What is foam rolling - also known as self-myofascial release (SMR)?

Ms. Karena Wu
Physical Therapy
Foam rolling is a form of self massage where you use your body weight to generate the pressure on the foam roller to release your muscles, tendons and fascia (connective tissue).  It is a coordinated exercise because you have to position yourself over the roller so that you lay on the appropriate soft tissue to release it. Sometimes you have to prop your body weight up so you will also get a little bit of a work out in your abs and arms.  It is an excellent way to loosen your soft tissues at home.

Foam rolling or self myo-fascial release (SMR) is used to help remove tightness in the muscle or to help break up adhesions (small pockets of waste build up) in the muscle. This technique can be used before and after exercise. It may be used immediatley before a specific exercise for a specific exercise group. 

In a post surgical situation, it may be used for the prevention and break up of scar tissue (considered adhesions) around an incision site. This is done specifically after the surgical site has healed and is sealed properly. Tools may be a foam roller, 'the stick'-a patented PVC pipe with beads, a tennis ball, a medicine ball, hands in various shapes and positions--the options for what can be used to release those areas is endless. 

There are a few precautions and contraindications to adhere when using SMR. Please consult your doctor if any of these conditions exist: congestive heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure, pancreas failure, bleeding disorders, or any contagious skin conditions. If you have cancer or any other condition, please consult your physician before using SMR.

Foam rolling or SMR is a way to release any restrictions or trigger points you may have around your joints. Think of foam rolling as a deep-tissue massage. As you begin to release these restrictions, your posture will improve as well as your strength and power. As muscles contract over time they will develop knots or restrictions, which cause muscles to become tight. Tight muscles pull your skeletal structure out of alignment. When your skeletal structure is pulled out of alignment, you may experience impingements around joints, dull aches and pains, and a decrease in your ability to produce strength and power. I recommend a daily routine of foam rolling, stretching, and to select exercises that you perform on your feet. 

This is a technique used to relax muscle fibers and fascia allowing an increase in flexibility and mobility. It can be applied to assist in healing joint pain and dysfunction. Although, nothing beats a Message Therapist!

As one of three stretching techniques, SMR focuses on the neural and fascia system in the body. By applying Pressure to a tender area "knot" for a period of time the muscle fibers that are altered and in a bundled position, are then straightened into an alignment which allows greater blood flow and lengthening of the muscle.

Foam rolling is a great tool to have in your workout "toolbox", and often under-utilized. You can use the foam roll to "get the knots out" and helps to lengthen tight muscles. When rolling, find the knot and hold, this constant pressure should effectively relax the overactive muscle. Use before and after a workout for best results. These are very easy to find, and now come in half sizes at your local Target, Walmart or Sporting Goods Store for under $20.

Foam rolling is a form of deep tissue massage. It works out the knots in your body just like a massage. The pressure can be uncomfortable at first, but keep rolling and over time it will feel more relaxing. Moving around on it takes some time to get use to with different positions. It's an excellent addition to a workout after warm-up and as part of your stretching at the end. It is your private, portable masseuse which means any time you feel tight you can pull it out and knead out the knots. You can have fun by naming your foam roller since it might replace your massage therapist! Always have fun!

I am the Wellness Director at a large YMCA in Worcester, MA.  I have hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, machines, etc.  The single most important peice of Health, Wellness and Fitness equipment is not a $8,000 treadmill or $9,000 eliptical machine - instead it's a $20.00 foam roller.  Buy one, learn to use it the right way and make it part of your daily routine!  It will change your life!!

Foam Rolling or SMR is a technique people can use to help with flexibility issues. The process is basically: find a dense foam cylinder, other round rollable objects will do (keep in mind the smaller they are the more focused the pressure), place on floor, and roll across tight muscles. The idea is thought to give you a deep tissue massage to help work knots out of muscles. To gain the most benefit from Foam Rolling or SMR, it should be done regularly and you should do static stretching afterwards. 

This is just a brief synopsis. Make sure to research specific technique.


