If you have ever been in a gym, sporting goods shop or even the active aisle at Target, you’ve probably seen a foam roller. If you feel unclear about how to use one, you are not alone. While growing more mainstream, foam rollers live a mystery to numerous people and even trainers.
Foam roller workouts, also called myofascial release, is a form of massage that fitness-minded people do either before exercise to loosen up their sore muscles and their tight joints, or after a workout, to help muscle recovery.
Foam roller exercises and other self-myofascial release methods have become increasingly popular, and for a good reason. Partly that stems from a better understanding of the restorative advantages of soft tissue care, or massage. Massage can ultimately become cost-prohibitive unless you are an athlete or just have a few hundred extra bucks lying around, you probably opt infrequently for a massage as a luxury or a splurge more than a necessity.
Working yourself out on a foam roller becomes an affordable option to massage therapy. Those dense, round pieces of foam can deliver multiple advantages of therapeutic massage without the cost.
What Is Myofascial Release?
You might wonder what myofascial release means. Fascia is like plastic wrap that satisfies virtually every part of your body, comprised of collagen fibers that surround and penetrates your muscles, organs, and nerves. Fascia mostly keeps us together.
Of course, sometimes holding everything together can take a toll on your body. It’s no different for our fascia. Through overtraining, it can become sore and limited. Due to little tears that sometimes don’t heal accurately, adhesions form. If the connective tissue encompassing your muscle becomes limited, you’ll notice your muscles will also become restricted in their movement.
The myofascial release details what occurs when you apply tension to the afflicted areas to reduce adhesions and release tension, ultimately improving circulation and restoring the body back to its natural state. Foam rolling, myofascial release encompasses a broad spectrum of modalities including Rolfing, massage and the Graston technique.
5 Wellness Advantages of Foam Roller Exercises
While there are several reasons to include foam rolling into your fitness routine, let’s briefly look at five examples.
1. Increased flexibility and improved joint range of motion
For years, stretching was the standard method to decrease muscle tightness and increase flexibility before both working out or performing a sport. Recent research, however, shows foam roller exercises before an activity can lead to an increase in flexibility.
2. Better circulation
Because blood carries oxygen throughout the body, the right flow becomes critical to overall health. Among other speculations, a decrease in our circulation can lead to a whole host of problems like numbness in our limbs, impaired cognitive ability (the ability to think clearly!) and a weak immune system. Myofascial release can help improve circulation by breaking up the tight areas where blood flow may become restricted.
3. Stress reduction
Foam roller exercises can help decrease tension post-workout. One study found myofascial release can lower cortisol, your stress hormone that you want to dial down after a strenuous workout seriously.
4. Reduce exercise-related soreness
Whether you are an expert athlete or just a weekend warrior, you’ve probably experienced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Simply put, DOMS is the pain and stiffness in your muscles that can set in anywhere from 24–48 hours after an intense workout.
However, research finds foam rolling can substantially reduce the chances of that soreness creeping in so that you don’t spend the day after your first cycling class stuck on the couch wondering why your legs hate you so much.
5. Prevent injury
Treating an injury becomes much easier when you avoid it in the first place. Often is a constant routine of proper stretching methods coupled with foam roller exercises can counteract common injuries connected with tightness and overuse, such as iliotibial band syndrome and other common running injuries.
The iliotibial band (IT Band) runs from the top of the leg from your hip to just below your knee. It tends to be particularly susceptible to damage, especially in runners. One caveat: If not done properly, you can do more harm than good. Rolling on an already inflamed area can intensify inflammation, thereby giving you the exact opposite effect you are trying to achieve.
The Best Foam Roller Exercises
Now that you have a rather solid understanding of precisely what foam rolling is and how it can benefit you directly, you are probably questioning how to include them into your daily routine.
Ideally, the following exercises should be done for about a minute on each area to allow the muscle to relax. As you roll, take some slow, deep breaths. We tend to hold our breath when we are focusing on something, especially when something feels new to us. Remain mindful of your breathing during this process.
