When you student teach in an elementary school,  they warn you that you’ll get sick.  After the first two and a half weeks, I thought I had beaten the system.  Alas, when I woke on Friday, I felt like bus had parallel parked on my head.  After a rough morning, I picked up some Mucinex Fast Max and made it through the rest of the day.  Unfortunately, I fell asleep from 5-10pm, then was up until 3:30am. By the time I was up on Saturday morning, it was time to lift; on a jacked up sleep schedule, a day of sub-par nutrition, and just generally feeling like crap.  Additionally, I found out that the Adelphi gym was still on a winter schedule, and was closing at 1pm.  It was 12:23.  FML.

I was able to cram in some foam rolling, mobility work, trap bar deadlifting, and a clean grip forward lunge/ reverse lunge combo.  I took triples with the trap bar up to 365lbs, then took an 8 rep cluster with 405lbs with 10 seconds between reps.  Experimented with the lunge combo for the first time, only went to 135lbs, and then ran some sprints.  It was fun to train with my neighbor, who’s four years younger than me and 6’4″, 270lbs.  After our quick little lift, we watched his brother swim in a swim meet, and I checked out the AU Women’s Basketball game.

Now here’s the good part; I spent at least 75% of the game doing mobility drills and rolling a lacrosse ball across my back.  That’s like…over an hour of time.  SMR, FTW.

If the title left you in the dark, SMR is Self Myofascial Release, or self massage.  Self massage can use a variety of tools to treat musculoskeletal dysfunction and the resulting pain or restriction of motion.  In short, SMR can:

  • Correct muscle imbalance
  • Increase joint range of motion
  • Decrease muscle soreness & relieve joint stress
  • Decrease neuromuscular hypertonicity
  • Increase extensibility of musculotendinous junction
  • Increase neuromuscular efficiency
  • Maintain normal functional muscular length

How does it do all of these wonderful things?

A simple review of neuromuscular anatomy is required to apply the neurophysiological concepts.  Two basic neural receptors are located in skeletal muscle tissue.  These receptors are the muscle spindle and the golgi tendon organ.  Muscle Spindles are located parallel to the muscle fibers.  They record changes in fiber length, and rate of change to the CNS5,9.  This triggers the myotatic stretch reflex, which reflexively shortens muscle tissue, alters the normal length-tension relationship, and often induces pain1,2,5Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO) are located at the musculotendinous junction.  They are sensitive to change in tension and rate of tension change2,5,7,8.  Stimulation of the GTO’s past a certain threshold inhibits the muscle spindle activity, and decreases muscular tension.  This phenomenon is referred to as autogenic inhibition2,4,7,11.  It is said to be “autogenic” because the contracting agonist is inhibited by its’ own receptors.  Reduction in soft-tissue tension decreases pain, restores normal muscle length-tension relationships, and improves function.


The soft tissue tension referenced above refers to trigger points, or “areas of muscle that are painful to palpation and are characterized by the presence of taut bands.”  Basically, these sucker hurt.  If they’re stick around for long enough, can lead to chronic pain and or injury.  Basically, you will not be happy, so it’s important that you spend some time literally working out the kinks.

If time and funds were not a factor, we’d be able to get hands on manual therapy from qualified practitioners whenever necessary.  Is this practical?  Not at all; we don’t have the time or money for it.  Fortunately, with $10-15 and a few extra minutes before and/or after a workout, you could be feeling a lot better.

When it comes to self-myofascial release, I think the foam roller is king.  It allows you to get through the almost all of your biggest muscles, and can do a lot of dammage to the trigger points that can cause you damage.  Instead of re-writing the proverbial book on foam rolling, I’d like to share with you some resources from other coaches or trainers who are a lot smarter than yours truly.  This first video is from the heavy hitters at Cressey Performance; Tony Gentilcore and Eric Cressey:

There aren’t really any rules for foam rolling.  It’s kind of like a masochistic scavenger hunt; you search for a painful adhesion, apply some pressure until the adhesion begins to break up, then move on to the next one.  Temporarily exacerbating pain may not sound like your cup of tea, but it will leave you feeling much better in the long run.  Once you figure out exactly how to position your body on the roller (or other implement), you become a pain-seeking machine, destroying adhesions and working towards improved tissue quality and quality of movement.

Eventually, the roller won’t be enough.  They break down over time, so you’ll need to pick up a fresh one, and then even the new ones won’t be enough.  I keep a 6″ black foam roller in my bag, and will use a 4″ PVC pipe at the gym when I need a good beating.  It makes the foam roller feel like a pool noodle, but if you can relax on it it’ll leave you feeling like a champ.  In addition, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, and medicine balls come in handy as well.  Here’s an example from Nick Tumminello:

With plenty of great resources out there for your learning, I’ve created a little stock pile of articles that you can use to learn a little bit more.  If you’re in the market for a roller, I’d suggest Perform Better, EliteFTS, or Amazon.  Check out the links below, download the PDF’s, do some learning, buy a foam roller, and then adhere to this beautiful quote from Kelly Starrett:

All human beings should be able to perform
basic maintenance on themselves

Links galore:

Dr. Starrett’s website, Mobility Workout Of The Day

Self-Myofascial Release Techniques with Foam Rollers, from Perform Better

Feel Better for 10 Bucks, by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson

Mike Robertson’s Soft Tissue E-Manual.  This is a 47 page PDF.  You’re doing yourself (and potential clients) a disservice if you don’t check it out.  That document has more information than you can possibly imagine.

Dr. Perry Nickelston of Stop Chasing Pain fame also has a detailed but much more concise PDF, which you can get here.

Meg from a Dash of Meg published a post titled It Hurts So Good a short while ago, which includes a ton of pictures demonstrating rolling techniques.  She also quotes me, which is kind of cool.  Also, she’s way better looking than any of the dudes in the links above.  Sorry guys.

7 Replies to “SMR, FTW”

  1. For under $10 yesterday, I bought a piece of PVC and two lacrosse balls. The guy at the sports store asked me how long I’ve been playing lacrosse, when I told him I’ve never played he said he uses them instead of a foam roller. I jumped and was like ME TOO!!!

    And then I found $20.

    1. Critical detail: Was the $20 in your pocket or on the floor? If it was in your pocket, then it totally makes the story, but if it was on the floor, you basically got paid to work on tissue quality.

      See people?! SMR pays!!! (See what I did there?)

      Seriously though, that’s awesome Juliet. Sometimes when I’m on the PVC, or on the ball, I have to go to my happy place while I wait for the adhesions to subside. Tyler Durden would laugh at me for that.

    1. Of course, Meg! You wrote a great post that included explanations on how to hit the big muscles as well as pictures showing the proper set up. I also think it’s really important that everyone sees a fit female doing it, to remind them that strength is important for everyone. I would have put on a wig and yoga pants, but I don’t think it would be as effective.

  2. I need to print this post out and stick it all over the walls in my gym. Nobody uses the foam roller at my gym and I always get weird looks when I use it – especially when I do the inner thigh and appear to be humping the roller! It doesn’t help that the cheapest you can buy them in Australia is $90. I’m moving internationally soon and the first thing on my list is a foam roller!

    1. Tara, foam rollers are that expensive? That’s crazy, I’d rather ship you one! Hopefully the cost goes down when you move (to London?) I’d like to get more people at my gym using them, and I’ve noticed it’s becoming increasingly popular, even if it’s because I have to practically force some folks to get on the roller. At least once they’re on it, they’re hooked pretty quickly!

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