The ins and outs of foam rolling

 In Flex Blog

What is foam rolling?

If you have ever been to a gym or fitness studio of sorts you have probably seen someone rolling around on a large piece of foam making grumbling noises. Foam rollers are typically cylindrical in shape but can also come in spikey and rolling pin style variants as well as in a whole range of different lengths, colours, and densities (e.g. how firm it is).

Why do we do it?

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that aims to address muscle hypertonicity, tension, and trigger points. The focus is to apply pressure to parts of your body to assist in returning musculature to a less hypertonic (tense) state and subsequently, promote normal muscle function. If you think it is just for athletes and gym goers then you are sorely mistaken; it is also great for people who may be more sedentary in their work e.g. desk/sitting based, as well as those who experience general stiffness, poor circulation, joint issues, or stress.

Benefits of foam rolling

– Can alleviate soreness, stiffness, and tension.

– May aid in muscle recovery.

– Injury prevention through maintaining muscle length and remedying tension and tightness

– Can be effective for reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is the soreness you can get after a tough workout.

– Increases blood flow and elasticity of muscle tissue, joints, and fascia. This helps with our body’s mobility and overall well-being.

– Promotes relaxation (roll away your worries!).

How is foam rolling different from stretching?

Stretching is an activity that aims to increase the length of muscles and tendons which shorten in a response to exercise, prolonged postures, lack of use and ageing. Similarly, if a muscle is not used correctly throughout its full range of motion over a period of time, it can shorten to adapt to its lack of use. This is where the age old saying of ‘use it or lose it’ holds true.

Foam rolling, as mentioned, is a tool for self-myofascial release and is a technique used for promoting soft tissue release, reducing soreness, and targeting muscle knots. It’s done by lying or pressing your body against a foam roller to create pressure on that area which helps to perform the self-myofascial release.

So, which one should you do?

My answer is BOTH! But I always suggest foam rolling before stretching. Using a foam roller to reduce muscular hypertonicity and address trigger points gives the muscles the ability to efficiently lengthen which is then improved upon by following the rolling with stretches. By employing this two-tiered approach to your muscle health, you will see improved flexibility and mobility in addition to less pain and stiffness.

Tips and tricks to get you started

– When starting out use a low to medium density foam roller that has a smooth surface.

– Work the foam roller slowly and incrementally over your muscles until you find a sore spot, band, or trigger point. Hold this position with a slight increase in pressure until you feel the discomfort reduce and the muscle relax.

– You may choose to inhale and then as you exhale, slowly roll your way down the area that you are focussing on. Always treat your body in sections rather than continuously rolling back and forth.

– Slowly roll tender areas for 10 seconds to start, then work up to 30 to 60 seconds at a time.

– Start with light pressure and build up as you get used to foam rolling. You may find it painful to foam roll at first if your muscles are sensitive, tight, or tense.

– To adjust pressure, reduce the amount of body weight you’re putting onto the roller. For example, if you’re rolling out your calf, use your arms to help support your body and take some of your body weight off the roller.

– Drink plenty of water after foam rolling to help with recovery.

– Foam rolling can be done at any time of the day, but if you’re doing it around a workout it is recommended to do it either before you train as a warmup, or after to prevent soreness.

When to stop foam rolling 

– Foam rollers are designed to influence muscles only. Do not roll over bones or joints; it will have no effect on these structures, aside from being incredibly uncomfortable.

– Held positions should not exceed longer than 60 seconds.

– If at any point you experience a severe or sharp pain, stop immediately. Foam rollers are designed to cause slight discomfort as they break up muscular adhesions and reduce hypertonicity (tightness) within the muscles.

If you are experiencing any soft tissue discomfort that is not responding to your foam rolling, please make an appointment with one of our team to further assess your injury or pain.

Written by Myotherapist, Monique Mack

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