Hamstrings and Glutes
So many of us have remarkably tight hamstrings from sitting at our desks all day, which can cause lower-back pain. It’s why you can benefit from hamstring stretches and exercises that include the foam roller.
To roll out your hamstrings and glutes, start by sitting on the floor and placing the foam roller long ways below your legs. Use your arms to brace yourself and modify how much force you are applying to your legs. The more body weight you transfer to your arms, the easier things will be on your hamstrings.
If you feel like you need to put more pressure on your hamstrings, just shift more of your body weight to your legs and less in your arms. You will want to just roll yourself along the roller from your glutes down to just above your knees. Again, spend about a minute here and make sure you’re not holding your breath.
Quadriceps (The Front Of Your Legs)
The exterior of our legs can indeed grow sore and tight. Balance becomes crucial, so if you’re going to work on those hamstrings, turn over and give equal attention to your quadriceps.
To do this, place the foam roller underneath your legs and with your body weight on your forearms, begin to roll yourself back and forth from the top of your knees to your pelvic bone. You will want to keep your abs contracted on this one and keep your feet off the floor as you’re rolling.
Iliotibial (IT) Band
Although IT band issues are usually connected with runners, everyone can be affected by IT band problems and can result in knee and lower back pain. You need to begin working on knee strengthening exercises as well as foam roller exercises for the IT band.
To roll out your IT band, you’ll want to position yourself with the side of your leg on top of the roller. You can take some of the pressure off the IT band directly by transferring your body weight to your arms as you roll from just below your hip to the top of your knee and keeping your other foot on the ground so that your opposite leg supports you.
We sit down a lot, which can take its toll on our upper backs. This exercise becomes an excellent way to loosen up knots associated with phones that won’t stop ringing and rush-hour traffic that won’t move when you have a car full of crying kids and a pint of ice cream melting over all your other groceries.
Place the foam roller perpendicular to your body and lean your upper back against it. Place your hands directly behind your head, lift your hips off the floor, and gently begin to roll from the top of your shoulder blades to the middle of your back.
These days, foam rollers are wherever, the gym, your physical therapist’s office, your living room and even your suitcase. After all, foam rolling has emerged as the jewel of the fitness world and the remedy for many various aches.
Typically, foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, or self-massage, that gets freed of adhesions in your muscles and connective tissue. These adhesions can “build locations of weakness or susceptibility in the tissue,” according to Chris Howard, C.S.C.S., and LMT at Cressey Performance. “If the muscle isn’t contracting uniformly from end-to-end, it could lead to injury and pain.” Foam rolling also improves blood stream to your muscles and creates better movement, helping with healing and increasing performance.
Sounds great, right? Yes, foam rolling offers enormous potential to alleviate pain and help you move better — if used correctly. If not, you risk irritating and possibly injured, your body further.
Here’s a breakdown of five common mistakes people often make when using the foam roller.
Mistake #1: You roll right where you feel discomfort. When we feel pain, our first impulse is to massage that spot immediately. But, this might be a significant mistake. “Areas of pain are the victims that result from tension imbalances in other regions of the body,” says Sue Hitzmann, MS, CST, NMT, manual therapist, creator, and author of The MELT Method.
Let’s use the IT band, for instance. Foam rolling is a generally prescribed remedy for iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). While religiously rolling out your IT band might feel great, “the idea that you are going to relax or release the IT band is a misconception,” Hitzmann says. The expression roll out your IT band itself makes it appear like you are rolling out a lump of dough, but your IT band is anything but elastic. It’s a remarkably strong piece of connective tissue, and research has shown that it cannot be released or manipulated by manual techniques such as foam rolling. “If you iron out areas of inflammation, you can enhance inflammation. And if you are in pain, your body will be too stressed to repair itself,” says Hitzmann.
