Why You Should Add Foam Rolling to Your Exercise Routine
From influencers to enthusiasts, it seems as though the practice of foam rolling has recently been making waves in the wellness world. But with all the hype, what exactly is it?
A form of Self Myofascial Release, foam rolling targets your body’s fascia, a “casing” of connecting tissue that essentially binds and supports your internal organs, muscles, organs, nerves, and other parts of the body. A foam roller is a massage-esque device that helps to stretch out muscles and tendons, dig into scar tissue and soft tissue, break up trigger points, and increase blood flow.
Basically, using a foam roller offers many of the benefits of a sports massage, but given the cheaper price point and the fact that you can use it from the comfort of your home, it offers a level of convenience that can’t be beaten. And it’s not just for athletes either — anyone (granted you’re physically okay to use it) can benefit from foam rolling.
But what exactly is a foam roller and how do you use one?
How to Use a Foam Roller
The beauty of a foam roller is that it can be used anywhere, and using one can be a solo activity.
A foam roller is a way to perform self-massage by relying on your body weight. What is essentially a cylindrical roll of hard foam, you can use a foam roller to target specific muscles, soothe any trigger points, increase blood flow, and so much more.
To use a foam roller, simply run the cylinder over your muscles and apply as much body weight as you need to be effective for the session. Muscle points you can target include your calves, quads, hamstrings, middle back (but avoid your lower back unless you know what you’re doing), etc.
I recommend going slow and steady until you feel comfortable. When you first start foam rolling, you’ll more than likely experience quite a bit of pain and discomfort. However, like any deep tissue massage, this is the good kind of pain — the kind of pain that will put an extra pep in your step for the rest of the day.
Press the foam roller along any length of a muscle, and roll it back and forth over areas that feel tender. Remember to breathe as you do this, and stay present in the moment to discern that “hurts so good” kind of pain from “this is really hurting me” kind of pain.
How to Choose a Foam Roller
When you begin your foam roller search, you’ll find that there are many different shapes, sizes, and textures. Smooth rollers generally give more subdued results, while those with raised sections tend to get a little deeper into your tissue.
There are even ones that vibrate for a little added massage.
I recommend getting one that’s cheap and basic to start. As you build your tolerance from the early, more painful, days, listen to your body in any future direction you may want to take your rolling practice.
For exact foam rolling exercises, I recommend checking out this article.
5 Benefits of Using a Foam Roller
#1 – Reduce Muscle Pain & Soreness
If you’ve been experiencing any muscle pain or soreness, foam rolling could be beneficial for you.
Whether your pain is exercise-related or not, foam rolling will help to increase blood flow to the area (which can help to kickstart the healing process), break up scar tissue, and help loosen the restricted fascia so that your muscles and joints can move more freely.
For this reason, foam rolling right after a workout is a great idea.
#2 – Improves Flexibility
Given that foam rolling helps to loosen the fascia, it has also been a common tactic for anyone wanting to improve their flexibility.
In fact, most studies have found that even just 1-2 minutes of foam rolling is enough to provide an acute increase in flexibility. While the long-term improvements have yet to be studied, the effects of foam rolling are probably most beneficial short term.
Check out this article to learn how stretching in general works, and why it’s an important practice to maintain.
#3 – Helps Prevent Injury
Depending on your situation, using a foam roller regularly can help to prevent injuries. This is because when your muscles are tight, the tension makes you susceptible to overextending yourself. However, when you’ve loosened everything up a little bit with a foam roller, you’ll find that you can stretch just a little bit further without injury.
That said, studies have cautioned that athletes should not use foam rollers immediately before a workout, as the practice can actually decrease athletic performance.
#4 – Decreases the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
In a study published by PubMed, 66 adults with fibromyalgia foam rolled for 20 weeks and were studied to determine results. While many of the participants reported less pain, fatigue, and stiffness, they also reported getting a wider range of motion.
While the results are promising, more research is needed on the subject to be conclusive. Talk to your doctor before starting any new pain-regulation regime.
#5 – Could Help to Decrease Stress
According to body alignment specialist Lauren Roxburgh, foam rolling is excellent in helping to calm the nervous system. Specifically, foam rolling targets acupressure points connected to the adrenal glands, and rolling helps increase elasticity between these points. Further, Lauren’s findings have demonstrated that foam rolling can be effective in releasing negative emotions, grounding oneself, and working through tension.
That said, a small study published by the US National Library of Medicine noted that there was no definitive variance in post-workout stress between a foam roller group and a control group. This is an area where more research is needed, but if you find that foam rolling acts as a way to include mindful movement into your life, then it’s worth it!
Looking for more alternative ways to beat tension? Then check out this article all about using tapping to release stress and anxiety.
That’s it for my guide to foam rolling! I hope this gave you some more insight into what has become a more and more popular practice in recent years. Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments!