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Self-Myofascial Release Exercises: A Runner's Guide to Ease Tight Muscles

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Runners, recreational and professional, are at a greater danger of muscle injury due to the pattern overload of muscles during the act of running. That causes running overuse injuries in runners which leads to muscle inflexibility and underperformance. Hence, to restore the body’s structural integrity for optimum performance output, knowing self-myofascial release exercises is critical to runners.

The human body is made up of the nervous, skeletal, and muscular system; together they form the kinetic chain. These systems work interdependently to produce movement. If one segment of the kinetic chain isn’t functioning efficiently, then the other systems must compensate which, consequently leads to fatigue, tissue overload, faulty movement patterns, and gradually initiates the Cumulative Injury Cycle.

Freaked out much? Relax! Whether you are a beginner in running or an enthusiast, these self-myofascial release exercises will help you ease all kinds of stiff muscles. Keep reading to know all about self-myofascial release exercises.

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Importance of Self-Myofascial Release Exercise

Running is an activity produced by the body through the combined effort of the nervous, muscular and skeletal systems. With every stride, a tiny deviation in the foot, legs or hip muscle can have a global effect on your entire body. As a result, efficient movement is lost and more energy is required to produce the same movement and increased the likelihood of injury.

Dysfunction in the kinetic chain of the body is caused by numerous reasons. One such main culprit of kinetic chain dysfunction is pattern overload or repeating the same motion consistently, which is the case in running.

Altered biomechanics in the kinetic chain can modify length-tension relationships and force-couple relationships. Length-tension is defined as the length that a muscle can stretch to produce the maximum force. Overused muscles are in a shortened state which fails to give force output.

On the other hand, force-couple is the relationships between muscle groups moving together to trigger joint movements. When the soft tissue called fascia is in a compromised state, it will alter these relationships and the integrity of the joint movements.

Now, muscle tightness restricts a joint’s range of motion which alters normal neural feedback to the central nervous system and ultimately, the neuromuscular efficiency is also compromised. With this, runners experience poor movement patterns premature fatigue, and running injuries.

And so, runners must perform self-myofascial release exercises to improve muscle flexibility, function, performance, and reduce injuries.

How to Perform Self-Myofascial Release Exercises for Runners

Foam roller is an equipment to do SRM
Foam Roller is an Excellent Tool to Do SMR (source)

One of the best things about self-myofascial release exercises is that they can be performed easily without much assistance. However, it is vital to know the type of tool being used in doing SMR, it. Often individuals use equipment which is too hard in density, or ill-suited for a particular area. It is common for SMR self-learners to try the workouts with a high-density foam roller without really knowing what they are doing, or how to do it.

Using the wrong equipment in size or density can be a deal maker or breaker. It could result in a person experiencing more tension, which consequently can further increase pain. And ultimately, leading to quitting the SMR workout routine.

Using a foam roller or lacrosse ball in the correct size and density, runners can effectively ease off these muscle and tissue related distresses.

10 Self-Myofascial Release Exercises for Runners

SMR exercises
Include SMR Workouts in Your Training Routine (source)

The three fundamental keys that help you to move efficiently are body awareness, consistency, and being proactive. Your ability to read what your body is telling you is Body awareness. Listen to the feedback given by your body and start treating its needs. Ignoring the signs of pain and fatigue and continuing to push through the pain will only break down your body with severe injuries to deal with.

Making self-myofascial release exercises a priority during your daily training and rest days, will help your body recover faster and decrease injury chances.

With that, learn these effective Self-Myofascial Release Exercises quick muscle relaxation and recovery.

Soleus for Calf

Soleus for Calf
Soleus for Calves (source)

Begin by sitting on the ground, legs stretched out in front of you. Position a foam roller horizontally under your right calf. Cross your left leg over the right ankle. Keep your hands on the ground and use them to raise your body up. Slowly roll the lower portion of your calves to the back of the ankle.

Gastrocnemius for Calf

Gastrocnemius for calf
Gastrocnemius for Calves (source)

In the similar position as before, roll the entire calf section, from ankle to the back of the knee. In runners, the lower part of the leg takes a beating. Hence, the soleus and gastrocnemius workouts help to stabilize the foot and the ankle. It also increases flexibility and mobility by reducing contact time for each foot strike.

Tenor Fascia Latae

Tenor Fascia Latae
Tenor Fascia Latae (source)

Lying on the right side of your body, position the foam roller under the right hip. Using your forearms for support, cross your left leg over the right and put the foot of the left leg flat on the ground. Roll from hip down to just above your knee. Repeat on the other side. This workout will increase hip flexion and decrease hip extension.