Foam rolling (self-myofascial release) is an effective stretching technique whereby one engages in the process of releasing soft-tissue "knots". One first searches for and finds an experienced tender-spot "knot" with the foam roller, then applies gentle pressure with the roller to the center of that experienced adhesion for 20-30 seconds. This SMR process releases the focused upon neural or fascial system "knots" through alteration of the elastic muscle fibers from their bundled position into straighter alignment with the direction of the muscle or it's outermost layer of connective tissue (fascia). This technique helps optimally restore the body's function by resetting the proprioceptive mechanisms of the soft tissue. SMR is recommended prior to static stretching to help induce postural distortion pattern corrections as well as an active and functional flexibility appetizer. As dessert, SMR can also be implemented during the cool-down process.
JC Pinzon

Foam rolling is a great toll used to treat tight spots in the muscles and fascia membranes. It helps to release muscles that restrict movement. It is like getting a deep tissue massage if you follow the instructions right. It hurts at first but you will get used to it fast if you do it every day. I enjoying rolling it along my spine every night and tight spots like calves, IT bands, lats and calves. Rolls are becoming more popular every day and even gyms and sports stores are selling them now. Start with a soft one and work your way up once you get more used to them. Good luck!

According to NASM foam rolling or SMR is a stretching technique that focuses on the neural and fascial system in the body (The fibrous tissue that connects and surrounds a muscle). By applying force to knots in the muscle it straightens and relaxes the elastic fibers.


Foam roll, or foam rolling, falls into the fitness category of flexibility. SMR focuses on the body's fascial system, the soft tissue, by applying gentle pressure, using the concept of autogenic inhibition, to segments of muscle groups. One can focus on one known area before his or her workout, before or after the warm up, or apply SMR to the entire body in the time of one typical "session."

SMR is ideal for those clients that have any deviations to a joint, or joints, that are currently not functioning efficiently and lead to muscle imbalances.

You may hear the words, "knots," "scar tissue," "spasms," "cramps" when referring to SMR or foam roll.

Think of foam rolling as a self-given deep tissue massage, one that hurts and feels good at the same time. Self myofascial release helps to realign and lengthen your muscles, which works to lessen the chance of injury. 

Simply stated foam rolling (SMR) is a flexibility technique that focuses on the fascia, which is the outer most layer of connective tissue that surrounds the muscle. When rolling over the muscle you are looking for that tender spot. When you find that sensitive area (knot) apply gentle pressure by holding for 30 seconds. This will help restore the body back to its optimal level. This technique is often used during the warm-up and cool-down portion of the workout. I recommend this type of flexibility to my clients who suffer overactive muscle tension, as a way to help restore necessary muscle balance.

Mr. Donovan Green
Athletic Training
Think about foam rolling as a bread roller. When the flour is knotted and bumpy, you use the bread roller to smooth out those bumps (right?). Your muscles are just the same. We become really tight and knotted just like the flour; our movement can sometime become very restricted. Your muscles have to be smoothed out in order to achieve maximum performance in your daily functions. Once you release the fascia from a state of temporary bondage you can reduce muscular injury by at least 65%. SMR is great to do at least 3-4 days per week for duration of at least 10 minutes.

Foam rolling is a technique for the exerciser to use to help loosen tight muscles thereby aiding flexibility. The premise is you position a body part on the foam roller and slowly roll forward and backward until you find a tender point or knot and then hold that position for 30-60 seconds. This constant pressure should effectively relax the overactive muscle.

Self-myofascial release (SMR, foam rolling) is a stretching technique that uses the application of force on adhesions in muscle tissue to stimulate the Golgi tendon organ to initiate autogenic inhibition. Autogenic inhibition will release the adhesion in the muscle.

To utilize SMR, slowly roll the muscle until you find a tender spot and apply pressure for 20-30 seconds and consciously try to relax. This will be rather uncomfortable while you perform the SMR, however, this will release the knot from the muscle.

Use SMR for corrective exercise, before static stretching, and before exercise or competition.

Foam rolling (also known as self-myofacial release (SMR), is a flexibility technique that breaks up knots in the muscles, and releases unwanted tension.  SMR is a great tool for all stages of training. If you are interested in learning how to use SMR, get in touch with an NASM fitness professional.  They can help you get started with SMR.

A foam roller is used for self-myofascial release. What does this mean? You have fascia that runs over your muscle tissue. Quite often the fascia can develop adhesions which can hinder the proper function of the muscle and or joint from moving. This is due to intense exercise, overtraining, working the same muscle pattern over and over again, etc. By using a foam roller, you can roll up and down the muscle to loosen up these adhesions. Also, if you find a tender spot while rolling, you should keep direct pressure on the foam roller on that spot for 20 seconds and then continue to roll up and down. You can repeat this many times until you get relief. However, you shouldn't spend more than 30 minutes foam rolling. Use it before and after exercise for a great warm-up and cool down. 

Fabio Comana

When we look at the term SMR- the "self" implies that you will administer it upon yourself (i.e., as you do when you roll on the foam roller). Myofascial Release (MR) is a newer modality in exercise that we have known about for ages, but never really understood its importance. Traditionally, when we had a knot, we either massaged it or used a ball or similar object to relieve the tension and discomfort, thinking we were targeting the muscle. However, we were actually relieving tension within one segment of our fascia. To understand this term in basic terms, think of shrink-wrap around your entire body that keeps all your individual organs and segments packed tightly together. One part of our fascial system is this shrink-wrap that is alive and well, filled with blood vessels and more nerve endings than we find in our muscle. When it is disturbed by pressure, poor posture, or awkward positions, the fibers within this fascia for a knot (fibers fall out of alignment). MR therefore is a process whereby we can realign these fibers by foam rolling and other modalities to relieve tension and discomfort.   

Over the past decade, the use of a self-induced neuromyofascial release technique (such as foam-rolling muscle) has emerged to become a relatively common and practical flexibility technique used within the health and fitness environment. This form of flexibility is termed self-myofascial release (SMR). Self-myofascial release can be used for two primary reasons:

  • To alleviate the side effects of active or latent trigger points
  • To influence the autonomic nervous system

Self-myofascial release is therefore believed to stimulate the Golgi receptors through sustained pressure at a specific intensity, amount, and duration to produce an inhibitory response to the muscle spindle and decrease gamma loop activity.

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that is used by athletes and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles. This form of stretching utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility, thus relaxing the muscle and allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle.

This technique can be effective for many muscles, including: gastrocnemius, latissimus dorsi, piriformis, adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, thoracic spine (trapezius and rhomboids), and TFL.

It is accomplished by rolling the foam roller under each muscle group until a tender area is found, and maintaining pressure on the tender area for 30–60 seconds.

In other words - foam rolling is the best invention ever to relieving tight, sore muscles and removing lactic acid so you can get up and down the stairs after a hard work out without screaming in pain with every step you take. I love it and won't exercise without it. It makes a huge difference in my performance and recovery.

Scott Pullen
Scott Pullen on behalf of dotFIT
It is a form of self-administered (inflicted?) flexibility. A foam roller is used to slowly roll over tight and/or aggravated tissue, mush like a masseuse pushing through tight muscles. While slowly rolling, you are feeling for areas that register more sensitivity or pain. These areas are typically indicative of "trouble spots". Maintain pressure on the trouble spot for 20-40 seconds. This will cause a series of receptors to engage and ultimately relax, causing the trouble spot to dissipate or relax. SMR can be done pre or post workout. It works very well in helping to make muscles more pliable prior to static stretching and by itself can serve as an effective warm up. Done post workout, it can help to relax the muscles that were worked. My personal experiences with this technique are only positive. It can contribute too much easier, pain free movement and reduce pain associated with chronically tight muscles as those experienced from prolonged sitting or pattern overload/use. There is so much more that could be discussed, with many interesting theories on how and why SMR does what it does...however, it would exceed the what could be listed here. Suffice it to say that it is a valuable flexibility tool and a great way to keep moving well with less pain. 
Jesse Gernert

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release technique (SMR), which is another stretching technique that focuses on the neural and fascial system in the body. The objective of using SMR is to apply gentle force to an adhesion or more commonly understood a "knot", which alters the elastic muscle fibers (aka knot) into a straighter alignment with direction of the muscle or fascia. When the gentle pressure is applied by a foam roller it stimulates the Golgi tendon organ and creates autogenic inhibition, in return, decreasing muscle spindles excitation and ultimately releases the hypertonicity of the underlying musculature.

Foam rolling or SMR is a soft tissue technique used to break up knots or tightness in the muscle and to relieve chronic pain and improve flexibility. The idea is to apply pressure to the muscle with the foam and roll on it to reduce tension, increase blood flow and lengthen the muscle. Foam rolling can be an effective way to aid flexibility and to reduce injuries.

For the novice fitness to the expert athlete foam rolling is by far the best use of warm up time for all.

First it helps to relax and release adhesions or tight-knotted muscle fibers through out the body through applied body weight to a cylinder shaped dense piece of foam. A technique known as foam rolling.

