Foam Rolling Techniques: The MELT Method

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The MELT Method: What You Need to Know

MELT Method
MELT Method, photo by Brian Leighton

As high-intensity workouts continue to rise in popularity, so do their counterparts - workouts focused on exercise recovery, such as yoga, tai chi, and self-massage.  

Foam rolling classes and instructional techniques, in particular, have gained momentum as post-workout aids because there's evidence that this form of ​self-massage helps increase flexibility and mobility while reducing post-workout muscle soreness. Plus, foam rollers are inexpensive and workouts can be performed almost anywhere, as long as a foam roller is available.

The most well-known foam rolling technique involves a hard, high-density foam roller. These hard cylinders help break up adhesions (more commonly thought of as knots) that develop in the sheath of muscle fascia that wraps around all your muscle tissue. While effective, these high-density foam rollers can be uncomfortable or downright painful if you're new to the practice. 

Enter: The MELT Method. The MELT Method is a self-treatment technique created by manual therapist and exercise physiologist, Sue Hitzmann, that features a soft body roller and a group of small balls that mimic the hands-on techniques of a manual therapist. The beauty of Hitzmann's method is that, while somewhat similar to more traditional foam rolling, the soft foam roller causes less pressure on the muscle fascia, resulting in a relatively painless, accessible form of self-massage. The soft roller also enables different angles and degrees of manipulation that simply aren't possible on a harder tool. 

After changing the size of Method's soft body roller in 2016 to have a smaller circumference, Hitzmann also released a newly updated version of her New York Times bestselling book, The MELT Method. Here, you can check out a few of Hitzmann's favorite moves to try the method at home. If you don't have a soft foam roller of your own, try using a rolled up yoga mat or a rolled towel in its place. 

Buy The Melt Method on Amazon

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1. Assess/Reassess

MELT Assess
The Melt Method, photo by Brian Leighton

The assess and reassess exercise actually doesn't require the soft body roller at all. This exercise is designed to improve proprioception, or your understanding of how your body moves in space. The MELT Method refers to this as "body sense." To perform the exercise: 

  1. Lie down on your back with your palms up and your limbs extended. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and feel your body relax into the floor. Use this time to sense your body, using your mind-body connection to assess your tension. 
  2. Do you have a large arch in your mid back, or a small curve at your low back below your navel? Is your tailbone in contact with the floor, or are your glutes? Are your thighs both in contact with the ground, or is one down and the other up? Depending on your answers, you could be experiencing common muscle imbalances that can cause compression along your spine. 
  3. Now assess your "autopilot" - a term used by The MELT Method to reference the way your body works to stay balanced without conscious control. Pay attention to your right and left sides, from your feet to your head. Are you evenly weighted from side to side? Note any differences. When you reassess using this same exercise, you can determine whether there are improvements. 

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2. Back of Thigh Shear

Back of Thigh Shear
MELT Method, photo by Brian Leighton

The back of thigh shear is designed to improve hydration through the hamstrings, which can help reduce hip and knee pain. 

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees. Position the roller under your thighs, just below your glutes. 
  2. Relax your upper body and straighten your legs. Release any tension in your legs to allow them to rest heavily on the roller. 
  3. With your feet close to the floor, "shear" your hamstrings by dragging your legs together and apart, as if doing a jumping jack motion. As you do so, maintain steady pressure across the roller and turn your feet in as you pull your legs together and out as you spread them apart. Focus on the intentional movement of your legs, rather than mindlessly rubbing them over the roller. Perform the movement four to five times. 

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3. SI Joint Shear

SI Joint Shear
MELT Method, photo by Brian Leighton

To improve hydration through the sacroiliac joint, or SI joint, located between the sacrum and ilium bones of the pelvis, try the SI joint shear. The ligaments connecting these bones are particularly strong, and fascial adhesions in this area can contribute to low back and pelvic pain. 

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor roughly hip-distance apart. 
  2. Press through your feet to lift your hips and position the roller under your sacrum at the very top of your glutes. 
  3. Lift your feet off the floor and pull your knees toward your chest to make sure the roller is positioned correctly. When you draw your knees to your chest, the roller should feel secure at the top of your glutes, not against your low back. 
  4. With your knees bent and your thighs together, relax your calves, shins, and feet. Tighten the muscles of your core to control the exercise, but allow your chest and shoulders to relax into the floor. From this position, direct your knees upward so they're almost pointing to the ceiling, but stop before your thighs are perpendicular to the roller. This position will help you maintain a relaxed lower back. 
  5. With a consistent pressure on the roller, slowly turn your knees slightly to the right and left, as if staying between the 11 and 1 on a clock. Keep your weight on the back of your pelvis, not your hips. Avoid arching your back or moving your ribs.
  6. When you've tipped your knees to the 11 position, add the shear by "drawing" small circles with your knees several times in each direction. Then, try to create slightly larger, slower circles with just the outside knee. Finally, move your knees forward and backward as if you were marching two to three steps. Pause here and take two long, deep breaths. 
  7. Return your knees to the center and repeat to the opposite side. 

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4. Bent Knee Press

Bent Knee Shear
MELT Method, photo by Brian Leighton

Now that you've targeted your hamstrings and SI joint, the bent knee press will help improve hydration on the front of your thigh through your hip flexors and quadriceps. This may seem counterintuitive given that the soft roller remains positioned under your pelvis, but the action of the exercise is what stimulates the release of tension that can help reduce hip, knee, and low back pain. 

  1. Start in the same position as you did for the SI joint shear, lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and the roller placed under your pelvis. 
  2. Tighten your core and lift your right foot from the floor, drawing your knee toward your chest so you can grasp your right shin or the back of your right hamstring with both hands. 
  3. Check to make sure your left foot is firmly planted and your left knee is aligned with your left hip. Also, make sure your hips are level with each other on the roller. 
  4. Take a breath in, and as you exhale, tuck your pelvis under to feel a pull through the front of your left thigh. Pause and breathe deeply. Assess whether your left leg swings out when you pull your right knee toward you. If so, don't pull your knee as closely to you. 
  5. Inhale and return to the starting, relaxed position. Exhale and perform the pelvic tuck again. Imagine your left knee reaching over your left foot in the opposite direction to accentuate the stretch. Take another deep breath. Release and repeat again. 
  6. Perform the same exercise on the opposite side. 

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5. Single Arm Reach with Gentle Rocking

Single Arm Reach
MELT Method, photo by Brian Leighton

The single-arm reach with gentle rocking will help enhance your balance and proprioception while restoring shoulder mobility. 

  1. Sit on the end of the roller, your knees bent, your feet flat on the ground. Lie back on the roller carefully, placing your forearms on the floor on either side of the roller. Check your positioning to ensure your head and pelvis are on the roller and your feet are aligned with your pelvis. 
  2. Gently rock from side to side, as if you're creating a tiny rainbow shape with your body. Keep your spine on the roller throughout. 
  3. Rock gently for 30 seconds. 
  4. Now, reach your hands up over your chest, your palms facing each other. 
  5. Breathe in and reach your fingers up toward the ceiling. As you exhale, imagine your arms' weight causing your shoulder blades to sink down into the roller, all while keeping your arms straight. 
  6. Slowly lower one arm to your hips as the opposite arm moves toward your ears. Then slowly switch your arms' positions in a scissor-like fashion, all while keeping your spine and shoulders steady. 

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