Foam rollers have become pretty mainstream over the last few years. Athletes swear by this piece of equipment to help keep muscles loose and limber, and to help in muscle recovery and increased performance. Every day fitness goers are also picking up this piece of equipment to help ease muscle soreness. So what is it all about?
Foam rolling is a method of self-myofascial release, more commonly known as self-massage. It uses the pressure of your body weigh on foam applied to certain body areas to relieve muscle pain, tightness and address trigger points within the musculoskeletal system. The most common muscle areas for which foam rolling is used include the Iliotibial (IT) band, hip flexors, gluteals, and calves, however it can be used on most muscle areas of the body.
Benefits of foam rolling:
- relieves muscle tension (neuromuscular hypertonicity) and pain
- breaks up fibrous tissue
- boosts circulation (increases blood flow) so you’re less sore
- can also increase flexibility
- can help prevent injury by loosening muscles and preparing them for workouts.
- may help reduced inflammation, scar tissue and joint stress
Secondary benefits may include:
- help increasing muscle strength through the contraction of muscles as each position is held
- help in correcting muscle imbalances
- improvements in joint range of motion
- increases neuromuscular efficiency
- help maintain normal functional muscular length
- increases extensibility of the musculotendinous junction
Foam rollers come in many shapes and sizes but care must be taken when choosing your foam roller as different parts of the body respond to different pressures. If the roller is too soft, then you are getting less benefit from the exercise; if the foam roller is too hard you risk bruising or advanced soft-tissue trauma which can lead to inflammation, pain, decreased range of motion and decreased performance.
Tips for the use of foam rollers:
- Can be done before or after a workout or as a session on their own.
- It is best to perform roller exercises once your muscles are warm, you should do a quick five-minute warm-up if you rolling out right before a training session.
- As you roll, take deep, slow breaths to help your muscles relax.
- Use your body weight and the foam roller to apply pressure to the specific muscle or muscle group.
- Support all exercises by keeping your abdominal and core muscles firm to maintain stability.
- Keep your head and neck in line with your back at all times to avoid placing stress on your spine.
- All movements should be done slowly and under control. Perform the rolling movement for about 30 seconds and roll about 1 inch per second.
- Pausing over tender or painful areas for 20-30 seconds will help release knots in muscles and reduce muscle stiffness and soreness. Painful areas are recognized as areas of discomfort, if the pain is greater than this, stop the exercise and consult a medical professional for possible advanced injury.
- Never foam roll a joint or a bone
- Avoid foam rolling the lower back, this is a sensitive area, can be easily injured and should be referred to a professional.
- Give the area at least 24-48 hours of recovery between rolling sessions to allow for proper recovery. Beginners should leave more time between sessions.
- Stretch after rolling
Foam rolling has many benefits for recovery as well as to enhance performance. By learning to self-massage, you can improve flexibility and relaxation, reduce stress, tension and pain while improving performance and energy levels. As with any new exercise or if you are a beginner, it is always recommended that you take a session with a certified expert (a physical therapist, massage therapist, trainer, coach, etc.) in the area to make sure that you are performing the exercises correctly to prevent unintended injury.
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Complete Foam Roller Workout, 13 Exercises. (2011). Youtube.
Hamilton, M. (2016). How to Use a Foam Roller. Runner’s World.
Kuhland, J. What is a Foam Roller, How Do I Use It, and Why Does It Hurt? Breakingmuscle.com.
McGinnis, M. (2017). 4 Foam Roller Exercises to Relieve Pain in 10 Minutes. Prevention.com.
Murphy, M. (2017). 8 Foam Roller Exercises. Oxygen.com.