The fix: Go indirect before direct. “If you find a spot that’s sensitive, it’s a cue to ease away from that area by a few inches. Take time and work a more localized zone around areas that feel sore before using larger sweeping movements,” suggests Hitzmann. For the IT band, go on the main muscles that connect to the IT band first — especially the gluteus maximus (the largest muscle in the buttocks) and the tensor fasciae late, a muscle that runs along the outside edge of the hip.
Mistake #2: You roll too fast. While it might feel fabulous to roll back and forth on a foam roller fast, you’re not reducing any adhesions that style. “You need to give your brain enough time to tell your muscles to relax,” says Monica Vazquez, NASM certified personal trainer and USA Track and Field Running Coach.
The fix: Go slower so that the surface layers and muscles have time to adjust and manage the compression. Know where the tender points are with the roller and use small, slow rolls over that point. “There’s no reason to bang up the whole muscle if there are only a few sensitive areas,” Howard says.
Mistake #3: You waste too much time on those twists. We’re often told that if you feel a kink, give time working that place with the foam roller. However, some people will use five to 10 minutes or more in the same area and attempt to put their entire body weight onto the foam roller. If you put sustained pressure on one body part, you might hit a nerve or destroy the tissue, which can cause bruising, according to Vazquez.
The fix: “Spend 20 seconds on each fragile spot then move on,” Vazquez recommends. You can also manage how much body weight you use. For example, when working for your IT band, plant the foot of your leg on the floor to take some of the burdens of the roller.
Mistake #4: You have poor posture. Wait, what does your posture have to do with foam rolling? A lot. “You have to hold your body in certain poses over the roller,” says Howard, and that demands a lot of strength. “When rolling out the IT band, you are holding your upper body weight with one arm.” When you roll out the quads, you are mostly continuing a plank position. If you don’t give awareness to your form or posture, you may exacerbate pre-existing postural deviations and cause more harm.
The fix: Work with an expert personal trainer, physical therapist or coach who can show you precise form and technique. Or, consider arranging your smartphone to videotape yourself while foam rolling, suggests Howard. That way, you can see what you are producing right and what you are doing wrong, like bending in the hips or contorting the spine.
Mistake #5: You use the foam roller on your lower back. “The thing that makes me cringe is when people foam rolls their lower back. You should never do that,” said Vazquez. Hitzmann agrees. “Your spine will freak out, and all the spinal muscles will engage and defend the spine.”
The fix: According to Vazquez, you can use the foam roller on your upper back because the shoulder blades and muscles protect the spine. “Once you reach the end of your rib cage, stop.” If you want to release your lower back, try child’s pose or foam roll the muscles that attach to your lower back — the piriformis (a muscle found deep in the glutes), hip flexors and rectus femoris, one of the inner muscles in your quads.
Most importantly, know what the source of your pain is before you begin. Know what you are trying to accomplish through foam rolling and how to do it correctly. And don’t ignore to stick with it. “To get the advantages of self-massage, it’s repeated exposure that’s most important,” says Howard. “You have to show up and put in the work.”
What’s the point of the cylindrical tube on the gym floor? And why do the people using such an innocent looking piece of equipment grimace so much?
The foam roller is a cylindrical piece of foam that has become internationally familiar over the last few years. This article summarily caps the history of the foam roller, starting from its roots in traditional massage all the way to why it works and also introduces different descriptions as to why it does.
The history of foam rolling
Foam rolling is a great form of manual therapy, that means using your hands, almost like a massage without the masseuse, so to appreciate where foam rolling comes from, it is important to delve into the origins of manual therapy.
Manual therapy can be traced to ancient civilizations in both India and China where it was used as a conventional medicine to treat a variety of medical problems.
Research advises that the introduction of massage to Europe is associated to Per Hendrik Ling, who in the early 19th century formed a systematic method of powerful massage methods to improve your blood and lymph circulation. That said, Ling, is not considered to have been liable for the modern use of medical massage therapies. Instead, Dr. Johann Mezger, a physician from Amsterdam is connected with one of the first clinical use of massage therapy and was also the first person to watch at massage from a scientific viewpoint; looking at the anatomy and physiology of massage. Mezger and his organization also conducted many scientific experiments from the 1860s to the late 19th century to assess the effectiveness of massage.
