Foam Rolling: What? Why? When?
You now see foam rollers everywhere! In every gym, every sporting goods store, Target, etc. Well, I want to educate you on what the foam roller is, why you need to incorporate it into your workout routine and when is the best time to use it.
A foam roller is a long, cylinder like piece of foam. It is designed to provide self massage and work out knots or trigger points in the muscles also known as “myofascial adhesions”. Foam rolling is “self myofascial release” (SMR). (Myo means muscle) So then, what is fascia?
Fascia is connective tissue that wraps around the muscle. It looks like a spider’s web or maybe yarn you would use to make a sweater. In a normal state, fascia is wavy and relaxed and can stretch without restriction - just visualize stretching out that ball of yarn or visualize that long, elaborate spider web. Fascia plays an important role in the support and function of our bodies since it surrounds and attaches to all our structures. But, with trauma, overuse and inflammation the fascia becomes less pliable. It tightens and constricts and becomes a source of tension (or pain) in the body - it causes those knots you feel in your muscles. If you were to tie an elastic band in a knot, you could stretch the band but the knot would still be there - and become tighter as you stretched the band. So you can continue to stretch the band but the knot still stays and gets tighter. That is what muscle is like when there are myofascial adhesions. You are still able to work part of the muscle but that knot is restricting the full lengthening of the muscle and causing you discomfort and sometimes pain.
You should foam roll to relax the fascia and release those knots ultimately reducing stress, pain and muscular imbalance. Rolling also heats the muscle allowing you to prepare the muscle for the work ahead and is key to injury prevention. Foam rolling also hydrates the muscle. Hydration happens when more blood and nutrients come to the muscle. Hydration is key for the muscle to work properly (and post workout for the muscle to recover). So drinking water is essential for hydration but so is foam rolling.
During foam rolling, you should be slightly uncomfortable but not wincing. You want to feel pressure but not pain. You want to relax the muscle but do not apply too much pressure. If you sit into a particularly tight area, hold for 20-30 seconds. It should feel like letting air out of a tire. Then move onto another spot or position and find that tight spot and again, sit into it allowing the muscle to release.
You should roll pre and post workout! It should be done pre-workout to hydrate the muscles and also heat the muscles to allow a better range of motion and prevent injuries. But, make sure you still complete a dynamic warm up as well before you begin your workout.
You should also do some rolling post workout to again hydrate the muscles, reduce soreness and relax the muscles.
I am sure you have seen different sizes, textures and shapes of foam rollers. It can be overwhelming! I hope to provide you with some information below to make it easier to purchase or begin using the roller that is right for you.
If just starting to foam roll, look for the long, cylinder foam rollers. The white is usually the softest and that is what you should start with. As your technique improves and muscles adapt, go harder. The white is usually the softest, then blue/red and then black - being the hardest.
If just starting out, choose the smooth foam roller. This design provides even pressure across the muscle.
You will see textured (or what look like grooves or bubbled) foam rollers. These can provide more targeted massage to work out the knots. But again, I would progress to that type of roller.
There are all different lengths of rollers. The longest is best for your first roller and is the most stable for quads, hamstrings and back (essentially the large muscle groups). The shorter ones are best to target calves and arms.
There are also “running sticks” which I use for calves and quads when I need to just sit and roll.
Foam balls are great for precise targeting. They work well in curved, hard to reach areas like in between your scapula or any part of the upper back. Note a tennis ball works well too.
If you are in your gym, ask a trainer to show you some foam rolling techniques. Or look online for some instructional videos. You want to make sure you are doing it properly to get the most benefits.
Just make sure you are adding it into your routine.