As a change of pace this week let’s look at the recovery technique known as foam rolling.
As the name implies, foam rolling is the act of position one’s body on a foam tube and rolling over different muscles or tissues. I have mentioned foam rolling before when listing different recovery techniques, but today I’ll explain this topic in depth.
The technical term for foam rolling is “self-myofascial release”.
Our muscles are encased in soft tissue known as fascia, hence myofascial release.
Very often, training, or alternatively, inactivity, can cause muscle tension, soreness, and reduced blood flow through the tissue. By massaging (rolling or kneading) the fascia, blood flow will improve and the soreness should dissipate.
The act of foam rolling can be very painful in the moment, particularly when you roll over a muscle you used recently training (known as a “trigger point”).
I always joke with my clients that foam rolling “is the only time you’ll see me cry”. If you read my previous post that first touched upon foam rolling, you’ll recall that I have a metal Trigger Point roller that can be frozen, resulting in a more intense feeling.
Now, just to clarify, I am not a “no pain, no gain” type of trainer. I always like my clients to feel like they can complete a few more repetitions or intervals to ensure they are not overtraining. But, I will still tell them that, as long as they are rolling on muscle and not bone or cartilage, the immediate resulting sensations may not be pleasant.
If you stick with it for long enough however, you should notice improved recovery, primarily due to less time spent feeling stiff and sore after workouts.
The most common parts of the body to roll are the abductors (the outer thigh…particularly the IT Band), the adductors (inner thigh), hamstrings and glutes, and the length of the back. But, if you search around online, and are willing to crawl around on the floor for long enough, you can find a way to roll almost every muscle in your body.
I tend to use a softer roller in the morning to warm up my body for the day and save my metal roller for before bed to really dig in and massage my sore muscles from the day.
Foam rolling is not only for recovery from intense exercise however.
A quick anecdotal testament to the efficacy of foam rolling: I had a middle-aged female client that had extreme low back pain her entire life. Doctors, chiropractors, and even physical therapists were not able to give her any relief. We tried strengthening her core, we tried improving hamstring and hip flexibility, but nothing worked. Finally, at the end of one session, I had her roll out her thighs. When she woke up the next day, her back pain was gone. No amount of strengthening, stretching, or resting helped as much as a simple self-myofascial release.
I have some of my beginning clients lay on a foam roller, lining their spine up with it. Even this will help alleviate muscle tightness throughout the chest and back. And it may even reveal postural issues stemming from the spinal alignment
So, next time you are at a gym that has a foam roller, try taking a seat on it and slowing rolling along your back, thighs, hamstrings, glutes, or calves. It may be awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning but the benefits are definitely worth it in my professional opinion.