Foam Rolling: Why You Need to Jump on the Bandwagon

Foam Rolling
Foam Rolling

A massage is one of those luxuries everyone should indulge in at least once. The problem is, once you have one, you’re going to want more. With the stresses of work, life, and exercise, there are always tight and sore muscles in need of a little TLC. Unfortunately for most of us, a limited cash supply prevents us from visiting our favorite masseuse on a regular basis. Thankfully, there’s a genius little device known as a foam roller that offers a host of benefits for a very affordable price.

Relax and revitalize

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR)—also known as self-massage—technique traditionally used by physical therapists and athletic trainers to aid in muscle recovery. Surrounding every muscle is a layer of connective tissue known as fascia. Repeated stresses from exercise or just everyday activities can thicken and tighten the fascia to a point where traditional stretching has little effect. Targeting these knots (or trigger points) with a foam roller has an effect similar to deep-tissue massage, breaking up the knots and scar tissue and forcing the fascia to thin and lengthen, which in turn allows your muscle to relax.

Enhance recovery

Foam rolling has been shown to decrease muscle soreness associated with intense exercise in the days following a tough workout. Researchers at the Memorial University of Newfoundland found that only 20 minutes of foam rolling resulted in significantly less muscle tenderness and also had a positive effect on sprint speed and power performance 24-72 hours following the original workout. These positive effects are likely attributed to an increase in blood flow created by the rolling, which helps reduce swelling and enhances waste removal, oxygen delivery, and tissue healing. By simply conducting a 20-minute rolling session immediately after your workout and then again every 24 hours, you’ll get back to your training routine rather than hobbling around.

Improve your range of motion

Static stretching may just be a thing of the past when you consider the fact that foam rolling cannot only relax tight muscles but may also help improve the range of motion in treated joints. A recent study compared the acute effects of foam rolling and a dynamic stretch protocol. Researchers found that the subjects who performed the deep tissue rolling had an enhanced range of motion without suffering the detrimental effects often seen with static stretching prior to sports performance (such as reduced muscle force, power, and velocity). It is thought that the rolling breaks down fibrous adhesions in the muscle and restores elasticity in the fascia to improve flexibility.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Foam Rolling

Foam rolling isn’t necessarily an art form, but there are some guidelines you should follow to get the most out of your session. The best time to use your foam roller is after a workout when your muscles are still warm. To begin, simply place the foam roller under the sore muscle. Begin to roll the roller along with the muscle until you reach a trigger point, which you can identify by the pain or tenderness that radiates from the site. Pause at the site of tenderness for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply the entire time. Once time has elapsed, move on to the next spot. Move-in small increments to ensure you cover the entire surface of the muscle.

The amount of pressure you should place on your muscles depends upon your body weight and how much of your weight you can handle. If you’re especially sore in a certain area, use your arms to take some of your weight off the roller until you can endure the roller at a higher intensity. Some amount of pain or discomfort is to be expected at first. However, you’ll notice that the more you roll, the less uncomfortable it becomes.

Don’t roll directly over bones or joints, which can lead to injury or inflammation of the exposed bone or surrounding connective tissue. Rolling your lower back may cause hyperextension and should also be avoided.

Finally, choose an appropriate roller. They come in different levels of firmness, and some come with fingers or ridges. A roller too soft will do little to relieve tension, while those that are too firm may be too painful to use and can even cause bruising or worsen your existing muscle damage. If possible, try the roller out in the store to see if it’s something you can comfortably use.