Feeling Better by Feeling Worse…huh??

Feeling Better by Feeling Worse…huh??

That’s the essence of self myofascial release. It’s a bit of a conundrum, I know. This isn’t some fancy-pants new fangled workout that is supposed to connect the mind and body with the spirit of the Latisimus (The God of pullups) or Glutasia (Goddess of booty). Though if you really think about it working out in general follows the same path. You workout, and while you might enjoy the release of energy and know that it’s leading to good you don’t often feel incredible and refreshed afterwards.

But anyways, this is about something bigger and better.

This is about self myofascial release.

Self myofascial release is in essence a form of deep tissue massage that you can do on your own, hence the “self” portion of the title. It’s a great way to recover from workouts and make sure your muscles are always primed to perform. Sometimes it’s called foam rolling or “rolling out”, but in the end it’s all the same concept and can be brutal. You’d think the only way a 6 -inch diameter piece of foam would be painful is when someone is trying to jam it down your throat, but alas the genius who discovered self myofascial release found a way to make it painful in many other ways.

self myofascial release

“I’m a nerd, explain self myofascial release in fancy talk!”

Ok, ok calm down. The entire idea behind self myofascial release is based on the function of the golgi tendon organ (GTO) and the actions called reciprocal inhibition and autogenic inhibition. From my hand-dandy notebook, aka wikipedia…

The Golgi organ (also called Golgi tendon organ, tendon organ, neurotendinous organ or neurotendinous spindle), is a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ that is located at the insertion of skeletal muscle fibers into the tendons of skeletal muscle. It provides the sensory component of the Golgi tendon reflex.


Reciprocal inhibition describes muscles on one side of a joint relaxing to accommodate contraction on the other side of that joint.

and from the NSCA…

Autogenic inhibition is accomplished by actively contracting a muscle immediately before a passive stretch of the same muscle. Tension built up during the active contraction stimulates the GTO, causing a reflexive relaxation of the muscle during the subsequent passive stretch.

Putting it all together now, by actively increasing the amount of tension in a muscle you are able to activate the GTO whose main function is to relax the muscle when tension increases beyond a certain point. The point behind this automatic relaxation is to stop you from pushing so far that you injure yourself. As a result of this increasing tension in your muscles through you are able to relax the muscle you are working on, and to some extent the opposing muscles.

Besides actively relaxing the muscle groups you work on, self myofascial release also does wonders for improving tissue quality. Specifically trigger points, aka knots. You’ve had them, I’ve had them, your grandma has had them too. Those little spots that hurt like hell and you don’t even know you have until you move the wrong way or pressure is applied.

Trigger points are a great way to get that convince that cute brunette to give you a massage, which is all good and fun. More often than not improving tissue quality is isn’t the goal there. Self myofascial release on the other hand lets you really focus on those trigger points and work on them. How do you know you’ve found a trigger point (this is where the feeling worse part comes in)? It hurts like freaking hell. I mean incredible pain and discomfort…but luckily only for a few seconds.

When you hit a trigger point you increase the tension your already creating in the muscle by a whole hell of a lot. This increased tension is registered by the GTO who sends the signal to you brain who in return send the signal to your muscle saying “WTF mate…RELAX!”

The focused pressure of whatever implement you use for self myofascial release also breaks up any tension or scar tissue that is causing the trigger point. After a few sessions of self myofascial release and dealing without the pain of rolling out trigger points the pain starts to subside until it goes away completely.

“I don’t care about the sciencey part, explain self myofascial release in cave man terms!”

self myofascial release

Self myofascial release, aka foam rolling or rolling out, is a way to stretch your muscles and work out any knots you have. You can do this on your own (hence the “self” part of the term) and in all reality is something you NEED to be doing. It primes your muscles for movement (ie warmup), relaxes them (ie cool down) and in general makes them more pliable and pain free (ie everyday life). You can do it with something as cheap as a tennis or lacrosse ball, or something as fancy as a foam roller or rumble roller. Less than 10 minutes a day spent on your back and legs will improve your performance on the field, in the weight room and every where else in life and realistically should be made a priority by anyone who takes their body seriously.

That’s the basics of self myofascial release. Check out the next post for how to actually do it.