Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Final Year Project

In the last few weeks when I’ve been going through some self myofascial techniques (foam rolling) with my clients the topic of my final year project (FYP) has popped up a few times. I’ve decided to write a quick blog about my FYP so that people can get an understanding of what exactly I did in university, and what my research found.

I’ve also uploaded a full copy of my FYP to google docs so if anyone wants to get their nerd on, all they have to do is click on the title below.

For everyone else, here is a plain English summary.

Fascia is like a 3-D cobweb type exoskeleton. It’s all over your body, head to toe, back to front, and ties everything together while at the same time keeping everything in their own compartments.  Although fascia runs through pretty much every structure in the body my research was primarily focused on the myo-fascia or muscle-fascia.

For decades fascia was thrown to the side as a background material, with no real research being conducted into what role it may play. Recently, however, things are starting to get take off in the world of fascial research as people are getting more and more interested in the growing body of literature that shows fascia as a potential signalling tissue that adapts to stress, pressure and movement.

At the time of my research (and still to this day as far as I’m aware) all the research was focused on the physiology of fascia and how techniques like massage affect it, particularly around the area of pain relief. I, however, wanted to find out if it was possible to get an enhanced performance out of this tissue through self-massaging or self myofascial release (SMFR) as real world hands on massage is very expensive on a regular basis. One can easily administer SMFR using a foam roller and/or tennis ball so it’s cheap, easy to do, and at the end of the day this is how it’s going to be administered in the world of strength and conditioning so this is how I wanted to test it in the lab.

How to measure performance was the next question. I chose to examine the stretch short cycle (the lengthening of a muscle followed immediately followed by a shorting of the muscle) as this action is the basis of how we move.  So to cut straight to the chase, I got a bunch of people to hop on a force platform (fancy weighing scales connected to a computer).

With research it’s all about trying to isolate one variable so I strapped each subject to a seat that slides up and down on an angled platform so that the jumps were far more consistent. Here is a pic of yours truly strapped in.

I then got subjects to hop on their dominant leg for about 10 hops, gave them a break, and then got them to hop on their right leg. They then came out of the “force sledge apparatus” and they rolled their dominant foot only on a tennis ball for 3 to 5 mins. Therefore, both legs were tested first, one foot was rolled on a tennis ball, and then both legs were tested again allowing the other to act as a control.

Then came weeks of excel. I had to manually find all the points where people landed on the force platform and left the platform, for every hop, for every trail, for every subject. Once I had all these points I could work out contact time and flight time. Playing with a bit of maths then allows you to workout out height jumped and the reactive strength index (RSI). RSI is basically a measure of explosiveness.

So did rolling your foot on a tennis ball for a few mins do anything??

Excitingly, yes it did.

Firstly, you’ve got to look at the control leg because if that changed the experiment is garbage as other factors would have affected it. Good news is that remained consistent throughout, so we can conclude that if any change is seen in the leg we rolled it has to be down to the fact we rolled it and not something else.

So what changed already??

Subject jumped 12.8% higher, and their RSI improved by 20.1%!!!!!! Yes you’re reading that right, and yes, all they did is roll their foot on a tennis ball for a few mins to get those results. Crazy, eh??

What I found awesome about this project is that, to my knowledge, I’m the only person who’s conducted a study like this. There were a few other interesting findings which you’ll just have to read through the full text to find. There’s still a ton more to learn about fascia, and these results will need to be repeated by someone else, but it’s a very interesting start in the world of research around the myofascial system and unlocking an enhanced performance.

So I bet you're more interested in learning more about foam rolling now! Well, in the next week or two I'm putting tons more info up on this blog and hopefully on a guest blog as well. Make sure to follow Enhanced Performance on Facebook to get all the updates on those upcoming blogs HERE.


  1. Cian, I just stumbled on this piece and can't quite believe I'm the first commenter. This looks potentially momentous and is something I'll be experimenting with before big lifts (such as they are). And if I knew any high jumpers I'd phone them right now. Great stuff.

  2. Glad you found it interesting Trevor! Yes, this could turn out to be something very exciting but more research is really needed. My study only had 14 subjects...not nearly enough to have conclusive evidence. Having said all that, I do strongly feel that there is something big here. Experiment with it yourself and let me know how it goes.

  3. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

    BE Final Year Projects