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Let the tension roll away

Self-myofascial release can reduce stress, boost performance

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Helen Vanderburg demonstrates several rolling and releasing techniques. Unlike a massage, self-myofascial release is something you can do on your own.

CALGARY HERALD Enlarge Image

Helen Vanderburg demonstrates several rolling and releasing techniques. Unlike a massage, self-myofascial release is something you can do on your own.

Once a mysterious technique used only by professional athletes, coaches and therapists, rolling and releasing practices are becoming commonplace among fitness enthusiasts before and after workouts.

Whether it involves using a foam roller, tennis ball, stick or textured massage ball, these rolling and release techniques have benefits.

The concept of self-release techniques is termed self-myofascial release or SMR. Unlike a massage, self-myofascial release is a less direct method that can be done on your own.

It is a form of bodywork and stretching that can improve posture, increase flexibility and reduce stress, tension and pain while boosting athletic performance, energy levels and body awareness, notes Thomas Myers and James Earls, authors of Fascial Release for Structural Balance.

Fascia is dense connective tissue under the skin, extending like a seamless web without interruption from the top of the head to the tip of the toes. It is a specialized connective tissue layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints that gives support and protection to the body.

So how does SMR work?

Fascia is like a highly active "plastic wrap around muscles" that provides stability and energy transport. Self-myofascial release targets the fascial and nervous systems of the body to increase circulation and elasticity to release tension and trigger points in the body.

When tension builds due to overuse, muscular imbalance or injury, the fascia binds up. These taut bands can be identified by tenderness or pain to palpate.

According to Myers, SMR techniques and whole-body movement ease long-term consequences to injury and extend functional movement.

A wide variety of tools can be used for SMR. A common tool is a foam roller, which is fairly inexpensive to buy and comes in a range of densities, depending on the desired level of muscular pressure. The white roller is typically softer and provides a less intense sensation when used. The coloured roller comes in a range of densities for deeper pressure and release.

Similar to the foam roller, the Grid is a hollowed-out roller with a textured surface to provide a massage while rolling.

Massage balls and body-rolling techniques can provide a more directed massage. In methods such as Yamuna body rolling, the ball becomes the hands of the therapist and the person's weight creates the traction, movement and release on the ball. A tennis ball can be an inexpensive and portable option to perform a deep massage in smaller areas such as the feet, front of the shoulder, upper back or hip.

The Stick is another convenient tool. While it's not necessarily better or worse than the other modalities discussed, its narrow diameter allows you to get into places that are not easy to roll with a foam roller.

The premise of SMR is using your own body weight as pressure, by slowly rolling out any muscle group or area of tightness over the roller, ball or stick at a constant cadence.

Some simple guidelines are:

-- Roll between the joints.

-- Hold tension points for 30 to 40 seconds.

-- Gradually increase pressure.

-- Change body positions to alleviate upper body fatigue.

-- Breathe!

Nothing replaces the benefits of a massage delivered by a qualified massage therapist. However, release tools and techniques give you the ability to "work on yourself" anytime and anywhere.

Helen Vanderburg is a World Aquatics champion in synchronized swimming, fitness trainer and motivational and corporate wellness speaker.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 D15

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