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Mobility Series – Part 3

Okay, so by now you have been:

1) Finding 10 minutes of time daily to devote to mobility

2) Adding new stretches into your routine + adding a new approach to your pre-exercise warm-ups.

Now we’re going to go over, in my opinion, one of the most important flexibility tools in your mobility tool kit:

Self Myofascial Release (SMR)

Myofascial release is; “a soft tissue therapy for the treatment of skeletal muscle immobility and pain…the therapy relaxes contracted muscles, improves blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulates the stretch reflex in muscles”  (defined by Wikipedia)…essentially like a type of self-massage.

It helps remove knots and “wake up” your muscles, getting them ready to be used while also stimulating blood flow.  So Self Myofascial Release (SMR) can also be a great pre-workout warm-up to go along with the stretches and dynamic movements you’re currently doing.

How does it do this?  

Without getting too technical, we attribute the muscle opening up by stimulating the fascia (the tissue surrounding muscles and organs) with pressure by initiating what’s called a “Golgi tendon reflex.”  Basically if the muscle is experiencing overload, the Golgi tendon organ tells the central nervous system to chill that muscle out or there’s going to be a problem.  That’s what the applied pressure does.  In a sense we’re tricking the muscle to release contraction (or the “knot”).

How do you do it?

Simply apply sustained pressure to the muscle over a short amount of time.  Don’t go crazy rolling all day every day.  Generally keep the time to under one minute per area (30 seconds is usually good to start with) It is possible to overdo it with SMR and tissues can bruise with too much pressure, so use your discretion when doing it.

What you’ll need

– A Foam Roll or PVC Pipe (for the brave)

– A lacrosse ball (if you don’t have one at the moment use a tennis ball, but won’t be as hard as you need)

**if you don’t have any of these and want to start right away, be creative, you can use a rolling pin and I’ve even used an apple before – something small, round, and hard. **

But do invest in these tools, you will use them the rest of your life!!

foam roll-1 lacrosse ball-1

Putting this in action

(If you’re already familiar with SMR then skip this and move right to the video to up your mobility game)


Pic 1-1

One easy way we can put this into action is to lie on your back.  Take a lacrosse ball and lay on it in between your shoulder blade and spine (there’s a little pathway of muscle there and usually that spot is tight especially on your dominate side * ex- if you’re right handed then try on your right side Move the ball around until you find a spot Pic 2-1 that’s a bit uncomfortable (maybe a 6 out of 10 discomfort) relax the body on that spot and breathe.  Get some good oxygenated breaths.  REMEMBER, MUSCLES LOVE OXYGEN SO BREATHE DEEPLY AND CALMLY.  In about 20-30 seconds you should feel the discomfort dissipate, once it gets down to a 3 or 2 out of 10 move it around to another area of discomfort.

**Adding motion:  If you want to hit that same area with some motion you can stand against a wall and roll that ball long the area more effectively drawing on all the muscle fibers to release knots and tension.

Pic 3-1

Now armed with these basic principles, you’re going to take them and start rolling along the muscles you’ve been stretching.  This type of tissue release can be used on ALL the muscles in the body (legs, glutes, back, neck, forearms, shoulders, feet….etc.) Keep in mind the reflex doesn’t initiate too quickly so rolling really fast isn’t of great benefit.  Take a nice easy roll while breathing.  If you find a particularly nasty area you can keep pressure on the knot and bend and extend the area.  For example if you are rolling on your IT band (which is most common for pain on people) and hit a rough area, bend your leg all the way to your butt then extend the leg with the roller or ball on that area the whole time.  Remember with SMR and foam rolling you want to “seek and destroy” muscle tightness.

Watch and the excellent video below put together by Joe Defranco at Defranco’s Training Systems.  The SMR starts at 1:20m.  The entire video is 19min and worth the full watch… excellent warm-up exercises SMR plus dynamic movements = great stuff!

So now you have a general understanding of the principles of Self Myofascial Release and how that applies into your mobility routine.

Now for your homework this month:

1 – Go buy a Foam roll and lacrosse ball

At the end is a diagram on foam rolling, if the picture is hard to see you can visit the website link here to get a little more detailed info:

2 – Spend a few minutes and watch this video (especially starting at 1:20m)

Defranco’s blog on the “Limber 11” also found here: (

3 – Start adding Self Myofascial Release to your Daily Mobility Routine!

Approaching rolling (SMR) is like approaching a new skill.  You probably aren’t going to be badass at it initially, but every time you approach it, you’ll get a little better and you’ll get to know your body better as well.

Comment and post, let me know what areas you’re focusing on in your new rolling routine!

To Your Health,



ScottScott Isley
Courses in Diet and Exercise Physiology and Human Anatomy at UCLA
Scott has worked as a Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach for the past 10 years accumulating 8,000 hours helping clients get healthy. He currently runs his business out of Carlsbad, CA in San Diego. You can find out more by visiting:
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Disclaimer: Use of the information contained in this site is at the sole choice and risk of the reader. The information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only.