IT Band

IT Band massage with foam roller
IT Band Massage with Foam Roller (source)

Lying on the right side of your body, place the foam roller a little lower from the hip (along the thigh part). Now, roll from under the hip t just above the knee, concentrating more on the thigh section. Repeat on the other side. The IT band balances the knee while running. Commonly known as runner’s knee, the IT band syndrome is a running injury where the runners feel pain on the outer side of the knee.


Quadriceps with foam roller
Quadriceps with Foam (source)

Lie on the floor with your face downwards. Fix the foam roller under the quadriceps. Slowly, roll from the top of the quadriceps to just above the knee. Use your forearms for support.


Adductors with foam roller
Adductor Massage with Foam Roller (source

To massage the adductors, position the foam roller parallel to the leg and slightly bend the knee of the leg to be rolled. Using your forearms for support, roll the foam roller with the leg. Overused adductors can be a cause of your knees shifting inward, towards the midline of the body during running.


Piriformis with foam roller
Piriformis with Foam Roller (source)

Sit on the ground and place the foam roller under the gluteus region. Use your hands for support, make small movements to roll out the posterior hip. Look for tender spots and roll over them. This workout will increase flexibility and mobility to improve force production through the hips.


Psoas with foam roller
Psoas with Foam Roller (source)

Facing downward on the floor, place the foam roller under your belly region. Use your forearms to raise your body up and roll the foam down towards your femur through small movements. The psoas is the most powerful hip flexor in the body and is often overactive in runners. Massaging the psoas will improve hip flexion and reduce hip extension.

Pectorals (Chest)

Pectorals with foam roller
Pectorals with Foam Roller (source)

Lie down on the floor with the foam roller placed between your chest and the floor. Lean in to apply pressure and roll the foam over the chest. Lok for tender areas and massage them. Overactive pectorals (chest) can affect how runners carry their arms during running. The condition can also lead to improper breathing. People in sedentary jobs also suffer from chest tightness.

Thoracic Area

Thoracic area massage
Thoracic Area (source)

Lie on the floor face up, position the foam roller under the upper part of your back. Bend both knees to 90 degrees to put the feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms behind your head. Raising the hips off the ground, roll back and forth over your shoulder blades and mid-back.

Additionally, SMR workouts should be relatively shorter in duration. Use a general guideline of two minutes per area before moving to the next area or workout.

Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release Exercises

Benefits of SMR
SMR Exercises Favours Everyone (source

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) Exercises address most systems of the body including the fascia, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels. The basic idea of SMR is that through the assistance of tools, a runner can self-massage and break up knots or tightness in the fascia and muscles. It is theorized that by breaking up these restrictions, the muscle fibres are positioned in better alignment along the natural lines of the muscle fibres, allowing the gliding surface of the fascia to move freely.

  • Muscle relaxation by reducing and eliminating existing muscle tension thereby alleviating aches and pains.
  • Reduction of trigger point sensitivity and pain as SMR promotes endorphins release.
  • SMR increases blood circulation allowing oxygen and other nutrients to reach the muscles and reduce soreness and improve tissue recovery.
  • Improvement in the range of joint motion, which restores optimal length-tension relationships.
  • Decreased adhesions and scar tissue to improve muscle and Fascia elasticity.
  • Produces cytokines, a compound that reduces inflammation.
  • Regulates activity in the mitochondria of cells to help promote repair and growth of muscle tissue.
  • Improves neuromuscular efficiency.
  • Reduces neuromuscular hypertonicity.
  • Busts overall stress effects on the human movement system.


SMR exercises are good for runners
For Excellent Performance, SMR is a Great Workout (source)

Runners can gain a lot from self-myofascial release. Maintaining structural integrity through these exercises will allow your body to be more flexible, mobile and efficient. Fascia is a soft tissue that surrounds muscles. In running, fascia is overused which leads to inflammation and muscle aches. It furthers reduces flexibility and joint range of movement. Massaging the soft tissue, Fascia and the associated-muscles with a foam roller will lower inflammation and related pains.

Overused muscles with injuries and sedentary lifestyles with not enough stretching can cause the fascia and other muscles to suffer a condition called adhesion. Under the adhesion condition, knots or trigger points form to cause soft tissue pains, muscles inflexibility and impede proper joint movement.

Self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises are easy to learn however you should understand the process and application of it. Individuals with chronic conditions or disease such as eczema, sunburns, skin lesions or lacerations or contagious skin conditions, advanced diabetes, osteoporosis or undergoing chemotherapy should consult doctors before trying SMR.

Fascial health and mobility should be a priority in a runner's training routine. All combined, self-myofascial release exercises (SMR) can truly benefit runners and other athletes to ward off pains, bring full mobility and assist to perform your best. Movement forms a major part of our daily life, however, it's not created equally. Individuals who spend some time on self-myofascial release exercises are a few steps ahead in the game of running.

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