How Does Foam Rolling Actually Work?
Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release (SMR) or self-massage. When done correctly, it can remove adhesions within your muscles. Those adhesions cause the tight feeling after you increase your weight or go that extra mile. This seems harmless, but the impact can limit your range of motion to the point that a steady hand applying eyeliner is nearly impossible.
Foam rollers utilize the body’s natural response to pressure points. By applying pressure with your foam roller, you can speed up recovery and return your muscles to a more elastic state. If foam rolling is something you’re just starting to do, for the first two to three weeks only use the roller every other day. After your body is more comfortable with the exercise, you can use it daily.
How To Use Your Foam Roller The Right Way
When you perform SMR, it’s important to make sure you roll along the whole length of the muscle that you’re working on. If you target your hamstring, you need to roll from your hip to your knee. This also applies to your quads and IT band. As you roll, some areas will be more sensitive than others. Be careful not to overwork them, and always take into consideration that you could unintentionally increase inflammation.
With consistent and correctly applied SMR they will become less tender. You don’t need to roll directly where you feel pain–oftentimes, pain is an echo of a tension imbalance elsewhere. Therefore, try major connecting muscles in lieu of the sensitive spots.
In addition to feeling better, another benefit to regular SMR is improved muscle performance. A more flexible muscle will be able to exert more power. The flip-side is that a less flexible muscle has less range of motion and less stored energy. SMR used in conjunction with cardio and strength training can greatly improve your overall performance, regardless of your fitness level.
A foam roller can also double as a yoga assist and an ab workout tool. The key in each instance is technique. Incorrectly using the foam roller can cause more harm than the injury you were originally trying to alleviate.
When foam rolling, remember to focus on your posture and not roll too quickly. In order to correctly perform the exercises, you’ll need to hold your body in specific positions on the roller. If you disregard your form, you risk hurting yourself. Rolling too quickly is similarly harmful. Your muscles need time to adapt and react to what’s happening. Additionally, you should never use the roller on your lower back. Instead, find the origin of your pain and address that area.
Getting Started With Your Foam Rolling Exercises
Before you hop on a roller, take a deep breath. Maintain a pattern of slow and regular breathing while you roll. The five exercises below address common problem areas, with descriptions so you can avoid over-rolling. Try them post-workout, before you wind down for the night, or while you’re watching a movie (just make sure your muscles are warm). Repeat each one up to 10 times.
Hamstrings and Glutes
How: Sit on the floor, legs extended in front of you. Place the roller directly under your thighs, perpendicular to your legs. Support yourself with your hands (placed behind you). When you start to roll, use your arms to go back-and-forth so the foam roller passes from slightly above your knees to the bottom of your glutes or hamstrings.
How: Begin seated as you did with the glutes exercise, but place the roller under your calves. Lift yourself off of the ground so your body weight is resting on your hands and the roller. Move the roller up-and-down, rolling from just above your ankles to below your knees.
Disclaimer: Foam rolling is frequently suggested as a way to combat IT band issues. First, try to work on your glutes; this is a very strong piece of tissue and direct manipulation should only be done after trying indirect manipulation.
How: Carefully align your right hip against the roller (placed perpendicular to your body). Cross your left leg over your right knee (foot to the floor). Keep both hands on the ground for support. Roll your thigh back-and-forth over the foam roller from above your knee to below your hip. Use your right arm to help with the motion. Switch when ready, reversing to work on your left side.
How: Lay on your stomach with your foam roller directly under your thighs. Support your weight with your forearms flat on the floor and your feet suspended. Tighten your core and (keeping your abs tight) use your arms to draw the foam roller from your knees to your pelvic bone.
How: Cross your arms over your chest. Put the roller under your shoulder blades and lift your hips up so that your body is level. Instead of rolling, apply pressure to the tight area for increments of up to 60 seconds.
Using Your Foam Roller To Fight Your Problem Areas
Everyone has their own body tightness and pains throughout their body. The muscle groups listed above are just some of the common problem areas that people struggle with. If you have issues in other areas, you can use the foam roller to alleviate some of the pain and tightness you are experiencing while improving your ability to perform.
Foam rolling works best as a cumulative solution. It may feel good to roll your muscles two times but that’s not really going to have a major impact on your long-term muscular health. Just be sure, when you’re identifying where you need to roll, that you’re rolling your muscles out safely and not causing further damage. If you’re unsure, consult a physical therapist or personal trainer.