Below is an SMR primer that I'd love feedback on before going to the moderator to sticky it or link to it appropriately in the FAQ. As you can see it is a bit more thorough in some areas than others. If anyone has additions for any section, better demonstration videos, more advanced techniques, or just general thoughts, this is the time to suggest them!
What is SMR?
SMR stands for self-myofascial release and allows you to increase your muscle pliability. While stretching helps the overall length of your muscle, SMR will help you with the tone of your muscle - key to preventing injuries and allowing for optimal stretching and mobility. SMR should help you remove knots from your muscles; however, if you have significant injuries or muscle issues, ART (active release technique) may be necessary to truly rehab your muscles. ART is outside of the scope of this but it's recommended to find a specialist who has biomechanical certification in your area for best results: http://www.activerelease.com/providerSearch.asp
By the way, if calling it "SMR" sounds too technical and intimidating, it may be referred to as "muscle release" or "soft tissue work."
What equipment is needed for SMR?
Roller: A foam roller or PVC pipe that you can roll on to hit large muscle groups and break up soft tissue adhesions.
Rollers come in many different densities (white = less dense, black = most dense). And you can always "graduate" to a PVC pipe (wrap in athletic tape for grip) or rumble roller (dense foam roller with knobs) once you're not getting as much out of a smooth, black roller.
Ball: A small ball of some sort that you can lay or lean on to apply pressure to large and small muscle groups to break up soft tissue adhesions.
A lacrosse ball is likely ideal; however, beginners can use a tennis ball if they have too many surface adhesions to work with the harder lacrosse ball. Also note that any small round object would work, and some people may prefer a baseball or even softball.
Stick: The Stick can be really useful for hitting areas like the hamstrings or calves that are difficult to hit with a roller while balancing on the muscle group and relaxing into the pain of the adhesion.
I tried rolling once and it was painful Ė how hard should I go?
When you start rolling, it can be quite painful if you are using a dense roller or lacrosse ball, so take your time working up Ė you may want to start with a white foam roller (although after a couple of months this may not do anything for you). However, SMR work should be painful! It's a sign that youíve found a tight area with adhesions that should be broken up. Get used to relaxing your muscle into the pain for the best results. Also, try to stay relaxed in general Ė if youíre gritting your teeth and tensing your face, chances are your muscle isnít as relaxed as it could be. Donít be afraid to take it slowly with a painful spot and not put as much pressure/weight on the roller or ball as you begin to loosen it up.
The one type of pain that should be avoided is a nerve pain, i.e. a shooting pain down an arm or leg. If that happens, stop and find a different angle on your soft tissue. Also, doing SMR work directly onto bone that has no soft tissue (like the pointy part of your elbow) should be avoided, but keep in mind that next to bones can be soft tissue areas rife with adhesions.
Is there a written primer for SMR from an expert?
Sure, Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson have a nice primer on T Nation you can read to get started:
. This should be good for beginners, but to really zero in on problem areas and unlock your muscles optimally, you'll want to start using more advanced techniques.
How do I do the SMR techniques people often mention? It's helpful to know I should "roll my pecs," but what does that entail?
Check out various SMR techniques below, organized by general muscle area. Note that while you may be experiencing pain in one area of your body, the muscles causing it could be elsewhere. For example, front shoulder pain is often associated with rotator cuff or back muscles, while knee pain can involve any muscle or soft tissue area in your lower body.
Thoracic (Upper Back) Mobility
Roller (not a PVC pipe because the diameter will be too short): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elWYs...edded#t=01m18s
Lie on your back with the roller beneath your upper back. Be careful not to move the roller below the bottom of your rib cage because you'll likely end up flexing your lower back (which should be rigid). Next, you'll want to put your hands behind your head to help keep your shoulder blades from hitting the roller before your back muscles. Then relax your head toward the ground, being careful to let your upper back flex, but not your lower back. Hold for 30 seconds as you ease deeper into the stretch. Move the roller up or down your back and continue. Given the diameter of foam rollers, doing this stretch in 2-3 places up or down the back usually suffices.
. This requires the same setup as thoracic mobility but instead of stretching into the roller, you roll it back and forth against your upper back muscles while relaxing into the roller. Note that while this will be helpful for beginners, once the surface knots in your muscles are broken down, you'll want to use a ball with this technique:
Lie down on your back on a relatively hard surface. Put the lacrosse ball in between your shoulder blade and spine. Then relax into the ball and move your arm up and back next to your head as far as it can go (keeping it close to your ear as it passes your head). Move your arm back down to your side. Repeat this movement several times, relaxing into the ball. Then move the ball up or down your back, finding new spots that are tight. Be careful not to go below your rib cage because you may start causing your lower back to flex unnecessarily.
Tip: Use your opposite hand to gently push down on your arm (above the elbow) when your arm is at full extension next to your head. This can help you relax into the ball while still getting optimal extension from your arm, which should help clear up knots faster.
Rhomboids (not shown in video)
Ball: To hit some hard-to-reach rhomboid muscles from the position described above, cross your arm in front of you and tuck the lacrosse ball against and "under" your shoulder blade until you find a spot that is tight. Relax into the ball and hold. Then reposition the ball up or down the shoulder blade and repeat.
