Foam rollers are a popular tool for helping athletes, fitness gurus, gardeners, steel mill employees, just about everyone. Once a self-massage technique used only by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists; foam rolling is now an everyday practice for people at all levels of fitness. There’s a reason for the popularity of this self-massage technique: it’s simple and it works!
A foam roller is a lightweight, cylindrical tube of compressed foam. It may be used for many reasons, including increasing flexibility, reducing soreness, and eliminating muscle knots. Foam rolling is a method of self-myofascial release. - Wikipedia
Foam rolling releases muscle knots or trigger points. “Myofascial adhesions” is the physiological term for these inflexible areas that can be caused by muscle imbalance, overuse and injuries, sleeping wrong, sitting too much, among other things.
Many people, including myself, develop a love/hate relationship with their foam roller. The process of rolling out knots can be quite uncomfortable but working through the discomfort can help you increase your range of motion and decrease recovery time.
With the usual foam-based cylindrical muscle rollers now widely available in a variety of designs and firmness levels, there’s never been a better time to start. You stand to gain much relief if you haven’t tried foam rolling, and how to do it better if you’ve already started.
Before you start attacking knots with your foam roller there some important things to understand:
The density, texture, size and shape of foam rollers affect how they are used and what they are best for. If you need help deciding what type of foam roller is right for you, please feel free to ask one of our fitness trainers.
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is also called myofascial release. But what is fascia? And why do you want to “release” it? Fascia is the thin tissue that connects our muscles. When it is healthy, fascia is flexible, supple and glides smoothly over your muscles. Binding in your fascia can form for a variety of reasons, such as muscle injury, inactivity, disease, inflammation, or trauma. Even just sitting at a desk all day can get your fascia can kink up and become stiff.
A foam roller is a simple cylinder which you can lay on in a variety of positions, allowing your body weight to put focused pressure on affected muscle groups. Try rolling your quads, glutes, and hamstrings—or even muscles in your back, hips and shoulders. Rolling over problem areas can help release that built-up tension in your fascia and re-establish the integrity (and optimal performance) of muscle tissue.
How to Foam Roll
It is better to be too soft than too hard. It might feel tender as you roll through the tissue, but it should not be agonizing. Give each area of tightness a few passes up and down, move onto the next one, and then finish off by giving the entire length of your muscle a pass over.
With each pass through the muscle group, you can then work deeper into the tissue for more release. It is very possible to find several trigger points throughout your body. When you hit a spot that’s especially painful or tight, pause here and try to relax. Give it time and the muscle should release—anywhere from 5-30 seconds. It is this release that you experience that will keep bringing you back to foam rolling. Thus, the beginning to the love/hate relationship.
For more precise areas, try a tennis ball or racquetball. As you get to know your body and how it responds to foam rolling, you may go shorter or longer as needed.
When to Foam Roll
Foam rolling can be performed prior to and after your workouts. Before exercise, rolling will increase tissue elasticity, loosen you up and help with your range of motion and circulation (blood flow). This can help you move better during your workout and protect you from injury.
Foam rolling post-workout is a great way for your strained muscles to recover. Focus on all the major muscles you just worked, with an extra emphasis on the areas that feel problematic. By stimulating blood flow in affected areas, you’ll dramatically increase oxygen to your sore muscle fibers and reduce recovery time. In fact, most elite athletes get massages regularly for this reason. While nothing can quite replicate a good sports massage, you can enjoy many of the same benefits at home (or between massages) with a foam roller.
Betty Durochik, Franciscan Health Fitness Center Program Specialist
-Franciscan Health Fitness Trainer Chesterton
-Training Peaks, Lance Watson
- REI COOP