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5 Ways to Get More Out of Self Myofascial Release

With the popularity of self myofascial release skyrocketing over the last decade, we’re seeing people rolling all over the place.  And for good reason…

Foam rolling helps you feel and move better.

Foam rollers are great, and I have talked about other self myofascial release tools that I highly recommend you try.  But it’s not always just about WHAT you are using to roll out, it’s also about HOW you are performing self myofascial release that is important.

If you combine some of our basic understanding of functional anatomy with our understanding of movement, we can really enhance how you perform self myofascial release to get even better results.

5 Ways to Get More Out of Self Myofascial release

To illustrate this concept, I wanted to share 5 videos demonstrating how you can enhance how you perform self myofascial release.

Reduce the Surface Area

My first video discusses the concept of reducing the surface area while rolling.  Again, foam rollers are great.  But depending on the tissue you are focusing on when rolling, you may want to reduce the surface area.

When you get used to foam rolling and are looking for a deeper sensation, putting the same amount of body weight on a smaller surface area will obviously increase the applied pressure.

This is also helpful when you are foam rolling an area that is hard to place full body weight on the roller, like the calf, as you will be able to apply more pressure.

 

Roll in 360 Degrees

In the next video, I discuss the ability to use a mobility sphere to be apply to easily alter the direction of rolling, instead of just back and forth using a foam roller.  This is one of my favorite progressions.

 

Hold a Spot

Often times when rolling, you’ll find one spot that is really tender.

Once you find a tender spot, combine our treatment technique of sustained pressure on the area.  Stop rolling and hold pressure on that spot for 10-30 seconds.  The goal is not to crush the spot, but rather to gentle hold and increase pressure as the tenderness subsides.

You’ll be surprise how the spot will decrease in tenderness after holding the spot.

 

Add Active Motion

The next variation is also a simulation of our treatment techniques, this time a pin and stretch.  Again, when you find a tender spot, hold it for a duration, then add some active motion of that muscle group.

Focus on slowly moving the muscle through full range of motion while sustain pressure.

Move Another Muscle

On a similar note, you can also pin one muscle and stretch an adjacent muscle.  The example I use in the video below is the hamstring and adductor group.  You can pin the adductor and slowly flex and extend the knee to move the hamstring.

 

These examples are just 5 of the many ways we enhance self myofascial release with our patients and clients at Champion.  I’d love to hear what you do as well.  By combining some of our treatment concepts, we think you can really get a lot more out of your self myofascial release.

If you like this type of content, be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook, I’ve been sharing a lot of videos like this:

 

The Best Self Myofascial Release Tools

Self myofascial release tools, such as foam rollers, trigger point balls, and massage sticks, have become some of the most popular tools used for corrective exercises, fitness, and sports performance.  In fact, performing self myofascial release has become almost a uniform component in the majority of fitness and sports performance programs.

You can certainly argue the exact physiological benefit of performing self myofascial release.  Ironically we are likely not really “releasing” fascia.

However, it’s hard to argue the benefits of self myofascial release.

Two recent studies in International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy and Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy have been published that analyzed the current state of research and conclude that self myofascial release:

  • Increases mobility and joint range of motion
  • Reduces post-workout soreness and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
  • Allows for greater workout performance in future workouts
  • May lead to improved vascular function and parasympathetic nervous system function

“Simply put, self myofascial release has been proven to help you feel and move better.” [click to tweet]

In order to get started, I wanted to share my years of experience with self myofascial release tools.  There are so many foam rollers, trigger point tools, and massage sticks out there these days.
I’ve tried nearly all of them and these are what I consider the best self myofascial release tools.

Best Self Myofascial Release Tools

Over the years I have tried a ridiculous amount of different self myofascial release tools, some great, some awful, and some just a rip off.  Luckily, new products emerge all the time and continue to improve.

I’ve learned a couple of things that are important:

  • There are different types of self myofascial release tools for different needs, body parts, and intensities.  Building your own “kit” is probably going to be the most effective.  Trying to use just a foam roller on everything is going to not work well.
  • You tend to build up a tolerance to self myofascial release and want to upgrade to more advanced foam rollers, trigger point balls, and massage sticks.  Start with the basics and advance overtime.

Best Foam Rollers

Amazon Basics High-Density Round Foam Roller self myofascial release - amazon foam roller

The first place to is a basic high density foam roller.  This could be the cheapest and most versatile tool you get.  Amazon has started to make their own version, which is a great price.  You’ll find various sizes.  I’ve never personally gotten much use of the large 36-inch versions and tend to favor the 18-inch version.