The practice of massage therapy as a cure (as opposed to for relaxation) reduced after the Second World War due to the increase of revisions including the snappily titled ‘proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.’ A form of stretching that physios and sports therapists still use today, ultrasound and microwave techniques that insisted on producing equivalent results without the concrete work, time and cost connected with deep tissue massage.
Sports massage didn’t suffer the same drop off in popularity as therapeutic massage. Nowadays therapeutic massage is seldom used in Western medicine except in sports medicine and palliative care, although it is beginning a comeback in alternative and complementary medicine.
So, back to foam rolling, the new kid on the block. The newest academically proclaimed use of foam rolling could be traced back to the year 2000 when it was mentioned in academic literature as a form of manual therapy, used to alleviate tension and aid recovery from exercise.
From this point on, the use of foam rollers slowly began to appear in both educational and more so modern literature, and their cult status continues to increase. In the past five years the use of the foam roller has exploded (not literally, unlike the also famous Swiss ball) and they can now be seen on virtually every gym floor in the country.
There are, nonetheless, very few research studies that have looked at the effects of using a foam roller on the body.
How does it work? The Anatomy and Physiology of Massage and Self Massage
The point of foam rolling is to manipulate fascia.
Fascia scientifically known as the dense unique connective tissue is a fibrous tissue that encompasses and combines every muscle, joint, and organ of the body. There are three main types of fascia, based on their location in your body;
- Superficial fascia found just underneath the skin
- Deep (or muscle) fascia, the dense fibrous connective tissue that penetrates and surrounds the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body
- Visceral fascia, this keeps your organs where they are intended to be and wraps them in connective tissue
- The fascia predominantly affected by self-massage and traditional massage (and therefore foam-rolling) is deep fascia.
What could be any easier? Just jump on a piece of foam and roll up and down. Could anyone do that right? Yes, anyone can, but very few do. Why? Mainly because it hurts but it is still beneficial, but my god is it sore.
Yes, today we are talking about the foam roller, the cost-effective means of kneading your aching muscles and pushing you to embrace pain during your rest days. Who created the foam roller? What was its purpose and how did it end up in gyms across the world?
By the end of the article you’ll have the answers to these questions and perhaps have a newfound appreciation for the $20 torture device.
Who created the foam roller?
Foam rollers were initially used by Feldenkrais practitioners through the 1980s. Never knew of it? Me neither.
Created by Moshé Feldenkrais in the latter half of the 20th century, the Feldenkrais technique aims to decrease injury and mobility issues alongside improving physical functioning through increasing clients’ knowledge of their own body. It originated in the early 1920s when Moshe Feldenkrais, a physicist, and martial artist, learned to minimize pain in his knee and improve his athletic accomplishments after paying keen attention to how his body moved. While its effectiveness has been challenged in recent years, there are those who swear by the Feldenkrais method in helping their ailments.
In any case, Feldenkrais practitioners first used foam rollers as body supports and to do standing stability work with their clients.
Knowledge of foam rollers didn’t remain a secret for long though. In 1987 physical therapist and then Feldenkrais student, Sean Gallagher began to use foam rollers as a self-massage tool. Gallagher soon got in contact with Jerome Robbins, a well-known Broadway star, and told Robbins about the advantages of foam rolling for hurting muscles. Overseeing a troupe of dancers who needed to be in show position every night, Robbins asked his cast members to experiment with foam rollers. To his great delight, the feedback from his dancers was overwhelmingly concrete, leading to the opening of foam rollers en masse for Broadway actresses.
So how did foam rollers end up on your Gym floor?
While it’s a little more challenging to pinpoint who started foam rollers to the weight lifting community, many are in understanding that the works of Physical Therapist Mike Clark during the 1990s helped spread the message of foam rolling under the guise of what Clark termed “self-myofascial relief.” In his pre-millennia writings, Clarke produced many manuals detailing foam rolling for self-massage practices. This eventually culminated in Clarke’s opus Integrated Training for the New Millennium published in 2001.
