There are many different stretching exercises out there and all have similar goals: increase flexibility, improve performance and reduce muscle soreness. One of the more recent and effective additions to the world of stretching is foam rolling. Due to a recent injury, I have spent a lot of time rolling and learning first hand about its benefits and I have been amazed at the results.
What is Foam Rolling?
Foam rollers are cylinders about 6 inches in diameter and usually about 36 inches long that you lie on and roll over your muscles to help to loosen tight muscles. Foam rolling actually increases circulation so the connective tissue and muscles receive more oxygen and water than stretching alone. In addition, foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that acts similarly to massage. Meaning not only do you get the benefits of working out muscle knots and tightness, but you also get the same reduction in stress releasing hormones and improved mood and relaxation that you get from a massage. Some call it the ‘poor man’s massage’.
A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research documented the benefits of foam rolling before a workout. The study tracked 2 groups of active people: one group used a foam roller before working out and the other group did not. The group that used the rollers not only felt less sore after their workouts, they also felt that the workouts were not as difficult.
Foam rolling is not only beneficial for those who work out, it is also great for anyone who sits for long periods of time. Long bouts of sitting are not good for our bodies (that is a whole other blog topic!) but for most of us, it can’t be avoided. Foam rolling is also an excellent way to reverse the harmful effects of long-term sitting.
Tips of How and When to Roll:
- How to roll. Either find a trigger point (painful spot) and apply pressure, or roll along the muscle (like a massage). A combination of both usually works best.
- Roll before and after a workout.
- Hydrate before you roll. In general, hydrated tissue is resilient and more susceptible to the benefits of rolling while pliable dehydrated tissue is glued-down and sticky.
- Do it slowly. You want slow and purposeful movements. When you hit a painful area, stay on it – that is where you need to focus.
- Move in multiple directions. It’s not just up-and-down; muscles and fascia attach at different angles and even in spirals, so roll in different directions.
- Make it a daily habit. Even if you aren’t at the gym, make a point of rolling those muscles. Think of it like flossing – it is daily maintenance.
- Don’t foam roll on joints.
Personally, foam rolling is the single best thing I have done to combat my injuries. The benefit is immediate; with each rolling session, I feel noticeable improvement. I plan to make foam rolling a permanent part of my daily routine in hopes of not only speeding up my recovery, but reducing my chance for future injuries.
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