Athletes use foam rolling to help release the built-up tension in their muscles. Foam rolling can also be used to increase range of motion (ROM). But how does it work and how to do it correctly?
Foam rolling first came to prominence in the 1960s, when it was a practice used by physical therapists on patients – without foam rollers. Back then, it was known under a different name called Myofascial Release (MFR), but it used the same principles as modern day foam rolling. MFR focused on muscle relaxation and improving blood and lymph fluid circulation in the body,
Eventually, foam rollers were invented and the practice became known as Self Myofascial Release (SMR). It works under the same principles as MFR, but instead of therapists doing the work – patients use their own body mass to apply pressure to sore areas using a foam roller.
Benefits of foam rolling
In a nutshell, foam rolling (SMR) is a form of self massage. Massage has been shown to have a number of benefits, especially for athletes. Benefits of foam rolling include:
- Reduced muscle tension.
- Improved circulation.
- Stimulation of the lymphatic system.
- Reduction of stress hormones.
- Increased joint mobility and flexibility (ROM).
- Improved skin tone (reduced cellulite).
- Improved recovery of soft tissue injuries.
When you work out, your muscles develop micro tears in the tissue. Over longer periods of time, this can lead to structural imbalances, which can lead to decreased performance and uncomfortable pain. Massage has been used by people for centuries to alleviate these type of issues. For many athletes foam rolling is an cheap and really effective tool is used to reduce muscle tension and soreness, which leads to improved performance.
Foam rolling works in the same way as massage, however instead of another person doing it, you have to use your own bodyweight on a foam roller to apply pressure on the areas with most tension. Foam rolling increases blood flow in the area where high-tension is present and ‘releases’ inflamed or scarred tissue.
Combining foam rolling with stretching before your workout has shown to improve the muscle length-tension relationship – a claim that muscle fibre length is at least partially responsible for improved peak torque in pushing movements. So basically, combining stretching with foam rolling can increase your muscle strength.
Another benefit of foam rolling that is often overlooked is the psychological effect. The feeling of relaxation you get after foam rolling is possible to boost your performance.
Foam rolling has also been shown to be a great way to improve, prevent and even get rid of cellulite entirely. A study at Dermatology Research and Practice showed that on average, cellulite was reduced by 4 – 5.7cm, with some subjects showing reductions of more than 10 cm in perimeter.
Although the findings were positive, it’s worth nothing that patients had daily treatment of 4-hours per day over a 2 week period.
Foam rolling can be beneficial to anyone who exercises or works a physical job. It has been shown to improve performance, increase the range of motion around a joint, aid recovery and relieve pain. Athletes in any sport or activity that involves strength, power, endurance or balance would benefit from foam rolling, especially in sports like:
- Athletics disciplines
- Martial Artists
How to use a foam roller
Using a foam roller for the first time can be intimidating, especially if it feel like you’re doing it wrong. First of all, if the discomfort is too much you’re likely doing it wrong. You should feel “good pain”, similar to getting a nice massage when your body is tense. Don’t risk injury by pushing through the pain. Instead try different body positions and make slight adjustments until you find the most comfortable technique to do it.
Follow these steps to make foam rolling effective:
- Locate the sore or tight muscle area.
- Put your body onto the foam roller until you reach a point of discomfort (but not pain) and hold it there.
- Use your body and the foam roller to “roll out” the affected area.
- Do it for 20–30 seconds.
- The pressure by itself can provide benefits, but you the best results are achieved by rolling slowly back and forth to properly stimulate the area.
- Continue to roll out the area slowly along the muscle with the foam roller. You can stop and hold the areas that need more focus.
Foam roller exercises
Here are 8 best foam roller exercises for different body parts that you can do at home or in the gym. All instructions are provided by Ana Gonzalez – a certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and an REI employee.
Sit on the floor and extend your leg straight out in front of you. Place the foam roller under your calf, while keeping your other foot on the floor with your knee bent. Use your arms to lift yourself up from the floor slightly and start rolling. Repeat on both legs.
Iliotibial (IT) Band
Lie down on the floor on your side and place the foam roller under the side of your quad muscle. Step over with your other leg and place your foot on the floor for balance. Use your arms to help you roll back and forth along the outside of your thigh, just above your knee, but below your hip.
Lie down facing the floor and place the foam roller under your quadriceps. You can either roll out both quads at once or alternate. Use your arms to help you roll forward and back.
Lie down on the floor facing up and place the foam roller under your thigh. Roll forward and back, while using your arms to assist you.
Lie down facing the floor and extend one leg out. Place the foam roller under that leg, near your groin. Use your arms to assist you and roll out your inner thigh.
Gluteus Maximus (Glutes)
Sit on the foam roller with your knees bent and both feet on the ground. Use your arms to assist you with balance, then lift one leg and place it on your knee. Roll out forwards and backwards, then repeat on the other side.
Lie down on the floor and place the foam roller below your shoulder blades, in the middle of your back. Support your head by placing both hands on the back of your neck. Lift your bottom off the floor, bend your knees and start rolling forward and backward.
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
Lie down on the floor on your side and place the foam roller under your armpit. Extend your arm in line with the direction of rolling and bend your leg on the opposite side for support. Roll back and forth from your armpit to the middle of your torso, then repeat on the other side.
This article first appeared on GYMNASIUMPOST.com on 19th May, 2020.