Slowly but steadily the fashionableness of foam rolling began to grow, especially amongst weight lifters, as a means of reducing aching muscles and improving gym performance. A 2004 T-Nation article by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson demonstrates the enthusiasm early pioneers had for the roller. 2004 also saw the first foam roller patent registered in the United States, kicking the foam roller business into overdrive.
Nowadays a quick foam roller hunt on Amazon results in over 1,000 results, declaring it safe to say that the foam roller has become a fully acquired member of the weightlifting family. So just like the Swiss Ball, we have the physical therapy community to thank for yet a different gym toy.
So next time you’re crying your eyes out while rolling your quads, you know specifically who to blame!
Self-myofascial release, also commonly referred to as “foam rolling,” has converted from a once remote procedure done only by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists to a regular daily habit for people at all levels of fitness. Recent knowledge, technology, and affordable commodities have introduced an increasing array of training and recovery methods to the average person.
Self-myofascial release is a decorated term for self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points. This process can be achieved with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, Theracane, or even your own hands. By you applying pressure to specific points on your body, you can aid in the recovery of muscles and assist in restoring them to natural function. The standard feature means your muscles are elastic, healthy, and ready to perform at a moment’s notice.
Do I Possess Tight Muscles or Trigger Points?
Trigger points are accurate “knots” that develop in muscles. They are unique and can be recognized because they will include pain. Pain referral, for our views, can most easily be defined as the pain felt when pressure is applied to one area of your body, but the pain is felt or transmitted in another area.
A typical example of a trigger point is considered while foam rolling your iliotibial (IT) band as it creates pain to spread up to the hip or all the way down the leg to the ankle. When rolling or working on tight/sore muscles, you will encounter distress or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done, it should feel better.
Why Am I Doing Something That Hurts?
For many, deep tissue massage is simple to understand. Ideally, someone can fight out the tangles in your muscles, and it is understood that this method may be uncomfortable and at times unpleasant. The self-myofascial release gives the user the ability to manage the healing and recovery process by applying tension in specific locations because only you can feel literally what is occurring.
It is always advised to discuss with your physician or physical therapist for therapeutic/sharp pain and obtain consent before beginning self-myofascial release. For most people, you will be cleared almost immediately, and your doctor will encourage the practice.
Releasing trigger points helps to restore decent movement patterns and pain-free movement, and ultimately, to enhance performance. Utilizing stretching alone is not always enough to release your muscles tightness, which is why foam rollers have thrived on the mass market. Imagine a bungee cord with a knot tied into it and then envision stretching the wire. This creates tension, extending the unknotted portion of the muscle and the attachment points. The knot, however, has remained unaltered.
Foam rolling can assist in breaking up these muscle knots, resuming normal blood flow and function. The goal of any corrective or recovery technique is to get you back to the point of normal functioning as if nothing was ever wrong. When was the last time you trained like you were a teenager, going hard without a second thought, and injuries were something that only happened due to physical trauma like a 250lb linebacker hitting you?
What Causes Trigger Points and Tight Muscles?
Both have the same relevant factors including training, flexibility, movement patterns, posture, nutrition, hydration, rest, stress, and other lifestyle factors. Our bodies learn to compensate for what we throw at them every day, but we can exceed our ability to recover via too many intense workouts, poor posture, and other lifestyle factors.
This is when you require assistance using rehabilitation techniques or through seeing an expert. If you lived a perfect life with everything in balance, you would theoretically never have either of these conditions. However, I’ve yet to meet that person.
How Does Self-Myofascial Release Work?
Deep compression eases to break up or relax tight muscles and adhesions formed between muscle layers and their surroundings. Imagine you are tenderizing your muscles. They should be soft and supple like a baby’s muscles. Nonetheless, if our muscles are not taken care of correctly, we can experience loss of flexibility, adhesions, and painful movement.
