tip into their programming to make their mobility drills more effective.
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