Once a fitness professional has shown you how to use the foam roller through out your body from head to toe your fitness program will be made a lot more effective. 

What foam rolling does is helps to elongate muscles and prepare them for a work out. 

A common error by novice and some professional athletes is to not properly stretch before a work out. Foam rolling takes care of this and in the end will effectively help reduce the chances of injury in the long run.

Self-myofascial release is another form of stretching that focuses on the fibrous tissue that surrounds and separates muscle tissue. By applying gentle force to the knot the muscle fibers are altered. Once the knot is located sustain pressure on that spot for a minimum of 20-30 seconds.

Foam Rolling or Self Myofascial release is an inhibitory technique used to release tension or decrease activity of the target muscle or tissue. Scientifically speaking it used for two things:

  1. To treat effects of active or latent trigger points 
  2. To influence the autonomic nervous system

In practical terms it used to help deactivate, and increase blood flow to a muscle or group of muscles. This inhibition then allows the muscle increased range of motion when being stretched.

Within the corrective exercise continuum, practitioners first deactivate an overactive muscle group through myofascial release so that said group can be lengthened towards acceptable levels. All this is done in order to get closer to reestablishing proper length/tension relationship around joints.

It's like self-deep tissue massage, in many ways. Foam rolling is a technique to "sweep" through the muscles and breakdown or smooth adhesions in the muscles that are likely limiting range of motion or flexibility. It's important to speak with a health and fitness professional on whether or not SMR is a technique you should use, as it's not recommended for a variety of health conditions.

Foam rolling is an important part of a successful fitness plan. A foam roller is a round piece of firm foam that you essentially lay and roll on to loosen tight muscles. By gently rolling out your legs, arms, middle and upper back, and shoulders you help loosen tight muscles and work out adhesions that impact you’re over all mobility. Think of it as a do it your self-massage. Foam rolling before a work out helps to warm up and prepare the body, foam rolling after a good workout can serve as a cool down.

Foam rolling is ideal to help with overactive muscles, muscle tension, and a whole range of muscle and joint related issues. It is a favorite amongst avid exercisers, but can also be used in therapy. It helps to increase range of motion and decrease muscular tension. Foam rolling has also been referred to as "self massage" and is performed on a foam roller (which comes in a variety of sizes and prices). Foam rolling compresses the muscle tissue, helping to ease over activity (used before working out) and over sensitivity (used after working out). Think of it has truly working out the kinks. If you have knot in the muscle and simply stretch (think of the calves) then that knot can actually become tighter and more tender. Foam rolling compresses it to help work the tension out from the source. I recommend 5 minutes of foam rolling before working out (especially intense workouts) holding the tender spots for 30 seconds or until tenderness subsides. After the workout, you can spend 5 minutes using the compression of the foam roller to get the muscles ready for a stretch.

Foam rolling is an example of a stretching technique referred to as self-myofascial release that is used to enhance flexibility. It is effective in addressing problem areas in muscles where adhesions or knots are present. By placing the foam roll against the knot in the muscle and applying gentle force for a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds, the muscle will be stimulated to relax. Self-myofascial release is suggested to be performed before static stretching, i.e. stretching a muscle and holding for a minimum of 20 seconds, for optimum results.

Foam rolling is a self massage technique used to release the knots with in a muscle, and is and important part of a corrective exercise program. It helps you move better, and can be used before a workout to release overactive muscles that can negatively affect form. It can also be used after a workout to prevent muscles from becoming overactive. As part of an injury prevention program foam rolling can be followed by static stretching of the overactive muscles which will allowed the antagonists or underactive muscles to be activated. An example would be foam rolling the hip flexors to be able to activate the gluteus maximus.

Foam-rolling is a stretching technique used to "smooth" out knots or tension spots in a muscle. When pressure is applied to the knot and is held for 20-30 seconds, it causes the muscle to relax, allowing it to return to its proper length and increasing flexibility. Foam-rolling is recommended before and after a workout.

Foam rolling is one technique used to apply self-myofascial release. It is a technique used to apply pressure directly to muscles that have adhesions causing the muscle to shorten. Self-myofascial release inhibits the muscle allowing the muscle to be lengthened with static stretching and followed by dynamic stretching to prepare your muscles for your workout.

