Written by Stephanie Dane
You might have seen people rolling around on the ground the gym floors with a long, dense round piece of foam. Maybe you’ve been intrigued, confused or a little bit of both. Or maybe you want to begin your own foam rolling, but aren’t sure where to begin.
We’ve outlined the basics to help you better understand WHAT it is, WHO would benefit, WHY to practice it, and WHEN is the best time to roll.
SO…. WHAT IS IT?
Foam rolling has become increasingly popular in recent years amongst athletes as means to increase flexibility, prevent injury, break up lactic acid which causes muscle soreness thereby allowing for faster recovery.
Foam rolling is an affordable and convenient alternative to massage therapy because of the healing benefits of soft tissue. Also known as myofascial release, this method of self-massage helps stretch and massage the underlying tissue to release tightness and muscular tension.
WHY PRACTICE FOAM ROLLING?
There are numerous reasons athletes and average people incorporate foam rolling into their lifestyles and fitness routines, with some of the top reasons begin:
Increase flexibility and range of motion
Reduce exercise related soreness
Prevents injury and helps with faster recovery
Money Saver (DIY Massage!)
WHO SHOULD FOAM ROLL?
Foam rolling is great not only for athletes… but for the average person as well! If you sit for a good part of your day (desk job, long commutes, students, etc) you likely end the day feeling tired, sore and tight. Foam rolling can help increase your energy and re-motivate you to power through your workout or whatever the rest of your day holds. It’ll also help loosen up those muscles that are prone to injury thanks to extensive sitting.
If you suffer from a serious injury, have a chronic condition or are pregnant, it’s always important to seek advice from a professional before beginning a foam rolling regime. Individuals with osteoporosis should avoid foam rolling entirely.
WHEN SHOULD I FOAM ROLL?
Rolling is great to add to your stretching routine, but should not replace it. Start out with one day a week and gradually increase from there; ideally, foam rolling should be practiced daily. Foam rolling may feel uncomfortable especially when first starting out, so it’s a good idea to ease yourself into it and slowly build up the frequency and duration of your sessions. When rolling an area of tension, it’s common to feel some discomfort… but you should not feel excruciating pain. If you do, stop immediately. YOU know your body best; if something doesn’t feel right, listen to yourself!
Regularly rolling before your workout will help prepare your muscles for the workout. It’s a great idea to foam roll post-workout to aid with muscle recovery.
FOAM ROLLER EXERCISES
Try these basic foam rolling movements to target some of those major muscle groups:
Hamstrings & Glutes
Thanks to all the sitting we do on a regular basis via desk jobs and commuting, tight hamstrings plague the majority of individuals. Consequently, it’s pretty common to experience low back pain as a by-product of those tight hammies and glutes.
Enter: Foam Rolling!
Sit on the floor with the foam roller long ways underneath your legs. Your arms will provide support and help modify how much pressure is applied to your legs. The more body weight you transfer to your arms, the easier it’ll be on your hamstrings.
Roll your body along the roller, from your glutes down to just above your knees.
Those front leg muscles are an important part of maintaining balance, so be sure to give them equal attention as your hammies!
To do this, lie facedown on the floor with your legs straight and a foam roller under your quads. Prop yourself up on your forearms. Roll from the tops of your legs to the tops of your knees (Feet stay off off the floor through the entire movement).
Tight iliotibial (IT) bands can cause lower back and knee pain. It’s most common (but not exclusively found) in runners. To roll out your IT band, you’ll want to position yourself with the side of your leg on top of the roller. Take some pressure off the IT band directly by transferring your body weight to your arms as you roll from just below your hip to the top of your knee and keeping your other foot on the ground so that your opposite leg supports you.
The average person - athletic or not - sits a lot. Running errands, driving in a car, sitting at a desk, etc… the upper back gets tight and foam rolling is a great way to loosen it up!
Place the foam roller perpendicular to your body and lean your upper back against it. Place your hands directly behind your head, lift your hips off the floor, and gently begin to roll from the top of your shoulder blades to the middle of your back.
Avoid the lower back; those muscles will contract to protect the spine, which could cause discomfort or lead to injury.
DO & DON’T BASICS
Ease into a foam rolling routine
Make your movements slow
Spend more time on the tight areas
Before and after a workout
After an extended period of sitting
Hold your breath
Spend too much time on sore spots/knots - 20 seconds max is plenty
Roll over your lower back
Push through the pain. Stop if you feel pain.
Foam rollers can be bought virtually anywhere these days and are relatively expensive. If you’re not a gym-goer or stretched for time, invest in a foam roller you can keep at home and use at your leisure!
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