TriggerPoint GRID Foam Rollerself myofascial release - grid foam roller

The basic high density foam roller is a great place to start to get used to foam rolling, but quickly gets pretty easy.  You’ll want to upgrade to a more firm foam roller in increase the intensity.  My preferred choice is the GRID foam roller from TriggerPoint.  I’ve been using this foam roller for years with continued success.  It has a rigid hollow core that increases the intensity very well.  This is worth the extra investment as it will likely be your main foam roller for some time.

Mobilitas Mobility Sphere
self myofascial release - mobility sphere foam roller

Somewhere between a foam roller and a trigger point ball, I actually really like using 5” mobility balls.  Because of the round shape, the contact area is smaller so the amount of force to the area is larger.  Plus, you can use into in multiple planes of motion because it is a ball instead of a roller.  This is something I personally use.  You can get into smaller areas, like your chest, but I use this just as much as a standard foam roller.  There are a few but the one I use and recommend is the Mobilitas Mobility Sphere.

Acumobility Eclipse Foam Rollerself myofascial release - acumobility foam roller

I was recently turned onto the Eclipse Foam Roller from Acumobility and have been impressed.  I was intrigued by the design and wanted to try it myself.  I’m not a big fan of foam rollers with ridges, as I just feel they don’t do much and concept is more of a marketing gimmick.  But Acumobility has a made a great advanced foam roller that includes a firm middle section that can encompass a body part really well.  It’s a really unique design and a great tool for advanced foam rolling.

 

Best Massage Roller Stick

While foam rollers are the primary self myofascial release tool for most needs, there are body parts that simply don’t do as well and need a massage stick tool.  The next tool you should add to your self myofascial release tool kit is a massager stick roller.  There are a few popular massage sticks on the market, and as it is with most things, I actually don’t prefer the two most popular massage sticks.

TheraBand Roller Massager+self myofascial release - theraband massage stick roller

The original massage stick began with plastic pieces and did a fairly well job, but newer tools have used a more grippy surface that I feel is far more effective. A plastic roller is just placing pressure downward on the tissue, where the grip on the TheraBand Roller Massager+ seems to also create a tissue traction with the friction produced.  This is a great product for areas like the forearms and feet, but also areas where you want to apply more pressure than what you can with just body weight, like the quads, hamstrings, and calves.  Plus, this has been the massage roller featured in many of the research reports.

 

Best Trigger Point Release Tools

In addition to foam rollers and massage sticks.  Trigger point release tools are another must have addition to your self myofascial release tool kit.  Essentially, these just tend to be smaller self myofascial release tools that can get into tighter areas.

Lacrosse Ballself myofascial release - lacrosse ball trigger point tool

Yup, that’s it, just a lacrosse ball.  People have tried to make better versions of trigger point balls, but nothing beats the affordable lacrosse ball.  Great material, density, and durability.  This is a great place to start.  Get a couple so you can use two at once one places like your spine.

Acumobility Mobility Ballself myofascial release - acumobility ball trigger point tool

Acumobility, the maker of the Eclipse Roller above, has another great tool, their Mobility Ball.  This is made from a great dense material, but has a flat bottom that allows you to keep this in one spot on the floor or even against the wall.  This really helps to provide firm pressure while performing movements of the muscle group.  This is a great upgrade from the lacrosse ball.

Trigger Point Wandself myofascial release - trigger point wand

Sometimes an area is hard to reach, such as your neck or back.  That’s where sometimes a trigger point wand comes in handy.  I would definitely consider this a speciality tool, however a very popular choice.

Foot Rubz Massage Ballself myofascial release - foot rubz massage ball

Another speciality tool, but something that I wanted to include as I really love, is the hand and foot massage ball from Foot Rubz.  This is a smaller trigger point ball perfect for the hands and feet.  You can use a lacrosse ball or even the TheraBand Massage Roller above for these areas, but I feel this is slightly better and worth it for many.  (I’m literally using one as I type this haha…)

 

Create Your Own Self Myofascial Release Tool Kit

All of the above options are great choices.  I would recommend getting one of each of the foam rollers, massage sticks, and trigger point tools.  Together, these cover pretty much all of your self myofascial release needs.

If you are interested, I also have an Inner Circle webinar on how I perform self myofascial release.