Foam rolling is a form of flexibility training which is good to use prior to exercise and as part of a cool-down, especially for those who are in the beginning stages of an exercise program. This form of flexibility training uses a foam roll that ranges in different ranges of density, some are denser and provide a deeper tissue release while some are softer density and will not provide as deep of a tissue release. The foam roll can be used to stretch the calves, quadriceps (front of the thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh), the piriformis (outer hip). When using the foam roll, when you find a tender spot, it is recommended that you maintain your position for a minimum of 30 seconds.

Foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release is an important part of the flexibility process and is used to increase the effectiveness of a regular static stretch. Foam rolling is based off of massage therapy principles and is used to release "knots" or adhesions that form in muscles (typically due to overuse of some sort), and it is also used to help relax the nervous system. Let's face it; all of us could use some relaxation.
We are going to take a quick peak into each component listed above:
  • Rolling out the knots -- Most of us have felt a knot or tender spot somewhere in our body. By applying pressure to these tender spots or knots, and holding it for 30 seconds or so we can get the body to "release" this area. 
  • Nervous system -- The nervous system can be very tricky and sensitive. It does not take much to get us worked up and for something to get on our "nerves". If you have ever driven in traffic then you know what I mean. By simply taking 10 minutes to "roll out" the body, we can work to calm these nerves and return our nervous system to a state of relaxation. 
If you have questions, I advise either emailing me or contacting one of the many other NASM Certified trainers. 
Foam rolling, aka, self-myofascial release (SMR) is a basic stretching technique. The goal of SMR is to release tension and discomfort in a tightened muscle. A foam roll is used to apply gentle pressure to areas of soreness or tightness (tension) in a muscle. It is termed "self" myofascial due to the muscles' sense of tension becoming inhibited with the gentle application of pressure, causing the muscle to relax, and reduce discomfort.

Foam rolling is a technique for kneading out knots and lengthening tight muscles. A wonderful self-massage incorporated into your workout in the being and also at the end for increasing your flexibility.

Foam rolling is a way to stretch tense muscles and allows those muscles to return back to normal resting length. Anytime you don't stretch after a workout or only go through a small range of motion with a muscle that muscle begins to tighten and conform to a shorter length and causes inelastic portions of muscle that are called adhesions. These shorter length muscles and adhesions actually inhibit strength seeing as your muscles are strongest at resting length. Self myofascial release/foam rolling is kind of like taking a rolling pin to dough-it flattens your muscle out to its optimum length. This process can be quite painful depending on how tight of adhesions you have.

Brian Floyd

Foam rolling also known as self-myofascial release is great pre and post workout exercises. We create imbalances in our muscles everyday by the way we sit, stand, squat and walk. This causes us to perform everyday movements incorrectly causing knots or adhesions in our muscle. So think of your muscle like a rope and there is a knot in the middle of the rope. Most people will stretch their muscle when they feel tightness. So if we stretch that rope with the knot it gets tighter, thus making it worse. So SMR allows us to apply pressure to loosen that knot by your golgi tendons. Now the rope with the adhesion is loosened then we can stretch that muscle to optimal length tension. Over time that knot will go away and you will see a difference in your body mechanics and feel a lot better. 

I like to think of foam rolling as an inexpensive massage. You use the foam roll to place over a tender or tight muscle and apply pressure until the tension is released. It is called SELF myofacial release but all of my clients like it when I perform the foam roll for them.


Self-myofascial release, also known as foam rolling, is a stretching technique that uses a foam roller to apply gentle pressure to adhesions (or knots) found in a muscle, allowing the muscle to relax. When foam rolling, you must find a tender spot and maintain pressure on that area for a minimum of 20-30 seconds, or until the tension in the muscle decreases. This may take longer depending on your ability to consciously relax. Although foam rolling can be uncomfortable, especially on certain areas of the body such as the IT Band, it is important to try to relax as much as possible while holding pressure on a tender spot.

Self-myofascial release can be used as a warm up prior to activity, and can also be used as part of a cool down.
Self-myofascial release (SMR) involves using a foam roll to reduce the tension in muscles. When using a foam roller, it is important to follow these guidelines: Place the roller perpendicular to the muscle being rolled, roll slowly until you find a tender spot and hold the roller in place for 20-30 seconds.  There are a few contraindications to foam rolling, for example never roll over a joint (hip, knee, etc.) and avoid rolling more sensitive areas of the body (neck, abdominals, low back, etc.).  Be sure to speak with your doctor before foam rolling if you are on any medications, have any other symptoms or to rule out any injuries and to receive appropriate treatment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.