When I ask my clients if they foam roll, almost all of them will tell me they have a foam roller that they don’t know how to use or simply have no idea what I’m talking about. Even worse, some people know exactly what a foam roller is and how to use theirs but let it sit and collect dust underestimating its importance.
Human movement is achieved by the integrated functioning of the nervous, skeletal, and muscular system of the body. Those 3 systems together are referred to as the “Human Movement System” and thus requires a collaborative effort to form a functional kinetic chain. If any part is injured or not functioning properly, the entire link is comprised and will affect the performance of your movement. For example, let’s say you have tight hips (PSOAS muscles), you lose out on proper firing of the glutes muscles because the tightness in your hips causes a decrease in neural drive to the gluteus maximus (a phenomenon known as altered reciprocal inhibition). But, with regular training and stretching you can create adaptations in the nervous system that will allow for greater control of movement so they become smoother and more accurate. In simpler terms, STRETCHING WILL HELP YOU MOVE BETTER WHICH WILL HELP YOU TRAIN BETTER!
So let’s dive a little deeper into how specifically foam rolling and static stretching (holding a stretch) works. There are muscle spindles within your muscles that are sensory receptors that sense change in muscle length. When a certain muscle is stretched, the spindles within that muscle are also stretched. The muscle spindles sends this message of change in length to the brain via sensory neurons and a response to contract the muscle is received. The Golgi tendon organs are another one of the sensory receptors located within your muscles that can sense changes in muscular tension. The activation of the Golgi tendon organ causes the muscle to relax. This is the area that is stimulated through foam rolling.
Foam rolling can also be referred to as “self-myofascial release (SMR).” It’s called this because it focuses on the neural and fascial system of the body. You use the roller to apply gentle force to an adhesion (knot) which stimulated the Golgi tendon organ and decreases muscle spindle excitation and tension within the muscles aka it helps break up knots.The proper way to foam roll is to roll until you find a tender spot and then hold pressure on it for AT LEAST 30 seconds. This is the time it takes to increase the Golgi tendon organ activity to signals can be sent to your brain for the muscles to relax.