 

 

Enhancing Thoracic Mobility

enhancing thoracic mobilityLimited mobility of the thoracic spine is a common finding and something that tends to get worse over time.  To me, it’s one of those “use it or lose it” types of mobility in the body.  Several issues can occur from limited thoracic mobility, such as shoulder, neck, and even low back pain.

Thoracic mobility drills are common, but only part of the puzzle.  I have a new presentation where I’ll be reviewing some of the self mobility, manual therapy techniques, and corrective exercises I use to enhance thoracic mobility.

 

Enhancing Thoracic Mobility

This presentation will cover:

  • The importance of thoracic mobility
  • Manual therapy techniques to improve thoracic mobility
  • My favorite self mobility drills to improve thoracic mobility on your own
  • Correct exercises to enhance movement after gaining thoracic mobility
  • How to put it all together to maximize outcomes

 

Access the Presentation

You can purchase access to this presentation for only $10, or join my online Inner Circle Mentorship program for only $10/month and gain access to this and ALL my past presentations, product discounts, exclusive content, member only forum, and more!

 

 

Assessing for Lat and Teres Tightness with Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Limitations in overhead shoulder mobility are common and often a frequent source of nagging shoulder pain and decreased performance.  Any loss of shoulder elevation mobility can be an issue with both fitness enthusiasts and athletes.  Just look at all the exercises that require a good amount of shoulder mobility in the fitness, Crossfit, and sports performance worlds.  Overhead press, thrusters, overhead squats, and snatches are some of the most obvious, put even exercises like pullups, handstands, wall balls, and hanging knee and toe ups can be problematic, especially when combined with speed and force such as during a kipping pull up.

Assessing for Lat and Teres Tightness with Overhead Shoulder MobilityWhen assessing for limitations in overhead shoulder elevation, there are several things you need to evaluate.  I’ve discussed many of these in several past blog posts and Inner Circle webinars on How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility.

I am worried about what I am seeing on the internet right now.

I feel like the mobility trends I am seeing are focused on torquing the shoulder joint to try to improve overhead mobility.  Remember, the shoulder is a VERY mobile joint that tends to run into trouble from a lack of stability.  Trying to stretch out the joint or shoulder capsule should never be the first thing you attempt with self mobilization techniques.  In fact, I have found it causes way more problems than it solves.

Think about it for a second…

If your shoulder can’t fully elevate, jamming it into more elevation is only going to cause more issues. Find the cause. [Click to Tweet]

In my experience, the focus should be on the soft tissue around the joint, not the shoulder joint itself.  The muscles tend to be more of the mobility issue from my experience than the joint.  Just think about all the chronic adaptations that occur from out postures and habits throughout the date.

Two of the most muscles that I see causing limitations in overhead shoulder mobility at the latissimus dorsi and the teres major.

Here’s a quick and easy way to assess the lat and teres during arm elevation.

 

Assessing and Improving Overhead Shoulder Mobility

For those interested in learning more, I have a few Inner Circle webinars on how to assess and improve overhead shoulder mobility:

 

 

Enhancing Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Enhancing Overhead Shoulder MobilityOverhead shoulder mobility is one of the things that a large majority of people could all improve on if addressed appropriately.  This seems to be limited in a very large percentage of people, especially in those with shoulder pain and dysfunction.  Perhaps it has to do with our seated postures or our more sedentary lifestyles, but regardless limited overhead shoulder mobility is probably going to cause issues if not addressed.

 

Enhancing Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Here is a clip from my brand new educational program with Eric Cressey, Functional Stability Training for the Upper Body.  In the clip I am assessing someone with limited overhead shoulder mobility.  During the assessment it became clear that he had a few issues limiting his mobility, but I wanted to demonstrate how a few simple manual therapy techniques can clear up this pattern rather quickly if assessed and treated appropriately.

It really goes back down to a proper assessment and know what you are looking for when assessing people.  This is just a very small clip of some of the great information we cover in our new program, which is on sale for $20 off this week (sale ends Sunday May 18th at midnight EST).   Click here or the image below to order now before the sale ends!

Functional Stability Training for the Upper Body

Self Myofascial Release for the Teres Major

Self-myofascial release teres majorA couple of months ago I wrote an article about the importance of the teres major muscle and how I often find it an area of tightness in my clients.  I recommended focusing on that area during manual therapy and some of your self myofascial release techniques.

