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Self-Myofascial Release: Oh The Pain (w/ Free Ebook Link)

March 12, 2009

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) is one thing you should add to your training and to your life year round. SMR is basically self massage aimed at eliminating trigger points/knots in your muscles and improving the overall qualities of your soft tissue.  It is extremely convenient because you can do it yourself, and it is financially sound because you can do an in-depth routine with a foam roller and a tennis ball.

Trigger points occur when you use or stress a muscle, and some small parts of the muscle fiber knot up.  Essentially they stay contracted even when the muscle is relaxed.  These trigger points can cause pain constantly or just after being touched.  The effect they can have elsewhere on the body is also problematic.  Since the muscles are all connected in a ‘net’ across the body, trigger points that go unchecked can manifest into problems on other parts of your body.  For instance, if you have knee pain this can often be caused by a lack of mobility in the hips.

In his article Soft Tissue Work for Tough Guys, Tony Gentilcore talks about the relationship between trigger points in the feet and full body flexibility:

Here’s a simple test:

Most people (not all) will notice a drastic difference in hand placement compared to what it was at the start of the test. How is this possible?

In his rather exceptional book, Anatomy Trains, Thomas Myers explains the theory that “muscles operate across functionally integrated body-wide continuities within the fascial webbing. These sheets and lines follow the warp and weft of the body’s connective tissue fabric, forming traceable ‘meridians’ of myofascia. Strain, tension, fixation, and compensation are distributed along these lines.”

Some of the additional benefits are similar to our percieved benefits of stretching:

  • Increased Mobility
  • Better Tissue Quality (meaning less work to keep your muscles healthy in the future)
  • Faster Recovery
  • Feel Better and Move Better

Let’s jump to the routine.  A good way to start is with a foam roller and a tennis ball.  Get your foam roller from and get your tennis ball from your nearest tennis ball outlet (Target, Wal-Mart, etc).  If you are having trouble finding a place to buy a tennis ball, then give up on life, things are going to get a lot harder in the future!

Foam Roller from

Foam Roller from

Once you have your equipment, check out this video from Cressey Performance.  This is a routine that I run through everyday now.  I hop out of bed and on to the foam roller, after that, I am AWAKE.

You will feel some big time Zings when you go through this series.  It hurts.  But it gets better as time goes on.  There are quite a few additional tools that you could use as well, like a medicine ball, more dense foam rollers, lacrosse balls, The Stick, and the TheraCane.

TheraCane looks crazy AND does the body crazy good.

TheraCane looks crazy AND does the body crazy good.

Hope you enjoyed this post, and when you are wincing in agony through your first session, think of me.


Additional Reading/Resources:

Feel Better for 10 Bucks

Soft Tissue Work for Tough Guys

Self-Myofascial Release: Purpose, Methods, and Techniques by Mike Robertson (Doesn’t get much better than this!  Free Ebook from the hyper-intelligent Mike Robertson)

Trigger Point Therapy Workbook (This is a TECHNICAL guide for those of you wishing to take you knowledge further)

32 Comments leave one →
  1. sTupac permalink
    March 12, 2009 6:59 pm

    Nobody wants to hear about you myofascial releases.

    That’s the second time this week I’ve gotten to say that.

  2. Anon permalink
    March 13, 2009 1:16 pm

    Nice. Lots of wincing. I can tell a few areas that need to get broken up more.

  3. Jay permalink
    March 13, 2009 3:13 pm

    When is the best time to do this? Immediately after a workout? In the morning? Does it help you if you do it during a tournament?

    • March 13, 2009 3:15 pm

      Before your workout is great. I usually go through this and then move on to dynamic stretching/mobility work, right before I lift.

  4. Anon permalink
    March 23, 2009 12:29 am

    I didn’t do it before my tourney Sat. I did do it today before dynamic warm-up for lifting and after showering and stretching. Working really well for me. Thx.

  5. March 23, 2009 3:06 am

    Great stuff. I’ve been sitting on writing about this for a good while on my blog–it makes a huuuuge difference, and kept me healthy and strong through my senior year at Dartmouth (we made nationals that year. Coincidence?).

    Are you familiar with z-health at all? They champion a lot of mobility stuff; I’ve always been fascinated by what they do but could never get too much info out of them without paying a bunch for their products. Might be worth looking into for a potential interview down the line…

    • March 23, 2009 1:51 pm

      I am aware of Z-Health but I haven’t done much reading on it so far. I will add it to the list of topics. Thanks.

