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As a physical therapist integrating yoga into my work with clients to help them get out of pain and move more efficiently, I have frequently been asked my opinion on the use of foam rolling and the benefit of static stretching. We are now learning more about how to use these tools to improve our efficiency of movement. The thing is, there is a huge paradigm shift in why and how we stretch as well as how foam rolling may fit into your program. First of all here are some facts about foam rolling:

1)Foam Rolling can help decrease post exercise fatigue if performed prior to exercise, this may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume. Healy et al

2)Foam rolling prior to an athletic activity can enhance joint range of motion without decreasing performance McDonald, Penny et al., Sullivan et al

3)Foam rolling can help decrease post exercise soreness and helps in attenuating muscle soreness while improving vertical jump height, muscle activation, and passive and dynamic ROM in comparison with

control. McDonald, Button et al

4)Foam rolling is equally effective as static stretching for improving joint range-of-motion (ROM) but does not acutely reduce muscular strength and power. In addition, the researchers found that while the static stretching group acutely reduced knee flexion torque and one-leg jump distance significantly, the foam rolling group did not. Amico

So what does one conclude from the latest research? Foam rolling is beneficial pre exercise to reduce muscle fatigue and possibly improve exercise performance. It will improve the joint range of motion without decreasing performance (as static stretching has been found to do). Post exercise, foam rolling can help decrease muscle soreness, possibly improving your ability to train again sooner and with less discomfort.

For those of you who are practicing yoga just to improve your flexibility, you are missing the point. Flexibility is relative to function. Muscles become stiff because they are neurologically told to contract. The brain tells the muscle to contract in order to do the following:

a. To produce movement (eccentric or concentric)

b. To provide stability

c. To protect joints during novel movements or ranges of motion

Foam rolling is not utilized in order to improve flexibility, but to decrease the neural activation of the resting tone in the prime movers (which are usually the muscles you think are “tight”) Once you reset that neural tone of the tissue, the muscle is better able to release and relax, thus allowing an increased range of motion of the joint. This results in more efficient movement of the joint and allows one to begin to activate those muscles which may have been “lazy” and not doing their job. Those lazy muscles are what caused the brain to tell the compensating muscles to “tighten up” in the first place in order to perform the movement or protect you from injury. Foam rolling should be incorporated into your yoga practice as the first step, specifically addressing the hips and shoulder girdle in order to help regain lost mobility. Then proceeding to practicing asana following these simple steps: BAMA: Breath. Alignment, MoStility (mobility with stability) and Awareness.

Rollasana Yoga integrates foam rolling into a complete yoga practice. Integrating use of the foam roller into your practice is easy, and learning the sequencing for this practice is important in order to make sure you are properly preparing the body for the asana following the foam rolling.

So that’s it in a nutshell. To become more efficient and pain free in your movements, to improve your performance as an athlete, consider adding foam rolling to your daily practice. It’s not that hard, just practice your BAMA techniques and watch the magic happen. The first step is to learn the proper technique at BeYoga and “Rollasana!”

Resources:

1) Guidelines for Foam Rolling: To Roll or Not to Roll: Concerns about Self Massage http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/03/to-roll-or-not-to-roll-concerns-about-self-massage-ruthie-streiter/

2)J Strength Cond Res.2014 Jan;28(1):61-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182956569. The effects ofmyofascial release withfoamrollingon performance.Healey KC1,Hatfield DL,Blanpied P,Dorfman LR,Riebe D.

3) J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):812-21. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2bc1. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force.MacDonald GZ1, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, Cuconato AL, Drake CD, Behm DG, Button DC

4) Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Jun;8(3):228-36. Roller-massager application to the hamstrings increases sit-and-reach range of motion within five to ten seconds without performance impairments. Sullivan KM1, Silvey DB, Button DC, Behm DG

5) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):131-42. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a123db. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Macdonald GZ1, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG.

6) Amico, Undated Effects of Myofascial Release on Human Performance A Review of the literature http://www.fiteval.com/Site_1/Research_Study_files/Pilot%20Study%20addition-pdf.pdf

7) Beardsly, Chris Does Research Support the Use of Foam Rolling? http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/10/01/foam-rolling/#button

8) FIELDS, M.D. et al. (2007) Should Athletes Stretch before Exercise? Sports Science Exchange, 20 (1)