I appreciate my foam roller for occasionally stretching out my back. I loved to relax and feel the great stretch. I also occasionally roll out any specific muscle that is sore. I have learned that foam rollers are useful for much more than that.
This past summer I began an exercise program in Functional Movement to strengthen my core. We would meet first for ‘stretching’, but it was unlike any stretching I’d ever done. We used foam rollers, and I was skeptical about how much ‘stretching’ I was actually getting.
It turns out, that rolling your key muscle groups on a foam roller releases fascia- the connective tissue surrounding muscles that contracts to cause stiffness and pain. The key muscles we would roll out were our calves, back of the legs, hips and thighs, shoulders and upper back, inner thighs and quads. We were engaging in ‘self-myofascial release’ which means self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points. By applying pressure to specific points on your body you can help your muscles recover, return to normal function and be ready to perform. Traditional, or ‘static’ stretching is beneficial for elongating and lengthening muscles and foam rolling doesn’t replace it. Both are beneficial and ideally, both should be done before and after a workout.
Benefits of foam rolling:
- Increases blood flow to your muscles which improves oxygen during workout
- Relieves muscle tension before and after a hard workout
- Increases range of motion by stretching out and lengthening your muscles
- Decreases recovery time of any sore muscle
- Releases trigger points to reestablish correct and pain free movement.
- Breaks up muscle knots which traditional static stretching cannot do.
- Increases flexibility and range of movement.
- A recent study found an increase in hip range of motion after rolling on the hamstring than with traditional stretching due to increased blood flow and intramuscular temperature.
- Increases performance capability and flexibility of your muscles and joints.
- Relieves pain from shin splints and IT band syndrome.
Tips on foam roller use:
- Foam rollers can be used daily.
- Make sure you roll along the entire length of the tissue you are working on. For example, rolling your hamstring should be from your hip to your knee.
- It’s OK to roll tender spots, the tenderness will decrease with rolling. If you feel actual pain, consult your doctor first because rolling could make it worse.
- Roll slowly so that tissue layers and muscles can adapt to the compression.
- Don’t spend too much time on muscle knots. 20 seconds is the maximum.
- Roll out your upper back and shoulders but not your lower back. Below your rib cage the spine is not protected. To release your lower back try child’s pose.
- Move in multiple directions – up/down, side to side, and other directional movements.
Recommended beginner foam rollers by many of the fitness magazines are the EPE High Density rollers. They come in different sizes and prices range from $10.00 – $25.00.
This foam roller, The Grid, is highly recommended because it’s durable, has textured surfaces for hard to reach areas as well as flat sides for beginners. It comes in five colors. $27.00 – $40.00 depending on color.