    • April 26, 2009 5:25 pm

      I’m thinking of attending a Z-health seminar this summer to learn more about it but have been practicing Z-health R-phase since Mark Reifkind suggested it to me. Unfortunately, the Z-health literature isn’t as well developed as the RKC or FMS worlds, since it’s pretty much only one dude at the moment (whereas there is a larger RKC / FMS base of practitioners) and AFAIK not a real book out yet (the R-phase manual is pretty light as a text–it’s no ETK or _Athletic Body in Balance_)…

      It’s taken me quite a while to start understanding Z, but I think Ultimate athletes (esp. younger ones) might benefit more from learning about what Gray Cook has to say since, after all, he screens the top NFL teams for movement issues.

      _Athletic Body in Balance_ is a fairly deep text to start with, but you all are smart so might as well start there and pick up one of the _Secrets of…_ DVDs to get a faster idea of what’s up with what Gray Cook has to say about the art of corrective practice.

  6. April 2, 2009 1:45 am

    myofascial release with shiatsubags and shiatsurollers, good and inexpensive myofascial tools

  7. April 9, 2009 4:12 am

    Great list.

    The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, btw, is not highly technical in my opinion. If I’m getting you, I think you’re looking at it as a more technical version of the self-myofascial release resources you mentioned.

    But the difference is that the SMR techniques are more for overall soft tissue quality while you occassionally focus in on more tender spots. But the Trigger Point therapy is to specifically seek out and work on trigger points. But the workbook is not technical really. It was meant for the layperson and for self-help. It’s just more focused than the general foam rolling/tennis ball stuff.

    The very technical work upon which it is based is the Trigger Point Therapy Manual…

    Great blog. Keep up the good work!

  8. May 24, 2009 8:54 pm

    I have been using self myofascial release to recover from lower back surgery, I suffered from chronic sciatic back pain for years and in the end I could not avoid surgery. Prior to surgery I made some huge gain with self myofascial release and was confident coming out of surgery that I could help the surrounding muscle release and speed up my recovery. I was right and can not say enough about this practice of self healing and self awareness. It is my belief that self myofascial release in the road to chronic pain relief and we will be seeing and hearing a lot more about it in the future.

  9. resrie permalink
    May 25, 2009 10:24 am

    I’ve been working with foam rollers for almost a year now (first heard about them from Master RKC Mark Reifkind) and it’s been interesting to see how I’ve progressed with them.

    It takes work to build muscle / drop fat, but it also takes work to, well, work through soft tissue damage / scarring / whatever’s going on there after years of active motion.

    I’ve found that foam rollers are great for the larger muscle groups, quads / hams / lats / part of back, but balls (whether miracle or lacrosse) are better for glute meds and certain bits of the shoulder.

    I’ve finally gotten around to trying a version of the Stick, actually a Tiger Tail from Polar Fusion ( which I got from a local ultramarathoning store, and it’s been great to find the last bits of soft tissue trauma that the larger foam rollers and balls have missed (for me mainly around the illiac crest, upper part of the lats, and in particular calves and anterior/posterior tibialis etc).

    It’s also funny that this blog entry has a track back from the Top 3 things missing from your training and yet you have mostly focused on (2) strength training rather than (1) and (3), which I would focus on as Corrective Practice and Food (sustainable body, sustainable food) rather than as just SMR + Nutrition.

    Trainers can help you grow in specific areas, get stronger or build your endurance, and it’s great to learn how to self train (and also keep on learning / being trained by others) and cross-train, but coaching (some would say) can go beyond training, or at least help one focus on their weaknesses rather than their strengths (although great trainers are aware of this, if they aren’t familiar with the specifics of the sport, you may end up being about to DL 80 more pounds in the gym but not have that translate to domination on the field…).

    But, hope you have more posts about food. For example, what should you / your team eat on tournament day, when you might burn close to 4,000 calories a day like I did on Saturday earlier this month at Regionals.

    For example, should we be taking in “power bombs” of carb/protein 4:1 / 3:1 etc. drinkables during games? What about glycemic index vs glycemic load? The Warrior Diet vs other IF diets vs classical 5-7 eating? I’ve been on the Warrior Diet for 6 months with great success, but now that our season is over, I might switch back to a more classical 5-6/day routine until high-work load endurance training starts anew…

  10. July 13, 2010 7:28 am

    If you’ve had any massage therapies before, what are your favorites for effectiveness?
    Also, have you ever had a situation of being very skeptical about myofascial release therapy or lymphatic drainage therapy and then found it to have been surprisingly effective? Please let me know. Thanks!

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  12. January 18, 2012 6:27 pm

    Good how to article. Myofascial release is great before workouts!

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