SMR: Self-Myofacial Release, Magic Without a Wand

For us Muggles, a foam roller is more effective than a wand.

Yes, SMR is more important than a wand is to Harry Potter. Why? The short answer is we have a lot of gunky junk in our muscles that are impeding movements and causing aches and pains. And who wants to feel like a bag of junk?

Those in the fitness-know-how have probably heard of self-myofacial release (SMR) or at least have seen foam rollers lying around a lot of gyms (or, if you’re us, lying around the house). A little rolling here and there does magical things for the body! One can instantly feel the difference even after only one time on that foam roller. What is this witchcraft?  Let us delve into the magical world of SMR.

What SMR does NOT do:

- Lengthen tissue/muscle- you’ll hear this occasionally and SMR does NOT lengthen the tissues because a) the joint position doesn’t change b) the SMR modality (aka foam roller) applies compression at a 90 degree angle to the muscle. Unless force is applied more along the length of the muscle, no lengthening will occur.

- Allow more fluid to the muscle- what? SMR is not open a flood gate of fluid to rush into the muscle.

SMR does not equal flood of Isengard

What SMR DOES do:

- Releases tension in the muscles. How does it do that? Let’s say there is a knot in the muscle (ball of fail, junk, gunk… pick you favorite term) and you sit on a foam roller or lacrosse ball and apply pressure to the knot.This provokes the ball-of-fail enough to cause it to release the tension. Kinda like a pesky little brother, he pokes you in the shoulder (SMR modality) until you finally explode out of annoyance (release tension).

How does that happen?

Our muscles are encapsulated in a tissued called fascia (there are SO many trails and tangents I could go on regarding fascia, but we’ll stick with this for now). The fascia has little receptors (rufini corpuscles and pacini receptors for those who want to know stuff like that, they sound like Italian food.) that generate and relieve tension in a slow, deliberate pace.

*Side note* Our muscles also have similar receptors, the golgi tendon apparatus and muscle spindles, that react much more quickly to changes in length and tension in the muscle. For example, when the doc tests your reflexes by tapping on your knee, what he’s doing is stretching the tendon quickly, which causes the muscle spindles in the quad to react, a signal is sent to the brain and the quad contracts (thus extending the knee a bit). It’s actually really cool.

Anyway, these slower receptors also have neural components that govern them. What foam rolling does is short-circuit the neural components and the fascia-imbedded receptors (usually) freak out, shut down and take the tension with them.

Since they’re slow-acting receptors then we need to foam roll/use a lax ball s-l-o-w-l-y. Hang out on those junky spots and you should feel them release a bit, then you can move one. Check back on Friday for Part 2 and I’ll have some videos of how to roll the various body parts.

Until then, just sit on a lacrosse ball. Your glutes will thank me.