The intense compression of self-myofascial release allows regular blood flow to restore and the preparation of healthy tissue. The body normally wants to be healthy and active, but sometimes an extra boost is needed to achieve optimal muscle and tissue health.
Aching muscles can last for days, so rush your healing by using a foam roller. These seven exercises from Shape-Up Shortcuts only take 10 to 15 minutes. Grab a foam roller—like the LuxFit Premium High-Density Foam Roller—and do them after a workout, during your favorite sitcom, or right before bed. Roll over any point 5 to 10 times.
Foam rolling for your calves: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out, your palms on the ground behind you to bear your weight. Set the foam roller underneath your calves. Gently roll on the back of your legs up and down from your knees to your ankles.
Foam roller for your hamstrings: Sit with your right leg on the foam roller; bend your left knee, cross your left ankle over your right ankle, and put your hands on the floor behind you. Roll up and down from your knee to just under your right butt cheek. Switch legs.
Foam roller for your quads: Lie facedown on the ground and put the foam roller underneath your hips. Lean on your right leg and roll up and down from your hip to your knee. Switch legs.
Foam roller for your back: Sit on the floor with the foam roller on your lower back, leaning your hands behind you for stability. Tighten your abs and gradually bend your knees to move the roller up your back, just below your shoulder blades.
Foam roller for outer thighs: Lie on your side with the foam roller under your right hip. Supporting your abs and glutes for balance, slowly roll down from your hip to your knee. Turn to the reverse side and repeat.
Shoulders and Sides
Foam roller for shoulders and sides: Lie on your back with the foam roller behind your shoulders. Interlock your fingers loosely behind your head and lean your upper back into the foam roller. Brace your abs and glutes for balance, and slowly press into the roller on your left side, raising your right shoulder. Roll from your underarms to the base of your rib cage. Return to the center and switch sides.
Foam roller for butt: Sitting on the foam roller, cross your right leg over your left knee and lean toward the right hip, putting your weight on your hands for support Slowly roll one butt cheek over the roller. Switch sides.
Also referred to as self-myofascial release, foam rolling is essentially a form of self-massage that allows you to apply deep pressure to certain points of the body to release tightness and muscular tension.
The principle is that by applying direct and sweeping high mechanical loads to muscles and tissues, you stretch and massage the underlying tissues. This reduces thickening, adhesion, and tension of the fascia [connective tissue] and muscle and can potentially improve your athletic performance.
Foam rolling can help promote blood flow and break down scar tissue. It could also contribute to maintain normal muscle length, reduce pain and soreness, increase the scale of motion, and aid in recovery. Foam rolling is a great way to help relax your muscles. Even those who are inactive could see benefits, as foam rolling can help lengthen muscles that may have become tight from sitting at a desk all day.
How Often Should You Use a Foam Roller?
Ideally, every day. “The more you foam roll, the more your muscles respond to it,” says Dipple. “Ideally, you should do it daily—as you would stretching—although ease yourself into it by gradually building up the number of sessions you do.”
He recommends dedicating 10 to 20 minutes per session to foam rolling at least once a day to solely get out the knots. “When you find an area of tension, work around it for about 30 seconds using short, slow rolls and follow this up with longer, slower (and more soothing) strokes over the whole length of the muscle.”
As for the hurting thing? Well, it might feel uncomfortable, especially when you first start rolling. “When you’re working an area of tightness, you’re applying your body weight to a tender area so you may well feel some discomfort,” says Furlong. “But if the pain is excruciating, stop immediately.” Furlong also advises seeking advice from a professional before foam rolling if you’re suffering from a serious injury or chronic condition like diabetes.
4 Simple Foam Roller Moves
1. Gluteal muscles
Sit on the foam roller with your knees bent and placed your right ankle on your left knee. With your hands on the floor to keep your balance, roll your body to your right side so that your right gluteal muscles are pressing against the roller. Use your hands and your left foot as leverage as you slowly make small rolls on the right glutes. Switch sides.
