What was once a secret tool used by athletes and physios has now become a staple in many gyms and even homes – the foam roller. Even if you’ve never used one, you might have seen a foam roller floating around your gym, at a friend’s house, or even down at the shops. Over the last few years, they have become more and more popular, and the reason for this is the myriad of benefits that can come from using a foam roller regularly.
If you’re new to the world of foam rolling, we’ll let you in on how it can benefit you and give you a few tips and exercises to get you started, but before we do – let’s talk a little more about what foam rolling actually is!
What is Foam Rolling?
Foam rolling, sometimes referred to as self-myofascial release, is essentially a soft tissue therapy that focuses on the connective tissue that wraps around the muscles, bones, and ligaments of your body. This connective tissue is called the fascia, and it aids in supporting your entire body. However, for many reasons, including poor posture, stress, and strenuous workout routines, it can become tight and stiffen. To support our movement and functioning, it’s important for our fascia to be supple and elastic.
And this is where foam rolling comes into play. Focusing on specific muscle groups at a time, you position your body on a foam roller, and slowly manoeuvre back and forth over the roller, focusing on a specific muscle group at a time. The movement along with your body weight on the roller, helps apply pressure to the muscle, and fascia in your body, which helps to keep the fascia supple and flexible.
Foam rolling can be awkward when you’re starting out, with many people experiencing a bit of discomfort. The discomfort is due to your body weight and the roller working together to apply pressure to an area in the same way a deep tissue massage does.
How Does Foam Rolling Actually Work & Why is it Important?
Foam rolling helps in improving our mobility and as well as helping our bodies recover and regenerate after exercise and it does this by improving the functionality of the fascia.
As we mentioned before, the fascia is the connective tissue that wraps the muscles of our bodies and allows them to stretch and contract. When we use our muscles regularly, whether in the gym, running or other activities and they are put under a lot of pressure with intense workouts, the fascia can tighten, which can leave us feeling stiff, tired and our range of motion becomes effected. The fascia can also become tight and stiffen from other things, like poor posture or inactivity.
This can go on to cause trigger points, also known as knots, which left untreated, can cause bigger issues. When the fascia becomes tight, it causes the muscles to stay in a state of tension, even when they aren’t in use, which forms the trigger point. The longer the muscles are left in this state, the more likely it can cause an injury.
While the muscle is in a state of contraction, the blood flow slows which means the circulation of oxygen in your body isn’t reaching this muscle as effectively, which leads to a build-up of lactic acid in the area. Without the oxygen flow, lactic acid doesn’t shift, rather it pools, and this is when we start to feel pain. This pain then causes your brain to tell you to not use that muscle because it hurts, and this is where another muscle steps in to compensate for the underperforming one, which can lead to injury.
But this is where foam rolling can step in. Foam rolling encourages oxygen flow to the body, this allows the build-up of lactic acid to shift and withdraw from the body which then helps reduce and release tension. And the gentle stretching of the fascia helps us feel more open and energized.
For some, stretching is enough to release the tightness of the fascia however, for many, stretching alone is not enough to relieve the tension caused by fascia tightness.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
You’ve probably picked up on a few reasons why foam rolling is good for you, but we thought we’d lay them out here:
1. Improves Range of Motion and Performance
When your fascia tightens, it can lead to muscle contractions which in turn can lead to knots or trigger points in the body. These can cause our range of motion to become limited, which can lead to us not performing optimally in our activity of choice and even injury.
Foam rolling helps to keep the fascia supple and flexible and returns the muscles back to their normal state, which allows you to achieve a full range of motion.
2. Relieves Soreness in Muscles and Encourages Muscle Recovery
While foam rolling helps to keep the fascia flexible and elastic, it also encourages blood flow circulation to improve, which increases the oxygen your muscles and connective tissues receives. This increase in oxygen ensures that the lactic acid that can build up when we use our muscles shifts, which stops pain from occurring and allows our muscles to recover faster.
3. Foam Rolling is Good for Correcting Muscle Imbalances and Preventing Injuries
When our muscles are tight and not working to their full capacity, to avoid causing pain to those muscles, other muscles step in to try to help these muscles and compensate for the underperforming muscle. This can lead to all sorts of issues, including imbalances in our bodies, and injuries from the misuse of muscles.
Foam rolling can help avoid this as it helps keep the fascia loose and flexible, which allows the muscles to work to their full capability and avoids other muscles trying to compensate for the ones that can’t work to their full capacity.
4. It’s a Good Way to Warm Up Before Physical Exercise
Some athletes and gym goers like to start off on a foam roller to loosen up their muscles and open them up. Foam rolling encourages the flow of blood and oxygen in the body, which helps get your body ready for working out and movement. And because it aids with loosening any tight spots, it can ensure your full range of motion is there for your workout.
