In the fitness industry, there is a LOT of bullshit. This is not one of them. I had heard about foam rolling for years, but I just figured it was overrated. I was wrong. Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release, is one the greatest tools ever invented for athletes. Everyone who regularly exercises needs tissue work done. I like to get deep tissue massages once or twice a month, but I foam roll nearly every day! Don’t wait until you have a serious injury to jump on the bandwagon, start preventing those injuries from even happening.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
- Relieves muscle soreness and joint stress
- Improves neuromuscular performance
- Corrects muscle imbalances
- Improves range of motion in joints
- Maintains optimal muscular length
- Helps get rid of cellulite (few women know this)
Sounds great right? It is.
The Nitty Gritty
I’m going to be upfront about this, it will hurt. In fact, if you are trying this for the first time and you don’t feel any pain then you are probably doing it wrong. It should hurt the way stretching or a deep tissue massage hurts, meaning that the pain can border unbearable at times but it will feel so much better afterwards. Nothing in life is free, and this is no exception. That being said, with regular practice, you will get to a point where there is little to no pain.
The pain from self-myofascial release, or a massage, comes from specific trigger points in your muscle commonly referred to as knots. Trigger points become evident when pressure is applied to them. These knots will often send pain signals from different areas as well. Meaning when you apply pressure to a knot in the side of your leg you might experience pain that shoots up to your hip and down to your ankle. This doesn’t always happen, but don’t be alarmed if it does.
I should mention here that I’m not your doctor and you should consult with one before adding this into your routine, especially if you are planning to treat a pre-existing injury.
These knots usually build up from the strain on our muscles in intense exercise. Another common cause is related to posture, which is very prevalent in the sedentary lifestyle of most people in developed countries The goal is to apply pressure to the knots to break them up and allow normal function and blood flow to resume. The myofascia that surrounds your muscles need to be relaxed so your muscles can breathe.
Where and What to Buy
Fortunately it isn’t difficult to find foam rollers anymore. You can find them at Walmart, Target or any sporting goods store. I got this one from Amazon for just under $20. I recommend also picking up a tennis or lacrosse ball for smaller areas on the body such as the lower back and shoulders. You can even place the ball between you and a wall and do your massage work while standing and leaning against the ball.
This post has more than enough information for most people to get started today, but for those dealing with serious injuries and reoccuring injuries I recommend you do some further reading. This book comes highly recommended by Amazon reviewers and should answer all of your advanced questions, but I have not personally read it.
Don’t get caught up in all the marketing hype, you don’t need a fancy foam roller with spikes all over it. The spikes feel nice, but they don’t add much benefit. You are more concerned about the pressure. The most important thing is that the material is firm and is strong enough to last a long time. I’ve been using that black foam roller I recommended for several years and it hasn’t shown any signs of wear and I weigh over 200 lbs. The softer blue ones that you see in a lot of gyms tend to cave in and are useless.
How to Foam Roll
For a demonstration of how to actually go about doing this, watch the video below. First, I want to leave you with some quick tips:
- Spend at least 1-2 minutes on each muscle group
- Roll slowly
- When you find a trigger point, and you’ll know when, try to relax that muscle and keep constant pressure. Breathe deeply and rest through the pain.
- Spend at least 15-30 seconds on trigger points and add more time if needed
- Light rocking back and forth is ok and will ease the pain and help you relax
- You might be sore afterwards, like after a deep tissue massage. This is normal.
- Don’t roll joints or bones
Here’s a great instructional video of a basic foam rolling routine.
I highly recommend checking out Brandon’s Youtube channel. He puts out high quality information that is well-organized and straightforward.
There you have it – a simple but highly effective healing tool. If you are going to incorporate static stretching, you should do this after foam rolling. You’ll find that stretching is much easier without those knots in your muscles. Also, I’ve found that it works best to foam roll before training to help loosen up and to do static stretching afterwards. Then I add additional foam rolling at home to deal with tightness or soreness that results from the actual training as needed. How many of you already foam roll? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comments below.
Until Next Time,
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