A Guide to Self-Myofascial Release for Recovery

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The popularity of self-myofascial release (SMR) is growing faster than scientific literature on the topic.  It’s easy to see why of course - the underlying principles of SMR are similar to massage yet, as the name implies, it’s a lot more convenient as athletes can self-treat with minimal equipment. As nice as it feels though, will SMR actually help you recover faster? Let’s dig into the facts.

what is self-myofascial release and is it 100% natural?

SMR is a self-massage technique that focuses on the muscles and fascia. The ‘fascia’ is a thin layer of connective tissue under the skin that supports our muscles and internal organs.

Experts have designed special tools including foam rollers, balls and massage sticks for SMR, all of them non intrusive and made for external use only. 

Individuals use their own body weight to apply rolling pressure to the affected area, most commonly the legs and upper back but the same concept can be applied any tight areas on the body. 

Athletes use SMR to encourage recovery, release tension, and treat DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness).  Sports scientists recommend three sets of 30-second or two sets of 60-second SMR for best results.[1]

how does SMR work from a natural fitness perspective?

natural fitness biofit training SMR

Like massage, the compressive action of SMR likely stimulates blood and lymph flow. This delivers nutrients to damaged muscles faster and pushes exercise metabolites out of the body, speeding up repair.[2

Many experts also believe that SMR can reduce adhesions between layers of fascia and relax the fascia encasing the muscle, leading to an improved range of movement (ROM).

In addition to its physical benefits, massage can decrease anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve mood - important factors that can affect an athlete’s performance.[3]

the evidence for self-myofascial release

A team from the school of human kinetics at the Memorial University of Newfoundland studied the effect of foam roller SMR on eleven active males. 

Researchers measured quadriceps force, activation and knee joint range of movement (ROM) before and after two 60-second foam roller SMR sessions. Foam rolling increased ROM by 10° and 8° at two and 10 minutes respectively.[4]  

A later study with 20 healthy male participants investigated the effectiveness of foam rolling as a recovery tool for exercise-induced muscle damage.  DOMS was induced with a 10x10 back squat protocol.

Participants carried out two 60-second foam rolling exercises on the thigh and gluteal muscles at various points after exercise. In comparison to the control (no SMR), foam rolling significantly reduced DOMS at all time points while also improving ROM.[4]


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25968853

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15114265

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19123877

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22580977

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24343353

TrainingMatt Morley