Stop and Avoid Muscular Traffic Jams With These Detours

By Stacey Penney, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FNS

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) stretching technique that has been embraced throughout the fitness industry. This effective and simple to do technique delivers positive, feel good results. Foam rollers have become easily accessible, either shared at the gym or found in almost any sporting goods aisle to bring home for a minimal investment. Using the foam roller can deliver improvements in flexibility, muscle recovery, movement efficiency, inhibiting overactive muscles, and pain reduction with just minutes of application

Why SMR?

SMR can be done with a variety of tools beyond foam rollers, such as medicine balls, handheld rollers or other assistive devices. Foam rollers vary in density, surface structure, and even temperature modifications. Whatever the tool or variation selected, SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements (1). These mechanically stressful actions are recognized as an injury by the body, initiating a repair process called the Cumulative Injury Cycle (Figure 1) (1). This cycle follows a path of inflammation, muscle spasm, and the development of soft tissue adhesions that can lead to altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalance (1-4). The adhesions reduce the elasticity of the soft tissues and can eventually cause a permanent change in the soft tissue structure, referred to as Davis’s Law. SMR focuses on alleviating these adhesions (also known as “trigger points” or “knots”) to restore optimal muscle motion and function (1,5).

SMR is based on the principal of autogenic inhibition. Skeletal muscle tissue contains muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTO), two neural receptors. Muscle spindles are sensory receptors running parallel to muscle fibers, sensitive to a change and rate of muscle lengthening. When stimulated, they will cause a myotatic stretch reflex that causes the muscle to contract. The GTO receptors, located in the musculotendinous junctions, are stimulated by a change and rate of tension, and when they are stimulated will cause the muscle to relax (2). When a change in tension is sustained at an adequate intensity and duration, muscle spindle activity is inhibited causing a decrease in trigger point activity, accompanied by a reduction of pain (1,6-7). In simpler terms, when the pressure of the body against the foam roller is sustained on the trigger point, the GTO will “turn off” the muscle spindle activity allowing the muscle fibers to stretch, unknot, and realign (5).

Davis’s Law: Soft tissue models along lines of stress.

Autogenic Inhibition: The process by which neural impulses that sense tension are greater than the impulses that cause muscles to contract, providing an inhibitory effect to the muscle spindles.

The Benefits of SMR

SMR benefits include:
Correction of muscle imbalances
Muscle relaxation (1,2)
Improved joint range of motion
Improved neuromuscular efficiency (1,3,4)
Reduced soreness and improved tissue recovery (1)
Suppression/reduction of trigger point sensitivity and pain (2,6,7)
Decreased neuromuscular hypertonicity (1)
Provide optimal length-tension relationships
Decrease the overall effects of stress on the human movement system (1)

Guidelines to Start Rolling

Foam rolling should be done before static or dynamic stretching activities, improving the tissue’s ability to lengthen during stretching activities. Foam rolling can also be done as part of the cool-down (1-2). Foam rolling activities should be performed on tissues identified as overactive during the assessment process.

Most clients can enjoy foam rolling on their own once they’ve been instructed on how to properly perform the exercises. Foam rolling is not appropriate for all clients, including those with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or any organ failure, bleeding disorders, or contagious skin conditions. If clients have medical issues, have them seek the advice of their medical professional before starting SMR or foam rolling activities (1).

Slowly roll the targeted area until the most tender spot is found. Hold on that spot while relaxing the targeted area and discomfort is reduce, between 30 seconds and 90 seconds (1,7). During the exercises it is important to maintain core stability. Use the drawing-in maneuver (pulling the navel in toward the spine) to maintain stability in the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (1). Take the time to experience the exercises and discover how slightly modifying positions or angles can target different areas of the muscle.

Here are some of the top foam roller exercises to get you and your clients started on a path to moving and feeling better.

Calves (Gastrocnemius/Soleus)

Place foam roller under the mid-calf. Cross the opposite leg over the top of the other to increase pressure. Slowly roll calf area to find the most tender spot. Hold that spot for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Especially beneficial for runners or those who regularly wear shoes with elevated heels (8). Switch legs and repeat.


Lie face down and place one thigh, flexed and abducted, over the foam roller. Slowly roll the upper, inner thigh area to find the most tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Switch legs and repeat.

Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)

Lie on one side with the foam roller just in front of the hip. Cross the top leg over the lower leg, placing that foot on the floor. Slowly roll from the hip joint down toward the knee to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Switch sides and repeat.


Sit on top of the foam roller, positioned on the back of the hip, crossing one foot over the opposite knee. Lean into the hip of the crossed leg. Slowly roll on the posterior hip area to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Repeat on other side.

Latissimus Dorsi

Lie on one side with the arm closest to the ground outstretched with thumb facing upwards. Place the foam roller under the arm in the axillary region. Slowly roll back and forth to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced. Repeat on other side.

Thoracic Spine

Lie on the floor with the foam roller behind the upper back. Cross arms to opposite shoulders. Raise hips off the floor and slowly roll back and forth to find the tender spot. Hold for 30-90 seconds.