5. Great for Muscle Relaxation
As it applies direct pressure to tight muscles and trigger points, foam rolling mimics what a massage therapist does. The pressure on the tight areas helps loosen the muscles, and while it may be a little uncomfortable during the rolling, after you’ve finished, your muscles will thank you. The release of tension allows you to relax more easily and less sore than if you hadn’t had a roll.
Foam Rolling Tips
Foam rolling does take some getting used to, but we’ve got some tips that will make your transition into regular foam rolling a bit easier!
- Start out soft – foam rollers come in all sorts of sizes and styles, some are smooth cylindrical pieces of foam, some have ridges, grooves, lumps and bumps. For a beginner, it’s best to start with a simple standard roller made entirely of foam. Usually blue in colour, a beginner’s roller will help ease you into the feeling.
- When you start out, it may not feel very comfortable at all, and this will be combination of it being a little bit tricky to get the knack of the movements, but also because this is essentially taking the place of a massage therapist – so you may feel things you haven’t felt before.
- While you’re actually on the foam roller, the group of muscles you are rolling may feel sore, and uncomfortable, but when you move the muscles off the roller, you should feel some relief and relaxation of the muscles.
- Take it slow – foam rolling shouldn’t be rushed. Aim to roll on each muscle group for 1-2 minutes, in slow, gradual movements. If you do happen to hit a tight spot that is more uncomfortable than others, trying holding the position for 30 seconds or so – with the pressure on the area, you should start feeling some relief.
- If you hit an area that is just too painful for you to roll, try shifting the roller so that you’re applying pressure to the area that surrounds this painful one. By working the peripheral muscles, it will start to ease the pressure felt in the tight spot, and eventually you will be able to roll over the painful spot.
- Make sure you breath. When we experience pain or discomfort, it’s common to hold our breath, but just like most exercises, holding your breath will not help. Make sure you continue to breath normally the entire time you’re rolling.
- Be aware of your muscles and the state they are in. It’s definitely harder to relax our muscles than we realise. For foam rolling to be effective, it’s important that our muscles are as relaxed as they can be.
- Figuring out how often you should foam roll is really an individual preference, however, when you’re first starting out, avoid rolling any earlier than 24 hours after your first time. Though it helps in your muscle recovery, it is still something that you need to get used to.
- Keep your fluids up. Your body will be shifting lactic acid around and your body requires water to be able to rid itself of this.
- You will be sore. While you get used to this new sensation, you will be sore. Remember the foam roller is basically doing what an expert masseuse would, and with some areas of your body having never felt these sensations before, it is likely to lead to some soreness.
- Avoid rolling on joints, bones, the lower back, and your spine. You don’t want to cause any unnecessary pain or injury to important areas of your body. The foam roller is there to help loosen your muscles. If you are rolling your upper back, try to position yourself so you are turned slightly to the side of the back you are targeting, and then do the same for the opposite side.
Foam Rolling Exercises You Can Try
You can foam roll most areas of your body, but here are some of our favourite target areas and moves for the lower half of your body.
Target Area: Calves
Start off sitting on the floor and extend your legs straight in front of you. Place the roller under your left calf and rest your right foot on the floor for support. Life your hips off the floor, using your hands by your sides, and roll your calf over the roller, from the ankle up to behind the knee, and back down. Continue this move for a minute, then repeat with the opposite leg.
Advanced tip: If you would like to apply extra pressure to your calf, you can use your other leg to do so, just rest it on top of the leg you are rolling, so your legs are crossed at the ankle.
Target Area: Hamstrings
To target your hamstrings, stay seated on the floor, with feet flat on the ground, so your knees are bent and the roller can fit below your legs. Straighten your legs so your hamstrings are now resting on the roller. Lift your hips up off the ground by using your hands at your sides, and roll your legs over the roller from behind the knee to the glutes. Continue for a minute.
Target Area: Quads
Lie facedown on your mat with the roller under the front of the thighs. You will need to hold yourself up so that you are resting on your forearms, with your elbows in line with your shoulders above them, similar to a plank position. You will need to use your arms to help you slowly roll from above the knees to the bottom of your hips. Continue for one minute.
Advanced tip: If you would like to add more pressure, you can lift one leg and concentrate on the other. Just make sure you repeat it on the other leg.
Target Area: Abductors
Lie facedown on the mat so that you are resting on your forearms, with your elbows in line with your shoulders, like the quad exercise above. However, you need to extend your right leg out to the side with the knee bent. The roller with rest under the leg that is extended out. Again, using your forearms to assist you, you need to shift your body so that you can roll from your knee to the hip along your inner thigh. Repeat on the opposite leg.
A Word From Rec Express
At Rec Xpress we’re firm believers in the importance of warming up and recovery after working out. And that’s exactly what incorporating a foam roller into your routine can help with. If you want to learn more, you can always speak to one of our friendly team. Become a member from only $11 a week with Rec Xpress – with no lock-in contracts, access to 6 locations, and open 24/7, it doesn’t get any easier to get your fitness journey on track. Drop by one of our 6 locations, or Join online today. See you at Rec Xpress!