By the end of this article I hope to convince you that not only is the foam roller one of the best tools in the health and fitness industry, but also that you will not be able to finish an exercise session without first "rolling". So what exactly is a foam roller, and why is it that I am so outwardly obsessed with them? To answer this question let me first explain HOW you may benefit from a foam roller. Myofascial release, aka self massage, is the process of decreasing tightness and tone in your muscles. When you exercise tiny tears develop in your muscles. This process is perfectly normal and is exactly how muscle is built. When you finish exercising these small tears begin to heal. As the healing process progresses scar tissue and adhesions begin to form. If not stretched properly this scar tissue builds up and leads to a concept all too familiar to many of us, muscle "tightness". When our muscles become tight they don't function as optimally as they can. This can then lead to more tightness, pain, and injury. In order to avoid this pesky, and sometimes very painful process these adhesions need to be broken down. Enter foam roller...
What is a Foam Roller
I like to think of a foam roller as a meat tenderizer for our muscles. If you have ever cooked a piece of chicken or beef before there is a good chance that you have used a mallet or rolling-pin to tenderize the cut of meat before cooking it. We do this to make the meat more tender, or essentially pliable. Think of the foam roller acting much like the rolling-pin you use to tenderize your chicken breast. The process in which the foam roller rolls over your muscle belly aids in breaking down the scar tissue and adhesions you acquired secondary to your workout, making your muscle more pliable, hence less tight.
So How Do I Roll?
The concept is actually relatively simple as the name suggest. Literally, you roll on a cylinder shaped piece of foam. Although foam rollers are used to aid in increasing the extensibility of almost any muscle group, the most popular are typically the larger muscles in the lower extremities, e.g. quads, hamstrings, glutes. To start I suggest laying down a workout or yoga mat so that you aren't lying directly on the floor. This will aid in cushioning the surface that you will be lying on. Next simply choose the muscle that you would like to roll. For example, if you feel tightness in your left quadricep muscle I would lay on my stomach with the roller under my left leg. You would then literally roll up and down the length of the foam roller along the surface area of your left quadricep. I typically advise people to spend anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes on any one specific muscle especially if you're new to rolling as it often times is not the most comfortable sensation.
Why Does It Hurt?
As I said before don't be surprised, worried, or hesitant if the muscle being rolled feels less like a massage, and more like an interrogation technique. Remember you are trying to break up all these small adhesions which is not typically a comfortable sensation. You are essentially realigning all the tiny muscle fibers that you disrupted during your workout. Although the sensation is less than desirable while completing the activity, your body is going to love you for it when you stand up and feel less tight and more flexible!