Twenty minutes on a foam roller is practically as good as a sports massage that doesn’t break the bank. Using a foam roller is called myofascial release, which is a type of soft tissue therapy used to reduce soreness and stiffness that limits range of motion. For about $20, it is an excellent and cheap way to prevent injury and help you relax.
What Is a Foam Roller?
A foam roller is — you guessed it– rolling foam. You’ve likely seen the 3 foot long foam cylinder in the gym, you just might not have known how versatile they can be. Your body weight provides all the pressure that you need to roll out pain, stiffness and even adhesions, or areas where connective tissue adheres to the bones.
Foam rollers can be used in a number of ways from stretching areas that are difficult to stretch, to massage, to balancing much like you would on a balance disk.
Just like a sports massage, using a foam roller will relieve tension and pain and, over time, break down scar tissue, reducing the likelihood of injury. That, in turn, allows you to maintain your training schedule. Probably the most beneficial result of the foam roller is the rehabilitation of scar tissue that is formed either from overuse or from a previous injury. When you tear your muscles — the result of working hard during your training sessions, and the reason soreness occurs — muscle fibers shorten and scar tissue is formed with minor soft tissue injury. Using the foam roller is your answer to that pain, and can be incorporated into your warm up or cool down. Try rolling out trigger points (those tight spots, or knots) or minor injuries like shin splints.
When you think of stretching, you think of pulling or lengthening the body to stretch like elastic. Stretching on a foam roller is more like stretching out pizza dough. The muscles are essentially stretched around the roller. Certain areas of the body are difficult to stretch, like your outer thigh. Practically impossible, right? Cut to the foam roller. Lay on your side on the foam roller a few inches under your hip. Support yourself on your elbow, and roll back and forth from the hip to the knee. The pressure slowly stretches out the muscles in the outer thigh.
The foam roller offers the same relaxation benefits of a massage. So, while you can use the roller during your warm up, as long as muscles are already warm, many exercisers enjoy using them after a vigorous workout to help relax and stretch. Keep your rolling sessions at no more than 15 minutes when you start.
You can expect to feel the same type of pain associated with massage as well. When you lie on the roller, keep your body centered, and start by rolling out the parts that can work 2 areas at a time, such as both hamstrings, both calves, or both quadriceps. Once you have rolled out the targeted area, remove the pressure from one side by lifting one leg, leaning on one thigh or crossing ankles to keep the pressure on one side.
Roller Exercises to Try
- Back of the Legs – Sit on the foam roller with arms stretched behind you, hands flat on the floor. Place the roller under glutes, hamstrings or calves. Roll that portion of the body only, not the entire back of the leg for a few minutes before you move down to the next body part.
- Quadriceps – Lay on the roller with hands or elbows on the floor, much like a plank or pushup. Roll back and forward from him to knee on the front oof the leg at first, then further out and in to get the entire quadricep.
- Back – Say ahhh to this one. Lay on your back with the roller under your upper back. Bend knees and place feet flat on the floor. Raise hips into a bridge and place hands behind head. Roll over the upper part of your back to work out pain in this always tense area. Roll slightly to the side outstretching arm overhead to target the lats as well.