What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling can be described as the process of applying a self-myofascial release to individual muscles in order to relax tight muscles and adhesions formed between muscle layers and their surroundings. In simpler terms, foam rolling is the act of massaging yourself on a foam roller in order to reduce muscle tightness.
The effect foam rolling has is similar to that of a sports massage, and at a fraction of the cost (time & money)! You can find foam rollers at sporting goods stores for anywhere between $15 - $99, depending on size, thickness & quality.
How does foam rolling help?
Foam rolling will help stretch muscles, breakdown soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue, and promote circulation to soft tissue. These effects will help alleviate muscle tightness, promote comfort and reduce the risk of injury.
Foam rolling is still a relatively new technique in the health and fitness industry, but its importance cannot be stressed enough. Personally, foam rolling has revolutionized my training, because the constant feeling of tightness has gone, I’ve been able to train more regularly with less discomfort and I’m feeling healthier and stronger overall. I can’t guarantee the same game-changing results for you, but I highly recommend giving foam rolling a go. Here’s how to go about it;
- Roll slowly over effected areas (e.g. quads) for around 30 seconds at a time.
- At spots with high discomfort (trigger points), roll slower and stay on the point until the muscle releases.
- Targeting trigger points will cause discomfort, this is normal. The discomfort may even be felt in other areas of the body, e.g. if you are applying pressure to a trigger point in your IT band, you may feel slight pain in your hip or down your leg.
- Trigger point causes include; training, flexibility, movement patterns, posture, nutrition, hydration, stress, rest, and other lifestyle factors.
- Pain should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable. If the pain is unbearable, try and release the areas immediately surrounding the trigger point first.
- Once trigger point is released, move on to the next area.
- For smaller muscles, a tennis ball or your fingertips will be more effective.
- Make sure to target your calves, Iliotibial band, Piriformis, Hamstrings, Adductors, and Quadriceps.
When to foam roll
Ideally, foam rolling should be done after a workout as part of your cooldown phase. However, if you have tightness before a workout that you feel is going to impede your training, foam rolling (accompanied with dynamic stretching) is much better than static stretching, which actually reduces muscle strength. For more on dynamic vs static stretching, click here. Similarly, foam rolling can be used at any time throughout the day to help release any ongoing tightness from a previous workout or everyday activity.
• Rolling too fast -→ make sure to maintain a slow, steady pace.
• Holding bad posture → hold a similar posture as you would if you weren’t foam rolling. For example, when foam rolling your quads, hold a position similar to a plank (rather than slumping your lower back unnaturally).
• Don’t rush through → many people try and foam roll their whole body in a short amount of time following a workout, not allowing themselves enough time to work on the muscles that need it. If you’re short on time, focus on the muscles that were used throughout your workout (e.g. lats for back, pecs for chest, calves, quads, hammys, IT band, glutes for legs).
• Foam rolling the lower back → Big no! foam rolling directly onto the lower back can cause injury.
• Rolling directly onto the pain → E.g. continuously rolling the IT band, when the cause of the tightness is actually in your glutes.
If you’ve been feeling constantly tight and sore, want to reduce your risk of injury, want to stimulate blood flow, or simply want to enable your body to perform at full capacity, then give foam rolling a try. They’re available for as little as $15 and are a great alternative to expensive sports massages. Just make sure you prepare yourself for the discomfort, as it’s definitely not the most painless experience, however as the old cliché goes - No Pain, No Gain!
For exercise and stretching advice tailored to you, consult your local physician.