You train, eat healthy, get plenty of rest, and yet your muscles still get sore and tight. It can be frustrating to feel great about your workout, but still have the aches and tightness that can come with your training success.
That is where the magic of foam rolling can help.
For those of you that have not tried foam rolling, there are many benefits:
- Increased blood flow
- Improved movement
- Better range of motion
- Improved recovery time
Foam rolling is a myofascial release technique. In simplest terms, myofascial release is a process of applying tension to the muscles over a period of time that allows them to relax. This in turn improves blood flow to the muscles, which helps bring in nutrients that help muscles recover from training.
Self-massage with a foam roller is a great way to achieve myofascial release. There are many foam rollers available, so locating one is not too hard. Whether you get one that is very firm, or soft, is going to depend on your needs. While there are articles that advocate one form over the other, the end is really your preference and the results that you obtain. If within your budget, we recommend two – one that is firm, and one in a soft-to moderate range. In this manner, you can use the roller that best suits your particular muscle need.
When to foam roll
You can foam roll any time. It can be part of your morning wake-up routine, at the end of a long day to help relax, or added to the beginning or end of a training session. Adding it to the beginning of a training session will help warm up your muscles and improve the blood flow prior to your exercises. After your workout can help smooth back out tight muscles that have been stressed during your training motions. Unlike stretching before a workout, which can lessen the degree of muscle contraction capacity that will then reduce your lifting ability, foam rolling will not likely degrade your workouts. Moreover, warming up your muscles before a workout will help reduce the risks of injury.
How to foam roll
The back: Foam rolling your back is likely the easiest muscle group to work, and in addition to warming up your muscles, also can reduce stress. The motion is simple, place the foam roller on the floor, and lie back onto it. Using your legs, roll your body along the roller, focusing on tight, sore areas. You can rock your body to focus on specific sides, cross your arms in a hugging motion to put more emphasis between your back and the roller, or stretch out your arms to increase the muscle stretch. Be careful to support your neck, and avoid putting excessive stress directly on your spine. As with any physical activity, listen to your body. There are tight sore muscles and physical pain – pay attention to the difference.
The legs: The sides of the thighs are a typical area that benefits from foam rolling, as it is often tight and can lead to injury if not properly maintained. The IT band, which runs from your hips to your knees will benefit from the myofascial release, as will your lower back. While lying on your side, work the roller up and down your outer thigh. Do not be surprised if this is painful – this area can be tight! Use your hands and feet to balance your body as you roll. Let the weight of your body pressing into the roller do all the work – pause on tight areas, and just let the muscle relax.
For your quadriceps, you will lie face down. Put the roller either at your hips, or just above your knees. Using your arms, move your body to roll the roller up and down your legs. Pause on the tight spots, and let them relax. If you are in something like a cobra yoga pose, then you have the motion for this one right.
The calves: You would be surprised how often these are tight. This is an easy area to address with a foam roller. Sit upright with your legs straight in front. Place the roller under your lower legs, and using your arms, move your legs up and down the roller. Like the thighs and back, let the weight of your body press into the roller. If you need to push more into the roller, you can work one leg at a time, while you push your leg into the roller with your hands. As always, pause on the tight sore spots, and let the weight of your body smooth out the muscle.
The shoulders: These can require a bit of practices, but they too will benefit from foam rolling. Like with your outer thighs, lie on your side, with the foam roller just below your shoulder, where it rounds out back into your arm. Using your hands and legs, move your shoulder onto the roller. Do not go to far, our you will come off the roller! Just work the shoulder slowly, letting your weight do all the work.
Other body parts: The method of foam rolling is the same – steady rolling pressure. Here is where we have to stop giving specifics, and just say to you “figure out the pose, and roll.” There are also many hand held rolling devices that you can buy to help with smaller muscle groups.
By foam rolling, your muscles will get the benefits of myofascial release, you will see improvements in your training, and will likely overall feel better. Best of all, you can obtain this for only a small investment in personal training equipment.