What does foam rolling do?
Foam roll the pain away...
Training with intensity, such as with bodybuilding, means that you are tearing down your muscles and causing them to contract a lot. It is true that this will make you stronger and larger but you will be also building up scar tissue and developing adhesions which can lead to future problems.
If you let scar tissue and adhesions build up without treatment you are heading for a serious injury. Imagine that your muscle is a band. If you tie a knot in the middle and continue to stretch the band then the knot gets tighter and the band stretches. Eventually the band will snap (ouch!).
You can take good care of your muscle soft tissue with self myofascial release techniques. Self what? Self myofascial release, which is often called the “poor man’s massage” is a hands on technique that has been used for years.
You can use a foam roller to provide you with an effective self myofascial technique. By rolling the foam roller under specific muscle groups you will be able to find areas that are tender and then you can maintain pressure here for around 30-60 seconds.
What Does Foam Rolling Do?
If you can afford the time and expense then a therapist is always going to be best for massages but a foam roller provides a good alternative. One of the first things that you can use a foam roller for is on your calves.
Your calves come in for a battering in normal life and this can be from the way that you sit in a chair to the shoes that you wear. Your calves will be in a shortened position most of the time and this limits the range of motion of your ankles and this spreads up to the rest of your body.
Another good use of the foam roller is for your quadriceps. Again from bodybuilding and life your quadriceps can become shortened and this will have an effect on your hips and will apply additional stress to your lower back.
You can also use a foam roller for your upper back and your thoracic spine. This area of your body is designed for extension and rotation but a lot of the postures that you adopt will cause this area to get stuck and self myofascial release can really help with this.
Using foam rolling as a self myofascial release technique will make injury prone muscles more resilient. If you do it properly then the benefits far outweigh those that you can achieve with just stretching. Consistent foam rolling will get rid of adhesions in your muscle tissues as well as improve your posture.
When Should You Use A Foam Roller?
The ideal scenario would be to use a foam roller for self myofascial release before your workout and after it. It will provide a dynamic warm up for you as well as a very good cool down.
If you are going to foam roll before your workout then do it first before any stretching or cardio. It will get the blood flowing and help to reduce muscle tension.
If you want to use foam rolling as part of your cool down then this is good. It will help to flush out the blood that has pooled in the muscles that you have worked and will enable oxygen and fresh nutrients to start to heal you.
Don’t have the time to foam roll before and after your workout? Then go for a foam rolling session before you head to bed. A five minute foam roll before bed can improve your overall healing and have you ready for your next day of training. There really isn’t a bad time to get in a good foam rolling session, so whenever works for you will benefit your body for the long run and help you can avoid soreness and/or injury.
How To Foam Roll
To help your calves with a foam roller place one leg on the roller and then place the other leg on top of it. You will then need to raise your hips and roll the foam up to your knee. Look for tender spots and if you find one then stop and hold the position for around 30-60seconds.
Roll through the area again at least another 4 times. To conclude you can place your hips on the ground and rotate your legs from side to side 4 times.
For your quadriceps lie down like a plank and place the roller just above the knee. You then need to slowly roll down towards your hips. If you discover a tender spot then hold as before. Then continue for another 4 rolls and conclude by bending the knee 4 times.
For the upper back sit down and then lay back so that the roller is under your shoulder blades. Use your hands to support your head and lean back. Then raise your hips and roll towards your shoulders. Be careful not to apply pressure to your neck here.
If there is any tenderness then stop and hold for 30-60 seconds. Conclude by keeping your hips up and rolling through the spinal area for at least 4 times.
Foam rolling can be applied to many different areas to avoid injury, or help with stubborn sore spots and should be done daily for proper body maintenance.
Which type of foam roller should I buy?
There are a few different foam rollers on the market these days. Starting with an everyday soft foam roller to an aggressive knobby foam roller.
Start with a standard foam roller, you will find these in almost any store with a sports section, even a Walmart. Usually white or blue in colour and labelled as a soft/low to medium density foam. This is ideal for everyday maintenance and easier on someone starting out as foam rolling can be somewhat painful at first.
Moving up you will find a black foam roller, looks the same but black moulded foam. This is much harder density for someone a little more advanced in foam rolling. I would almost opt for this first if you are somewhat in shape as it will be better for digging into those muscles and connective tissue over the very soft standard roller which many athletes will out grow fast. If you can afford only one, grab the black one but just be prepared for it to work a little harder on your body.
Then you will find the odd, more advanced rollers like The Grid and The Rumble Roller. These have grooves, or in the case of the Rumble Roller, large knobbies almost as if you are using a truck mud tire as a roller. These claim to give more deep tissue release but I have yet to have any luck with rolling them smoothly as the knobby style makes for a tractor tire like movement which just feels clunky when trying to properly roll out a certain area. These I would have to say are for the far advanced foam rollers out there that have good body control when foam rolling… I am not there yet obviously!
In summary and in my opinion, grab yourself a black, higher density foam roller as it will be the best bang for your buck long term and roll daily!