Stop, Drop & Roll! How Exercise On a Foam Roller Relieves Tight Muscles

My idea of a lucky person is someone, who, after half a lifetime of being physically active, can spring out of bed without a bit of muscular soreness; no moaning, creaking or limping. It is a truly lucky athlete that can work their muscle vigorously for years and not feel the effects of aging, as in inflexibility and tightness. Most of the rest of us get to a point where we just cannot keep up the pace. We cannot keep running the miles we are used to running without a price to pay when the morning alarm goes off. Some of this sensation is typical muscle soreness, just the usual buildup of lactic acid that accumulates a byproduct of exercise. Every jock recognizes the familiar feeling when you hustle up a flight of stairs and you feel that brief burn in your thighs that could kindle a campfire. But I am talking about a different kind of ache; something beyond the brief aching of a little extra activity. If sprinting up a flight of stairs was the only time I ached, I’d be a happy camper.I’ve even been known to keep on working out, even through this quad burn. But I am talking about a different, more pervasive kind of tightness. The inflexibility to which I refer still lingers at noon. It is felt sometimes when you pivot to fasten your seatbelt or reach down to tie your sneakers. In my case, I tolerated this limitation in my bodily movement for about six months, trying all types of stretching, Pilates and tons of yoga classes. Still, I was limited. I felt flexible, yet tight. I started to do some research on the Internet by Googling a few words that described my symptoms. I discovered a new word. The culprit in my bodily rigidity was something called FASCIA. Fascia is a type of connective tissue that surrounds and usually protects the muscles; bones, joints and even the organs, helping us maintain our upright posture. All people have fascia. Think of it like a wetsuit that surrounds our inner body, just below the surface of the skin. Some people have thicker “wetsuits ” than others. The more physically active you are, the thicker your facial “wetsuit” will be. This is a response that your body makes to help support itself during more activity Those lucky jocks that I enviously spoke of earlier feel minimal tightness because their fascia deposits are not thick or layered. Some people just have a tendency to develop more fascia than others. Many experts believe that this heavier layering of fascia is related to dehydration, not the type of” I’m thirsty” dehydration, but a lack of fluid and therefore fluidity in the connective tissues that no amount of daily water drinking can quench. In other words, those lucky, pain-free jocks have more hydration in their connective tissue.

Us unlucky “stiffs” have the opposite tendency. Our body’s inclination is to manufacture more fascia because of less hydration in the connective tissues, especially in the areas of powerful workhorse muscle groups, like the lower back and the thighs and buttocks. Also consider that as we age, bodies naturally lose their capacity to maintain hydration. Think of how many middle-aged men that you hear of who have torn their Achilles tendon while jumping for a lay-up in basketball. This type of injury rarely happens in kids and is due in a big way to lack of fluidity in the connective tissue.

So this is where the morning stiffness begins. If you keep exercising the way I did, this facial tightness can become very limiting to your fitness regime. This is where I discovered the wisdom in the phrase “Stop, Drop & Roll”, but not just when you are on fire! I got myself a foam roller based on the fitness advice of New York City expert, Susan Hitzmann, owner of Longevity Fitness, Inc in New Yourk City and creator of the M.E.L.T. Method. M.E.L.T. is an acronym for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique. Some experts also refer to this foam roller technique as Myofascial Release. She explained to me that deep compression of these areas of fascial tightness could actually rehydrate these stiff body parts and give an immediate sensation of relief to my aching yet athletic body. Not only was Ms. Hitzmann right about the foam roller. She also lives up to her promise of immediate relief from stiff muscles. She explains that the foam roller rehydrate connective tissues by first compressing the area, which decompresses the tissue, allowing hydration of that area to occur. It is similar to trigger point therapy, only this technique is superior. This is only my opinion but having tried both MFR and trigger point therapy, I believe that the foam roller can and does cover more anatomical territory, so the release is more profound. For more information of foam rolling to relieve your aches and pains, check out Sue Hitzmann at