In this particular fitness blog we are focusing on Self Myofascial Release (SMR) stretching.
SMR stretching is the use of tension from an external source, for example a foam roller, to put pressure on the Golgi Tendon Organs and therefore inhibit muscle spindle activity.
If a personal trainer has a client with an overactive muscle, they can apply SMR stretching to the area to release the tension, deactivate the tightness and increase the muscle’s range of movement. This is done by placing a foam roller on the affected muscle and applying pressure. The Golgi Tendon Organs sense that there’s an increase in tension going through the muscle and overrides the muscle spindles, which releases the tension in the muscle.
Muscle groups that are commonly overactive and need work include the hip flexor complex, the medial gastrocnemius, the hamstrings, the latissimus dorsi, the pectoralis major and the erector spinae. A fitness instructor should also investigate whether a client has particular areas with tight muscles because of the specific demands of their job or lifestyle.
For a personal trainer to use SMR stretching effectively within a client’s training programme, the following processes should be followed.
Inhibiting the overactive muscle
First, the overactive muscle must be inhibited. This should be done at the start of the exercise as muscles work in pairs. According to reciprocal inhibition, if one muscle is active and working, the other is inactive, so for a muscle to be activated, the opposite muscle must be inhibited.
If the overactive muscle is the hip flexor complex – comprising the psoas major, iliacus and rectus femoris – the personal trainer will ask the client to lie down on the front groove of the hip with the foam roller on the most proximal point to the affected muscle and then to roll it down the muscle towards the origin of the problem.
Realigning the muscle fibres
When applying SMR the client will feel an increase in pressure or a trigger point in the muscle, where the muscle fibres have become knotted instead of lying parallel, preventing the muscle from working properly. At this point they should keep pressure on the muscle, with minimum movement, effectively “ironing out” the crease in the muscle and realigning the muscle fibres into a parallel structure. The Golgi Tendon Organs will sense the increase in tension and override the muscle spindles, inhibiting the overactive muscle and releasing the tension.
Following SMR stretching using the foam roller, the personal trainer can instruct their client to carry out a series of static stretches, held for around 20 to 30 seconds, which will compound the effect of inhibition. In the case of the hip flexor, the client would stand with both feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent and one leg forward, stretching the hip flexor on the back leg.
These static stretches can be followed by an active isolation stretch, using agonists and antagonists in a series of opposite movements. This is where the muscle is moved through a large range of motion and held at its furthest point.
In the case of the hip flexor, the client would stand with both feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent and raise one leg off the floor and extend the hip to its furthest range of motion and hold for 5 seconds, activating the gluteus maximus and stretching the hip flexor. This should be repeated for five to 10 reps.
Activating the underactive muscle
To activate the underactive muscle, the personal trainer would set around eight to 10 reps of an isolated exercise. Keeping with the example of the hip flexor, the client could carry out a standing hip abduction, where they stand up straight with a rubber band round the leg that has just been stretched and abduct it to the side. They could also repeat the hip extension exercise, lifting the leg back. Both would activate first the gluteus medius then the gluteus maximus.
Once this is completed, the client’s muscles will have been “normalised”. At this point the personal trainer would introduce a compound exercise, such as a squat. All of the muscles will now be firing equally, enabling the client to carry out the exercise more effectively.