Clark MA, Lucett SL. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training, Baltimore, MD:Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2011.
Clark MA, Lucett SL. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training 4th ed. Baltimore, MD:Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2012.
Edgerton VR, Wolf S, Roy RR. Theoretical basis for patterning EMG amplitudes to assess muscle dysfunction. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996;28(6):744-751.
Janda V. Muscle weakness and inhibition in back pain syndromes. In: Grieve GP (ed). Modern Manual Therpay of the Vertebral Column. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1986.
Reid DA, McNair PJ. Passive force, angle and stiffness changes after stretching of hamstring muscles. Med Sci Sports Exer 2004;36(11):1944-48.
Hanten WP, Olson SL, Butts NL, Nowicki AL. Effectiveness of a home program of ischemic pressure followed by sustained stretch for treatment of myofascial trigger points. Phys Ther 2000;80:997-1003.
Hou CR, Tsai LC, Cheng KF, Chung KC, Hong CZ. Immediate effects of various therapeutic modalities on cervical myofascial pain and trigger-point sensitivity. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2002;83: 1406-14.
Grieve R, et al. The immediate effect of soleus trigger point pressure release on restricted ankle joint dorsiflexion: A pilot randomised controlled trial. J Bodyw Mov Ther.2011;15:42-49.

Stacey Penney, Contributing Content Strategist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), holds a degree in Athletic Training from San Diego State University, along with credentials in Health Promotion Management and Consulting (UCSD), and Instructional Technology (SDSU). She holds certifications from NASM and ACE in personal training, corrective exercise, sports performance, group exercise, and health coaching. Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she develops continuing education curriculum for many fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, coaching youth soccer, and pursuing an MS in Exercise Science. – See more at:

How to: Adductor and abductor training

Adductor and abductor training, two exercises that are rarely mentioned when it comes to working out. Some people feel that there is just no benefit to these exercises. Others feel that the actual workouts bring unwanted attention from gym spectators. Just as with any exercise, working the inner and outer thigh muscles is a necessary benefit to your training. Whether you agree or disagree with incorporating adductor/abductor training into your routine is your choice but the exercises are still worth taking a second look from a broader perspective before ruling them completely out as being a beneficial source for training.

The adductor muscles are made up of a group of muscles originating on the ischium and pubis bones, ADDUCTOR TRAINING
and inserting on the medial posterior of the femur. When training these muscles, you are actually training the inside of the thigh. In order to train this muscle group by use of the adductor machine, you are simply placing your knees against the outside of the padded area of the adductor equipment, selecting a weight that will create tension, while allowing you to press your knees against the padding, bringing them together from their separated start position. (WATCH INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO) –

The abductor muscles are made up of a group of four muscles located around the buttocks on both sides of the body. The main function of the abductors is to separate the legs from the midline of the body. When training these muscles, you are actually training the outside of the hip/gluteal area. When performing your exercise on the abductor machine, you will place your knees on the inside of the padded area and select a weight that will create tension, and then push your knees outward against the padding, separating them from their start position. (WATCH INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO) – ABDUCTOR TRAINING

The best way to remember adductor from abductor is to note that adductor begins with knees apart, bringing the knees together, working the inner thigh and abductor begins with knees together and spreading outward which works the outer thigh. Just remember that adductor means to “add” and abductor means to “take away”

When these exercises are done correctly, there is no way that you will not feel the effects of their training. Some people say they’ve performed these exercises but didn’t feel anything nor see the benefit. Well, the only way you will not feel these exercises working your hip area, is if you perform them incorrectly.One of the first things you will need to do is select a weight that is resistent enough for you to not breeze through the movement but comfortable enough for you to perform at least 15 repetitions. There are seating variations to these exercises, as well. For both adductor and abductor, you can create a more intense movement that will be tougher to perform by leaning your body forward. In fact, with the right tension and proper execution of the movements, it should become more and more difficult to complete each set. Sometimes, depending on your body, you may not feel as if you’ve trained your adductor/abductor muscles right away. However, if you do train them correctly, you will know it in at least a day or so because you will definitely feel it.

Men often frown on adductor/abductor exercises for themselves because somehow, many of them come to associate it with femininity. However, these exercises benefit both males and females alike and are great tools to incorporate into your training routine.

The adductor/abductor machines are not miracle workers designed to take away from other training needed to reduce body fat and add definition. These exercises are simply tools you can use in your routines mainly to assist in toning or shaping the thighs and glutes. The single set of exercises alone will not rid your thighs of fat and cause them to become lean. This is perhaps why adductor/abductor exercises don’t get much recognition. People are, for the most part, misinformed about the exercises being this “miracle fat remover”. But just as with any other exercise you perform, losing weight and shaping your body happens through weight training, diet and the consistency of both. The exercises are merely tools that help the changes to occur faster. When various exercises work together over a period of time, that is how the body transforms, not from just one single movement.