Foam Rolling is the next best thing to a daily massage that you can give yourself. If you’re like me and lacking the ability to pay for deep tissue work each day, spend some time familiarizing yourself with foam rolling or other forms of self-myofascial release. Muscle tension isn’t something that you just have to cope with. You can do something to change it. Myofascial release helps the fascial system return to it’s optimal position, thus allowing the muscles to relax more. Below, I’ll offer simple descriptions and photos to help you identify areas that you might want to target in your own body.
You’ll want to align yourself appropriately for each target muscle or muscle group. Start at one end of the muscle and push pressure into the roller, moving slowly along the length of muscle until you find a knot. When you do, hold as much pressure as you can tolerate for at least 20-30 seconds before releasing and moving further along the muscle. Have you purchased a foam roller yet? You might want both the half and full diameters, but likely only need the shorter, 12 inch length for each.
Sit with your legs out in front of you, the target leg on the roller and the opposite crossed over. The crossed leg adds more weight (pressure) to the targeted leg. If you find that is more than you can handle, simply let the opposite leg sit off of the roller. Start close to your ankle with your toe pointing upward. Gently move your body forward, so that the roller will move closer to your knee. When you feel a tender spot, put as much weight into it as you can, relax, then roll slowly to the next spot.
It’s important in this exercise that your back remains straight. If you find that it’s hard to straighten your leg and sit upright, then sitting close to something you can press your elbows into for support is helpful. Sit with your legs out in front of you, the target leg on the roller and the opposite leg crossed over. If that adds too much pressure or imbalance, then place the opposite leg out to the side. Start with the roller close to your knee and your toe pointing upward. Gently move your body forward, so that the roller will move closer to your hip. When you feel a tender spot, put as much weight into it as you can, relax, then roll slowly to the next spot.
The piriformis is a lateral (sideways) muscle that runs across the top of your hip. For this exercise you want to sit on the upper part of your hip (you’ll feel slightly tilted backward), with the roller in the center of your butt. Slowly roll your body from looking directly ahead, to pointing more to the side of the hip you are rolling at the time. When you feel a tender spot, put as much weight into it as you can, relax, then roll slowly to the next spot.
IT (Iliotibial) Band/ TFL (Tensor Fascia Latae)
Lie in a “side plank” with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder and the roll under the top of your hip (the iliac crest). You may support your body with your front arm if you feel that you need help balancing. Move slowly toward your elbow, the roller moving further down the side of your leg until you find a tender spot. Put pressure into it until it relaxes and then slowly roll to the next spot.
Lie on your stomach with the roll just below the top of your hip bone. Support yourself on your elbows, in a plank position and slowly “walk” forward, letting the roll move toward your knee. When you feel a tender spot, put as much weight into it as you can, relax, then roll slowly to the next spot.
Adductors (Inner thigh)
Lie in a plank position on your stomach, with the roller diagonally run beneath the top of your inner thigh. To roll in this position you will “walk” diagonally so that the roller starts to move toward your inner knee. When you feel a tender spot, put as much weight into it as you can, relax, then roll slowly to the next spot.
Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)
Lie on your side with the roller pointing diagonally, just under your armpit. Slowly roll your body from your side to your back. When you feel a tender spot, put as much weight into it as you can, relax, then roll slowly to the next spot.
Thoracic Erector Spinae
Lie supine, with the roller (or a towel/ fluffy rolled pillow, if the roller is too dense) in the lower part of your middle back. Rest softly with your back stretching around the roller. Keep your knees bent so that your low back is supported. When that area is relaxed, roll to your side to move off the roller and slide it into a position higher up your back. Repeat as you move up along the middle back.
Lie supine, with the roller vertically placed along your spine. Make sure that your head is supported at one end and consider bending your knees/keeping your feet flat if your lower back feels unsupported. Open your arms up into a “goal post” position and rest them as close to the ground as possible. You should feel your chest and the front of your shoulders stretching.
Choose a roller’s diameter (cut flat on one side, or whole cylinder) depending on the length of your neck. I have a very long neck, so I require the full. For you, it might be the half (pictured beside me). When focusing on tension in your neck, lie over the roller, so that it fits between the top of your shoulders and base of your skull. If using the full roller has you propped, more like you’re on a pillow, then choose the half roller. Lying with your hands at your sides, palms facing up, and body rested as much as possible, will be all that you need to do to target this area. You might spend more time in one position so that your neck fully relaxes. Most of us are hyper-tight in the neck and upper shoulders. Roll to your side to get out of this position and slowly sit up.
Massage balls come in several sizes and styles. I order mine here. I will use the 8cm size you see in the photographs for more finite work. The 10cm size resembles the density of the foam roller with individual massage points. I utilize the spiky balls to help work into knots in smaller, more bunched muscles. If the spikes feel too hard, you can wrap a cloth around them, or use a tennis ball. This lessens the pressure.
When working with a massage ball I will lie supine and work the ball up along my spine, one piece at a time. I start just above my hips and slowly move it up until I get between my shoulder blades. Because of my particular needs, I will spend a lot of time finding each position of tension around my shoulders and into my neck on the right side. I’ll then repeat the process on the opposite side of my spine.
Flipping over to my stomach, I will utilize the ball in my upper pec and pec minor muscles, from the top of my chest to just below the collar bone. For me, this area can become a significant problem. Another area that I will work on is the side of my ribcage, from about my armpit to the center of my chest. I’ll also occasionally use the ball on my piriformis muscle, sitting on it directly, if the foam roller doesn’t seem to complete the job.