If you've ever experienced sore, stiff muscles, and let's be honest, who hasn't, then foam rolling may be just the ticket for you. I loosely call it a muscle miracle worker because using it when my muscles are sore gives me that "ah" feeling.
The Foam Roll
If you've never set foot in a gym or have never had to go through physical therapy, you may not have the slightest clue as to what a foam roller is.
A foam roll is a dense piece of foam in the shape of a cylinder that is usually between 5-6 inches in diameter and usually 1-3 feet in length. They are available in low, medium, and high densities and some newer options include rumble or grid patterns. You can also purchase massage roll sticks that are great for travel.
The foam roll is designed to help prevent and eliminate muscle knots as discussed in this article, but some people also include the roll in their exercise routines.
The average user would benefit from a medium to high density roll. Low density rolls are usually reserved for children (under medical supervision) or areas of the body being treated under rehabilitation therapy by a physical therapist due to injury. Higher density rolls are not always recommended for a beginner. Since the high density does not give as much when body weight is applied, more pressure gets applied to the muscle, and can, in turn, be a bit more painful. It is usually recommended that beginners start with a medium density and work up to a high density roller. Rollers with rumble or grid patterns are usually chosen by more experienced users, such as athletes or those who use them in exercise routines.
If you are new to foam rolling, you can find a large selection of video tutorials online, but the easiest way to get started is by selecting a foam roll that is sold with an instructional chart and DVD.
What Is Foam Rolling and Why Should You Do It?
Foam rolling is a form of self-acupressure and self-myofascial release. If you've never heard of either of those terms, then there's a good chance you've never had a massage (or simply didn't care to know because the massage felt so great on those sore muscles). It's basically some of the techniques that massage therapists use to give you that "ah" feeling. The feeling occurs because they are working the muscles to release tension and are breaking up the knots that are causing the soreness. Next to a trained and certified massage therapist, foam rolling can be the best way to prevent and eliminate muscle knots.
Aging, injury, prolonged inactivity, and over activity all have damaging effects on our muscles and can reduce flexibility and range of motion. Muscle adhesions, trigger points, or muscles knots, whatever you choose to call them, are quite common and start as harmless micro-tears in the muscle fibers. As the process of tearing the muscle and your body repairing it repeats, the damage in that spot increases until you develop a knot. This is when the pain, soreness and stiffness begins. Common areas where this can occur include: the front and back of your thighs, the outside of the thigh, called the IT Band, your hips, and your upper back.
You can increase your flexibility and range of motion by increasing the elasticity in the muscles. Foam rolling works by applying pressure using your own body weight to break up muscle knots. Breaking up the knots helps to increase blood flow and also increases muscle elasticity.
How To Foam Roll
Place your body on the roll while slowly rolling up and down the targeted muscle group. There are no time restrictions stating how long you should spend on each group nor are there restrictions on how often you can foam roll. It's more based on how it feels to you. Most people roll an area for 20-30 seconds, new rollers sometimes roll as little as 10-15 seconds, while regular and experienced rollers go as long as 60. If you have particularly sore spots, pause on that spot for a few extra seconds.
It is recommended to foam roll before and after your workouts, but you can also roll whenever you are experiencing soreness or stiffness in your muscles. Also, you should always stretch the area after the foam rolling session is complete.
Areas highly responsive to foam rolling are: the upper back, the hamstrings, the adductors (inside upper leg), the quadriceps, the illotibial band (IT band, outside of the thigh), the gluteal muscles, and the back, side, and front of the calves.
You should be aware that if you have a particularly tight muscle area or are new to foam rolling, some areas may borderline on feeling painful instead of feeling good. This should ease with more frequent use of the foam roll. You should never roll over a joint or boney area and foam rolling should never bruise.
If you are recovering from an injury you should seek approval from your doctor prior to foam rolling or seek assistance from a trained physical therapist. If you experience severe pain or bruising, discontinue use and contact your doctor.
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