I’ve had a lot of readers ask for more information so I wanted to share a video of how I perform some of the self-myofascial techniques.  My preferred technique is to use a trigger point ball or lacrosse ball against a wall (read my recommendations for which self myofascial release tools to use).

I see the teres major limiting horizontal adduction, arm elevation, and disassociation of the shoulder and scapula.  Again, if you haven’t read my previous article on the teres major go back and read more about this.  For the self-myofascial release techniques, we’ll work on these three areas.

I always start by rolling out the area and pausing on any tight/sore spots.  Most people stop there, but I think it is important to incorporate some movement with the self-myofascial release techniques.  In this video, I show you how I work the teres major during both horizontal adduction and arm elevation.  It is pretty hard to stretch the teres major, but I usually recommend following the self myofascial release for the teres major up with the cross body genie stretch.  This could also work well for the latissimus and even posterior rotator cuff.

 

Self Myofascial Release for the Teres Major

 

Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion

ankle mobility exercises to improve dorsiflexionLimitations in ankle dorsiflexion can cause quite a few functional and athletic limitations, leading to the desire to perform ankle mobility exercises.    These types of mobility drills have become popular over the last several years and are often important components of corrective exercise and movement prep programming.  Considering our postural adaptations and terrible shoe wear habits (especially if high heels), it’s no wonder that so many people have ankle mobility issues.

Several studies have been published that shown that limited dorsiflexion impacts the squat, single leg squat, step down activities, and even landing from a jump.  These are all building blocks to functional movement patterns, so the importance of designing exercises to enhance dorsiflexion can not be ignored.  While I will openly admit that I believe that the hip has a large influence on ankle position and mobility, it is still important to perform ankle mobility exercises.  I will discuss the hip component in a future post.

There are many great ideas on the internet on how to improve dorsiflexion with ankle mobility exercise, but I wanted to accumulate some of my favorite in one place.  Below, I will share my system for assessing ankle mobility and then addressing limitations.  I use a combined approach including self-myofascial exercises, stretching, and ankle mobility drills.

 

How to Assess Your Ankle Mobility

Before we discuss strategies to improve ankle mobility, it’s worth discussing how to assess ankle mobility.  I am a big fan of standardizing a test that can provide reliable results.  One test that is popular in the FMS and SFMA world is the half-kneeling dorsiflexion test.

In this test, you kneel on the ground and assume a position similar to stretching your hip flexors, with your knee on the floor.  Your lead foot that you are testing should be lined up 5″ from the wall.  This is important and the key to standardizing the test.

From this position you lean in, keeping your heel on the ground.  From this position you can measure the actual tibial angle in relationship to the ground or measure the distance of the knee cap from the wall when the heel starts to come up.  An alternate method would be to vary the distance your foot is from the wall and measure from the great toe to the wall.  I personally prefer to standardize the distance to 5″.  If they can touch the wall from 5″, they have pretty good mobility.  I should note that my photo below has my client wearing minimus shoes, but barefoot is ideal.

Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilty

 

This is a great position to assess your progress, and as you’ll see, I’ll recommend some specific drills you can perform from this position to you can immediately assess and reassess.

 

Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion

As I mentioned previously, I like to use a 3-step process to maximize my gains when trying to enhance ankle dorsiflexion:

  1. Self-myofascial release for the calf and plantar fasica
  2. Stretching of the calf
  3. Ankle mobility drills

I prefer this order to loosen the soft tissue and maximize pliability before working on specific joint mobility.  Also, I should note that I try to go barefoot during my ankle mobility exercises.

 

Self Myofascial Drills for Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility

One of the more simple self myofascial release techniques for ankle mobility is foam rolling the calf.  This has benefits as you can turn your body side to side and get the medial and lateral aspect of your calf along the full length.  I will instruct someone to roll up and down the entire length of the muscle and tendon for up to 30 seconds.  If they hit a really tender spot or trigger point, I will also have them pause at the spot for ~8-10 seconds.

What is good about the foam roller is that you can also add active ankle movements during the rolling, such as actively dorsiflexing the foot or performing ankle circles.  This gives a nice release as well.  Don’t forget to roll the bottom of your foot with a ball, as well, to lengthen the posterior chain tissue even further.  There is a direct connect between the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.

Some people do not feel that the foam roller gives them enough of a release as it is hard to place a lot of bodyweight through the foam roller in this position.  That is why I often use one of the massage sticks to work the area in addition.  You can use a massage stick in a similar fashion to roll the length of the area and pause at tender spots.  I often add mobility in the half kneeling position as well, which gives this technique an added bonus.

