Soreness is somewhat inevitable when it comes to strength and conditioning, however, that doesn't mean there aren't several methods that can aid in reducing stiffness and speed up the recovery process. One of the most common “go-to” methods these days is self-myofascial release (SMR) or foam rolling. We say foam rolling but it doesn't actually have to be on a foam roller, and any ball or device that allows you to “roll” out a muscle would qualify as an SMR tool.
Foam rolling is intended to mimic a massage, in a method where it can be applied on your own. With a similar effect (on a smaller scale) as voodoo flossing, the pressure from the foam-rolling device will displace fluids momentarily and as the pressure is removed, fresh fluids and nutrients rush back. Skeletal muscle tissue contains Golgi tendon organs (GTO), which are neural receptors that have the ability to decrease muscle spindle activity when pressure is applied to the trigger point. This is good, and we want this, because this means the muscle fibers are then able to stretch, unknot, and realign.
When muscles are tight they physically shorten. To exercise with a shortened muscle puts you at great risk of a compensatory injury as your body is forced to then lengthen or stretch the opposing muscle in order to function and this creates muscles imbalances. SMR will reduce the chances of your body entering the Cumulative Injury Cycle in which these dysfunctions ultimately lead to altered neuromuscular control and serious muscular imbalances.
There are also several huge benefits that are proven by numerous studies, as foam rolling has been a hot topic for the past 15 years. Here is short list:
How to properly execute SMR
Ironically, as much as we just discussed the “rolling” process, to get the most out of foam rolling there should actually be more of a pause than a continuous “roll”. The rolling portion is used to find the most tinder area, in which there should be a 30-45 second pause to allow the tension to release. Adding in some mobilization while maintaining this pressure is optimal, but not always possible (ie. Laying a sore hamstring on a roller while flexing/extending the knee or on a sore calf while performing dorsi/plantar flexion). Focus on breathing can also aid to the relaxation of said muscle group. Big deep breaths during soft tissue work can help relax the tense muscle groups allowing the “blunting” of pain receptors.
To truly replicate a massage there should be various movements involving the pressure, so shifting around especially when using a ball, increases the overall effectiveness. Foam rolling is a method to supplement warm up/cool down, not to be the isolated singular means of recovery.
There are many other forms of recovery that all seem to have similar affect. These usually all go by the name of “instrument assisted soft tissue therapy” they include: