You don’t have to look hard to find someone talking about the benefits of using a foam roller/lacrosse ball. They’re a great example of how something so simple can cause a great change. But people have barely scratched the surface of the potential within these little tools, we can use them to mimic so many massage techniques that can have an even greater effect.
In the injury rehab world these techniques are known by many names- Active Release Technique, Active Myofascial Release, Osteokinematics and Active Assistive Release. Each of these techniques incorporate contraction of correlating muscles while work is being done. They are using neuromuscular theories to help the muscles relax through getting the nervous system involved at a higher level. The nervous system has many ways of getting a muscle to relax, often those ways prove to have more permanent effects.
Inside each of your muscles you have proprioceptors that tell your brain what’s going on with your muscle- amount of stretch or lengthening and the amount of contraction or tension. By adding in movement to your foam rolling you are incorporating these senses into the treatment and allowing their signaled responses to help cause change.
The first technique that I’d like to show you is one you may have already done briefly without noticing- the Pin and Stretch. Just like the name implies, you pin down the muscle and then stretch (lengthen) it out. This is going to require that you have some kind of muscular knowledge, which I’m sure you’ve been paying attention to what muscles activate with what movements. But, this is info that you can easily find online on any kind of anatomy or kinesiology website. Below is a quick example of the Pin and Stretch with the hamstrings.
As you can see, the ball isn’t rolling it’s just providing some pin-point friction to my hamstring. I’m contracting my quads which is causing my hamstrings to lengthen and move across the ball. Instead of moving the ball or roller along the muscle we’re doing the opposite and having the muscle do the moving. By having my quads contract we’re using the ideas behind reciprocal inhibition to help cause further change to our hamstrings. You will have to move the ball or roller around after a few contractions, but I’m positive that you will feel the difference in the technique.
One more example using a foam roller on the lats:
Give it a try on your stubborn areas and see if the extra involvement causes some changes for you. As always- the deeper you go, the slower you should go; If it’s painful it’s probably too much; and don’t do any deep/corrective work postworkout.