2. Iliotibial (IT) Bands
Sit on the foam roller with legs straight out in front of you. With your hands on the floor to keep your balance, roll your body completely to your right side so that your right hip is pressing against the roller. Use your hands as leverage to slowly roll down the side of the leg to the top of the knee and back again, pausing and taking deep breaths at any sore spots. Switch sides.
Sit up with your hamstrings over the foam roller and relax into the roller. Use your feet and hands as support to roll your lower body up and down the length of your tight muscles. The slower you can roll with control the more of a chance for your muscles have to release and relax.
4. Middle back
Lie back on the foam roller with knees bent and the roller positioned across your mid-back. Place your hands behind your head or on the floor to slowly roll along your spine, from the top of the shoulders down to your low back.
Four Foam Roller Mistakes to Avoid
1. Avoid rolling directly onto your lower vertebrae.
Dipple says, “Your lower back muscles will contract to help protect the spine which can cause discomfort or injury.”
2. Do not hold your breath, though it’s intriguing when discomfort hits.
Instead, says Dipple, take long deep breaths as you roll to increase blood flow to the working muscles and derive more of the benefits of foam rolling.
3. Stop rolling evenly on each side.
“If it’s your right leg that has an issue, spend more time on that side,” says Dipple. “Don’t forget your other leg, but don’t worry about doing the same on both sides.” Focus on the muscles and joints that need more TLC, even if they are mostly on one side of your body.
4. Avoid rolling too quickly!
Longer, slower, more regular rolls, while taking deep breaths, will cause your brain to send a message to your muscles to relax.
A foam roller is a self-massage tool that can be utilized pre-run to increase mobility and after the run to speed up recovery. By decreasing muscle tension in chronically tight spots, a foam roller and same tools can produce some of the advantages of deep-tissue massage.
Why Foam Rollers Work
Using a foam roller is a way to perform myofascial release around muscles. “Myofascial” refers to the fascia, the connective tissue that encompasses your muscles and other body parts and allows for movement. This inner webbing can stiffen with repeated motions such as distance running.
Foam rollers can also pinpoint trigger points, which are places in muscles where twists have developed over time. It’s possible to have an outstanding range of motion but still have trigger points that create pain and tightness. Trigger points start as micro-tears that become chronic through a tear-and-repair repetitive cycle, leading to improved tension in the tender muscle.
Stretching a muscle with a knot or trigger point generally, addresses only the healthy muscle tissue. Trigger points respond much better to direct force; a foam roller is one way to safely apply that pressure.
Among the most popular spots for runners to foam roll are the quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, and iliotibial band.
Analysis on foam rollers has found they can increase the span of motion and speed recovery by decreasing pain and soreness. Although there isn’t straightforward large-scale evidence of foam rollers’ effectiveness in preventing injury, it stands to reason that reducing the muscle tension created by trigger points should decrease injury risk and allow for more regular training.
Foam Rolling, Stretching and Dynamic Warm-Up
Preparing your body properly for a training session is very important. Foam rolling and stretching, followed by a comfortable dynamic warm-up is critical to staying injury free, and allowing your body to perform optimally during your workout.
In the last 10 years, we all have seen Foam Rollers of various types in training gyms and fitness centers. Self-massage or self-myofascial release as it is referred to in the fitness profession is the easiest and most economical way you can treat or prevent soft tissue injury, short of going to a massage therapist. Muscle tissue filled with trigger points or knots will not function optimally even after a good warm up. Thus, the reason to practice self-massage using a foam roller.
Using a Foam Roller prior to training will make the muscle tissue more pliable and extensible. The key here is to slowly roll out the muscle areas of the quads, hamstrings, calves, hips, glutes, lats, pecs and back to find the trigger points or tender areas. Rolling out these areas will reduce muscle density and soreness. Once you find a trigger point, spend 45-60 seconds in that area doing short slow rolls over the area until the pain starts to dissipate.
