What is Foam Rolling?

December 3, 2021

Foam rolling — it’s something you’ve probably noticed your fellow gym-goers doing at some point or another. This self-myofascial release (SMR) technique is gaining popularity for the benefits it offers both pre- and post-workout. 

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of foam rolling and how you can get started incorporating it into your routine. 

foam rolling

How it works

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage using a lightweight, compressed piece of foam. They usually come in the shape of a cylinder, though there’s various designs out there. You can find foam rollers in different sizes and levels of firmness at an inexpensive price.

This SMR technique is thought to release the fascia, the thin tissue that connects our muscles together. Myofascialrelease.com describes the fascia as “a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider’s web or a sweater.” It goes on to say:

“Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption.”

When the fascia around our muscles is healthy and relaxed, it moves without restriction, which means efficient and unrestricted movement. However, most of us have tightness and imbalances in certain muscles. Over time, this can cause the fascia to lose its pliability, and adhesions and knots can form. Foam rolling is a simple and effective way to deliver fresh, oxygenated blood to the fascia so that you can move with greater ease.

 

Benefits of foam rolling

  • Increases mobility and range of motion
  • Restores healthy tissue
  • Eases muscle soreness and speeds up recovery
  • Increases blood flow to muscle, tissue, and joints
  • Reduces risk of tennis-related injuries
  • Improves posture
  • Helps free up knots and adhesions
  • Relaxes the nervous system
  • Increases circulation

How to get started

Foam rolling can be done before or after your workout. It helps get your body ready by decreasing muscle tension, increasing circulation and allowing for more range of motion. Post-workout, it can help enhance your recovery.

To find the foam roller that’s right for you, consider the area you’d like to target. A larger foam roller may be your best bet for focusing on your lower body. For smaller body parts, such as the wrists, smaller foam rollers will deliver the greatest benefit.

Wondering how to get started? The lower body can benefit big-time, since it contains a lot of fascia. Consider foam rolling the calves, quads, hamstrings and/or glutes. Simply place the foam roller on the floor and position the body part you’d like to target on top of it. Slowly roll back and forth, allowing your body weight to apply pressure to your muscles.

Foam rolling exercises can be done on both sides for one to two minutes. If you find a tender spot, pause and hold pressure on it for 30 to 60 seconds. Remember to take it slow and concentrate on breathing to help you relax! Foam rolling isn’t all relaxation — it can actually hurt if your muscles are tight or sore. It’s best to start with light pressure and build yourself up to something more challenging as time goes on.

Important tips:

  • If you’re foam rolling to aid in injury recovery (rather than injury prevention), consult your doctor and/or physical therapist first.
  • Never roll directly on a joint. This one is super important, so let us repeat: Never roll directly on a joint! Foam rolling is for your muscles.
  • Make sure your motions are slow, controlled and consistent.
  • Don’t overwork one area.
  • Foam rolling can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t cause pain. If it does, it’s best to stop immediately.
  • Stretch and move around afterwards.

 

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