 

Stretches for Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility

Once you are done rolling, I like to stretch the muscle.  If moderate to severe restrictions exist, I will hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, but often just do a few reps of 10 seconds for most people.  The classic wall lean stretch is shown below.  This is a decent basic exercises, however, I have found that you need to be pretty tight to get a decent stretch in this position.

I usually prefer placing your foot up on a wall or step instead, as seen in the second part of my video below.  The added benefit here is that you can control the intensity of the stretch by how close you are to the wall and how much you lean your body in.  I also like that it extends my toes, which gives a stretch of the plantar fascia as well.  For both of these stretches, be sure to not turn your foot outward.  You should be neutral to point your toe in slightly (no more than an hour on a clock).

 

Simple Ankle Mobility Exercises

I like to break down my ankle mobility exercises into basic and advanced, depending on the extent of your motion restriction.  There are several basic drills that you can incorporate into your movement prep or corrective exercise strategies.

The first drill involves simple standing with your toes on a slight incline and moving into dorsiflexion by breaking your knees.  Eric Cressey shows us this quick and easy drill that you can quickly perform:

Tony Gentilcore shows another simple ankle mobility drill, which is essentially just a dynamic warmup version of the ankle mobility test we described above:

Kevin Neeld shows a great progression of this exercise that incorporates both the toes up on the wall, essentially making it more of a mobility challenge and stretch.  If you look closely, you’ll see that he is also mobilizing in three planes, straight neutral, inward, and outward:

 

Advanced Ankle Mobility Exercises

Jeff Cubos shares a video of the half kneeling mobilization with a dowel.  The dowel is an important part of the ankle mobility drill.  You begin by half kneeling, then placing a dowel on the outside of your foot at the height of your fifth toe.  Now, when you lean into dorsiflexion, make sure your knee goes outside of the dowel.  You can add the dowel to many of the variations of drills we are discussing:

Chris Johnson shared a nice video using a Voodoo Floss band to assist with the myofascial release and position the tibia into internal rotation:

For those that have a “pinch” in the front of the ankle of tight joint restrictions of the ankle in general, Erson Religioso shows us some Mulligan mobilizations with movement (MWM) using a band.  In this video, he has his patient put the band under his opposite knee, however you could easily tie this around something behind you.  In this position you step out to create tension on the band, which will move your talus posteriorly as you move forward into dorsiflexion:

As you progress along with your mobility, you may find that variations of these drills may be more effective for you.  You can combine many of these approaches into one drill, such as Matt Siniscalchi shows us here, combining the MWM with the dowel in the half kneeling position:

As you can see, there are many different variations of drills you can perform based on what is specifically tight or limited.  You may have to play around a little but to find what works best for each person, however these are a bunch of great examples of ankle mobility exercises you can choose to perform when trying to improve your dorsiflexion.

Self Myofascial Release for the Forearm

I wanted to show a quick video of a technique I use for self-myofascial release of the forearm.  Obviously, this is a hard area to get with a foam roll and some of the techniques I have seen using the various trigger point balls don’t seem to apply enough pressure for me.  Here is a quick clip demonstrating:

 

The video uses the new Thera-Band Roller Massager+.  Obviously you can use you stick of choice, like the original Massage Stick or Tiger Tail, however I must admit that the Thera-Band stick is my current go-to massage stick device.  I was a little skeptical at first about the ridges, thinking it was just a way to differentiate itself from the competition, but it really does feel better than the other sticks.  The rubber surface with the ridges makes for a nice combination of compression and superficial drag.

 

Self Myofascial Release for the Forearm

In the video above you’ll notice a few things:

  • I position the stick at an ~45 degree angle and really wedge it into a firm surface.  This gives me a nice rigid platform to roll on.
  • I use this just like a foam roll.  I start with simply rolling back and forth the length of the muscle groups, then stop on any trigger points that I find and hold for a sustained released, then I progress to include multidirection movements that include fascial release techniques.
  • For the flexor and pronator group, I start with the wrist flexed and pronated and as I roll I extend and supinate.
  • This is reverse for the extensor and supinator group, I start with the wrist extended and supinated and as I roll I flex and pronate

This is a great warm-up for the forearm and also a great technique to include in home exercise programs for those with injuries such as medial epicondylitis and lateral epicondylitis.  Try it and let me know what you think about this or if you have any other self-myofascial release techniques for the forearm that you find to be helpful.