After 5-10 minutes of foam rolling, we then begin the Static Stretch portion of our warm-up. Stretching while your muscle is cold before the dynamic warm-up is now recommended by many top tissue experts. Warm muscles tend to elongate and return to their normal length. Cold muscles actually undergo an increase in length and plastic deformation. Holding the static stretch for approximately 30-45 seconds will optimally elongate the muscle.
I start with my quadriceps first. I perform my first stretch in a stretching cage located in my gym or you can put your leg up on a training table. The key here is to get your heel pressed to your buttocks. If you do not have a cage or training table available to you, use a balance pad or a yoga mat on the floor to put your knee on, on the side you are stretching. Reach behind you and grab the ankle of the leg you are stretching, and pull your heel to your buttocks.
My hamstrings are next. The standing hamstring stretch is easy to do anywhere. Just find a place to put your leg on elevated to about waist level. A training room table, a plyo box or the bars on the inside of a stretching cage. Bend at the waist, grab the back of your calf or ankle and try to touch your nose to your knee and hold that position for 30-45 seconds. Another one l like is standing with feet crossed and legs straight (left over right and then repeat right over left). Bend at the waist and grab your calves or ankles. Slowly pull your nose into your knee and hold for 30-45 seconds, then switch it up (left over right if you first put right over left) for another stretch of 30-45 seconds.
My hips. The Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: Extend one leg out in front of you with your foot flat on the floor. Your upper leg and lower leg should be at a 90-degree angle. Use a balance pad or a yoga mat to put your knee on, on the side you are stretching. Press the knee into the balance pad or mat so it stays firmly in place. Slowly rock forward until you feel the stretch in the quadriceps and hip. Hold that stretch for 30-45 seconds. Another effective hip stretch I use as part of my daily routine is the Pigeon Stretch. Bring the heel of your front leg to the pants pocket on your other leg. This will align your hips and allow you to drive them into the floor, accentuating the stretch. Exhale and lay your torso down over the leg in front of you while the leg behind you should remain as straight as possible.
Stretching your calves: Keep your right leg forward, foot flat on the floor, and extend your left leg straight back, placing your heel flat on the floor. Don’t bend your back knee. Lean into the wall until you feel the stretch in the calf of the straight leg. Hold for 30 – 45 seconds and switch sides.
The last part of my warm-up is a dynamic or active stretch. I begin by warming up my quads and lower body. I begin this portion of my warm-up with the bodyweight lunge walk. Take short lunge steps to begin with and gradually increase the length of your stride as you begin to get warm. Do this 10-15 times for each leg.
The next one on my list is called, walking knee to chest. As I walk slowly down the field or track grab one knee at a time and pull to my chest. I like to alternate legs. Do this 10-15 times each side.
Body weight side squats are next to really warm up my quads, glutes, and hamstrings. These I do for 10 reps to each side.
We now move to focusing on our hamstrings. The hamstring kicks is a calisthenics, stretching, and warm-up exercise that primarily targets the hamstrings and to a lesser degree also targets the glutes and outer thighs. Begin walking down the field or track and alternate kicking each leg as high as you can out in front of you trying to touch the outstretched opposite hand. Ex. kick the right leg into the left hand and vice versa. Alternate legs for 10 reps each side.
And finally, I like to finish off my dynamic warm-up with side band walks. I position an exercise band just below both knees and begin to step to the right, followed by the left. I do this for 12-15 reps. I then return taking steps to the left followed by the right for 12-15 reps. This will really do a job on warming up my adductors.
This is my basic dynamic warm up. It takes just 5-10 minutes, but really finishes off a great warm up or pre-hab of foam rolling, static stretching, and active stretching, and really preps my lower body for a good workout, which may include leg strength training such as single leg squats, plyo training such as box jumps, or sprint training. Give this quick 15-20 minute pre-hab warm-up a try and feel the difference in your workouts and your recovery.Foam Rolling, Stretching and Dynamic Warm-Up