"Fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that encases, supports, and separates the muscles and organs throughout our body," says Jeff Brannigan, the Program Director at Stretch*d. To give you a visual, it's sort of like a fishing net or chain link fence that holds everything (your organs, tissues, etc.) together. But, says Brannigan, "when fascia becomes restricted from strenuous activity, overuse, inactivity, or trauma, it can often result in pain, muscle dysfunction, and compromised blood flow." So if you've been going harder than usual at the gym and not recovering properly, your fascia can wind up getting twisted up.
Enter myofascial release, a technique you can do on your own that uses gentle pressure to alleviate tension and discomfort in your muscular system, which preps your body for future workouts. "The pressure 'overwhelms' overactive muscles, like our quads and traps, so that they can reset," says Crunch Fitness personal trainer Tim Coyle, adding that myofascial release also increases blood flow and range of motion in your muscles. "By doing this, we can begin our warmup and workout from a place of 'zero' instead of our over-tight, overactive muscles doing all the work, which leads to imbalances." You know how trainers are constantly telling you that it's just as important to foam roll before a workout as it is to do it afterward? Well, this is why.
Here, the pros share exactly how to do myofascial release all on your own in the tightest areas of your body.
If you're new to myofascial release, your hips are a good place to start since they get stressed when you're at the gym and when you're sitting at your desk for hours on end. For best results, you'll want to start by massaging the area with a foam roller or lacrosse ball under your hip. "The trick is to avoid putting too much pressure into the muscle at once," says Brannigan, noting that you should start light and gradually increase the amount of weight you're putting on the massage tool. "At times this can be uncomfortable if the area is extra sore or fatigued, so listen to your body and back off the pressure if it feels too intense." Unfortunately, he says, this isn't necessarily one of those "no pain, no gain" situations, but it will be worth it once it's over (I swear!).
Releasing tension in the fascia around large muscles like your quads is easier than doing it on smaller muscles. All you've got to do is sit or lie on a foam roller and move slowly—when you find the tense area, stop and stay there. "If the pressure feels intense, back off and keep the intensity light at first," says Brannigan. "You may remain on that exact spot for a few minutes at a time, gradually progressing with the amount of weight you're putting into it." Keep at it for a few minutes, and after a while you'll notice the area starting to become less sensitive.
Your calves, another large commonly tight muscle group, will feel like butter after a few of these rolls. With your hands planted behind you, one foot on the ground and your butt lifted in the air, roll the back of your calf slowly over your foam roller. Stop just below your knee, and continue until you feel the muscle loosen up and start to become less sensitive.
The same principle applies to your glutes (inner thighs) as they do to your quads and hammies: slow and steady wins the race. Start with light pressure, and work up to what you can handle, moving slowly throughout the rolling process.
Whether you've been pumping weights or simply slouched at your desk for 80 hours in a week, your traps are going to start to suffer from the tension. To relieve them, position your hands at your head (the same way you would for a sit-up) and roll slowly along your upper back. Be sure to avoid your lower back, though, which is a place you should never be rolling.
Another thing myofascial release can help with? Your posture. Plus, exactly how to foam roll based on which workouts are leaving you sore.
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