Foam rollers are all over every gym now, with new ones that are half-cylinders, shorter versions, and those that sport nubs and have various surfaces. These are also an expensive, valuable tool for your home gym. They offer multiple benefits, but it’s best to properly understand how to use them most effectively. Here’s an overview of the benefits of foam rolling, and some tips on usage.
Cylindrical foam rollers are used for self-myofascial release, in which you use your own body weight to massage the soft tissues, which include muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. Releasing tension in the soft tissues helps to decrease pain, restore function and promote range of motion. Plus, it helps you feel better overall.
Similar to a massage, foam rolling can get out knots or alleviate tight spots that result from stress, exercise, postural imbalances, repetitive use, dysfunctional movements, trauma and overuse. Trigger points, or soft tissue adhesions, develop from inflammation and muscle spasm, and can cause altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalances.
Foam rollers use the body’s natural response to pressure, whereby the muscle relaxes. Foam rolling is an easy way to give yourself a deep tissue massage that helps break up these adhesions or scar tissue to promote better recovery after tough workouts, intense training programs, long days in the office or too much time on an airplane or in a car.
Anyone who has performed foam rolling can attest to its “hurts so good” nature, because it definitely can feel uncomfortable in the process, but eventually results in greater looseness and relaxation in the body.
Among the many benefits of foam rolling:
- Corrects muscle imbalances
- Improves joint range of motion
- Relieves muscle soreness and joint stress
- Improves tissue recovery
- Inhibits overactive muscles
- Increases extensibility where muscles meet tendons
- Improves neuromuscular efficiency
- Maintains normal functional muscular length
- Decreases overall effects of stress on the body
- Can help reduce risk of injuries
Tips for Foam Rolling
Foam rolling can be performed before or after workouts, so experiment with what works best for you. Done first, you may feel you perform better during your workout. Or you may feel best doing rolling as part of the cooldown or stretching phase, when the muscles have been warmed and worked and can fully relax.
It’s best to start with a basic foam roller, and as you get more familiar with the technique and your responses, you can progress to different versions.
Popular areas to use the foam roller include the calves, hips and glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, inner and outer thighs and lower and upper back. Check online, in a book or magazine, or ask a trainer for proper positioning of the roller and execution of the move for each body part. You don’t have to roll every part of your body each time; but focus on areas that may feel tight or uncomfortable.
Remember to roll slowly, as you can’t effectively break up fascia with quick passes of the foam roller. Remember, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable in the release process. If you’re in a lot of pain, stop so that you don’t aggravate what might be an injury. Spend 20-30 seconds on each spot, either gently rolling back and forth or holding still in one place. Keep your breathing natural and relaxed.
To really benefit from foam rolling, do it regularly, and ideally more than once per week. It may not be necessary (or practical) after every workout, but incorporate it as part of your routine, or at home while watching TV. Your body will feel better!