Ball on floor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elWYs...edded#t=02m16s
Lie down on your side and place a ball underneath your shoulder with your arm at a 90 degree angle to your body. Then, bend your arm at the elbow to 90 degrees from the ground. Point your thumb out as if you're hitch hiking, with your thumb facing yourself. Now rotate your arm down to the floor, with your thumb pointing toward or touching the ground. Then reverse the movement and go the other way to the ground, rotating your wrist so your thumb is again pointing downward. Repeat 5-10 times for each area on your shoulder that hurts. Thenmove the ball to a slightly different place and continue in another sore spot.
Instead of using the ball in one or two places on the side of your shoulder, move it down toward your lats (not necessarily on your lats) and work on the muscles in the armpit area. You can also move the ball toward your arm where your rotator cuffs connect with your tricep muscles -- that area can often be very tight and hard to hit.
You can also move the ball into the area right above your armpit and stretch your arm out to work on other adhesions there.
Tip: You can also lie more on your back and move the ball around on top of your shoulder blade where there is soft tissue (not the boney ridges on the top and inside of the shoulder blade). Relax into any spot where you feel pain and move your arm out to the side, finding an angle that causes the most pain (of course ease into it if it's too painful to start with).
Ball on wall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elWYs...edded#t=05m03s
This is similar to lying on the ground except press your shoulder into a wall. It's easier to generate more pressure on the ground, but going up against the wall will be good if the ground is too painful, or you're interested in hitting the rotator cuffs from a different angle.
Ball on wall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elWYs...edded#t=03m19s
Stand facing a wall and place a ball in between your pec muscle and the wall. Then lean into the wall, making sure to relax your muscle and rolling the ball around side to side, up and down, in a circle, or just pressing. Move the ball and repeat.
Advanced tip: Place the ball up and "under" your clavicle bone to hit an area thatís often missed. Also, place the ball at the very inside part of your pec as tissue there often will be tight too.
Lie on your side and place the roller under and below your armpit. Then roll up and down the side of your upper back where your lat muscle is. Rotate your body a bit to hit your lat from different angles and fully relax into the roller.
Ball on wall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elWYs...edded#t=03m55s
This is a good way to target your lats. Stand with your side facing the wall and place the ball between the wall and your lats. Then lean up against the wall, adjusting the placement of the ball to hit your lat from different angles and find tight, painful spots. If you want to apply even more pressure, you can use this technique lying on the ground, replacing the roller with a ball.
Lie down on your stomach and hold your arm out to the side over a roller. Apply pressure and relax into the roller as you roll back and forth on your bicep. Try hitting your bicep muscles from different angles to home in on the tight and painful areas.
Ball on floor/wall: This works fine both on the floor or up against a wall. Stand or lie on your stomach and position your arm so that you can place the ball between the floor/wall and your bicep. Lean into the ball, keeping your muscle relaxed and moving the ball around to hit the bicep from different angles. You can also lay your arm on a table top or hard surface and manually push the ball into your bicep.
Roller: After working on your lats, you can transition into this if you want to use a roller instead of a ball to hit your tricep. Stay lying on the ground on your side and place the roller above your shoulder, beneath the upper part of your arm. Keep your tricep relaxed but find a comfortable angle so that you can roll effectively.
Tip: You can rest your head against your arm to help apply more pressure.
Stand against a wall and place the ball between the wall and your tricep, rolling the ball up and down and side to side across your tricep muscles. You can also do this on the floor instead in essentially the same way. As always, keep your tricep as relaxed as possible so you can dig in and break up adhesions.
Ball on floor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8caF1Keg2XU#t=02m45s
This can also be done lying down on your back with your body fully extended. Cross the leg of the glute you are SMRing to your other leg -- so basically what this guy is doing but lying down. It will help get to deeper adhesions, plus it's extremely tough to relax into the ball using the technique shown in the video because it may hurt a ton (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3dSu...eature=related
). If this is the case for you, use the lying down method for a few days or weeks until itís not as painful.
Thera Cane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMTCd...eature=related
Roller: No video yet
Ball: No video yet
(Though the background noise is awful, this video shows how to hit all parts of the quad effectively. Take your time; speeding through the routine as in the video won't help as much as finding and really working on tight areas.)
Ball on chair/table/bench: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQtwaPoK-UM
Sit on a hard surface that allows your leg to hang off and your foot to dangle. The best choice is a table that supports your weight, but a hard chair or a bench at the gym will also work.
Put a lacrosse ball under your hamstring and look for painful spots. When you find one,sink into the ball. When it starts to loosen up, tighten your abs and back to brace yourself, push your leg down into the ball with your hands, and straighten your leg to stretch the muscle. Repeat as necessary. It will be painful, but when you're done you should feel better immediately.
(this goes on to show one leg as well as glutes)
Ball on floor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8caF1Keg2XU#t=02m20s
Ball standing up/kneeling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxr9-IB0Rr4#t=01m23s
(good travel routine for legs in general with TheStick)
Ball on floor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8caF1Keg2XU#t=03m30s