Spring is fast approaching! This means that people who live a more-or- less sedentary life will be venturing out for some fresh air and exercise, and experienced and normally physically active ones will be upping their physical movement gain. That’s a good thing.
No matter the category, the muscle soreness than comes after a too much too soon workout is bothersome and uncomfortable.
Enter the foam roller, an inexpensive item available in any store where sport equipment is sold as well as in health food stores. It is simple to use for a few minutes any time of day, and as often as needed or helpful.
A foam roller is a simple thing – just a cylinder-shaped piece of foam, available in a variety of lengths, diameters, colors, and surface textures. New users may prefer a smooth, dense surface, which is likely to offer less intensity to the muscles and cost less. Textured rollers have ridges and/or small knobs on them. They can work a little deeper into the muscles to work out knots and tension.
There are also foam-covered massage sticks that can be used for massaging the legs or upper back, and foam massage balls that be used to target specific muscles, such as those around the shoulder. A shorter roller is more effective for smaller areas like the arms and calves, and more portable than longer ones which are nice for working on the back .
Why would you want to try foam rolling? Consider some of the benefits.
– Ease pain in overused, sore, inflamed muscles.
Some studies have shown that foam rolling can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. Participants saw a decrease in their soreness with foam rolling compared to when they didn’t do it after exercise.
– Increase range of motion
One small study showed that foam rolling, in combination with muscle stretching after exercise helped to improve flexibility. For best results, make it a habit to do some of both following a physical workout.
– Manage fibromyalgia symptoms
In a study of 66 adults living with fibromyalgia, participants who foam rolled for 20 weeks reported that they felt better and had less pain intensity and fatigue, stiffness, and depression, as well as increased range of motion than who didn’t try it.
– Encourage relaxation
Many people report increased relaxation from foam rolling. Breaking muscle tightness may reduce tension and increase a sense of calm.
How do I get started with foam rolling?
There are a few basics to consider in the beginning. There are many “foam rolling for beginners” videos online that will explain how to safely roll out different parts of the body. Also, any trainer at a gym would happily offer some assistance and some even offer “getting started” classes. Here are some general guidelines
- Start with light pressure and build up as you get used to foam rolling. It may feel awkward in the beginning, then easier as you repeat it, which is a good thing. Tight muscles may be quite sore, so to adjust pressure on them, reduce the amount of body weight you’re putting onto the roller. For example, if you’re working on your calf, your arms can help to support your body to ease the amount of weight on the roller.
- Start with about a 10 second roll, then gradually work up to 30 to 60 seconds at a time.
- When you hit a tender spot, stop the roller there for a few breaths and try to relax. Then continue rolling.
- As with any massage work, drink plenty of water following a foam roll, to enhance muscle recovery.
- Don’t foam roll over or an injury or wherever there is real pain from a tear or break. Get medical clearance to roll, first. Tenderness and uncomfortableness are ok, pain is not .
- Don’t roll over joints, which could cause hyperextension or other damage. Instead, roll out your claves first, for example, then do the quads.
Where do I begin?
Almost anywhere is a good place. Here are some oft’ mentioned areas of appreciating the attention that rolling provides.
Quads – Start in a plank position with the roller crosswise under you, your thighs resting on top of it. Keeping your core strong and engaged, slowly roll down until the foam is just above your knees. Then roll back up toward your hips and repeat.
Hip flexors – This is basically an extension of the quad roll. Simply move up until your hip flexors are on the roll, then gently roll back and forth, stopping along the tender spots.
Calves – Sit on the floor with your calves on top of the roller and your arms behind you, hands on the floor. Lift your body up and roll your calves over the top of the roller. For more intensity, try one leg at a time, crossing one leg over the other, and then repeating on the other side.
Hamstrings – Move the roller up until it’s just above your knees and roll out the back of your thighs – either together or one at a time.
Low back – turn the foam roller so it’s vertical (in line with your spine) and slowly roll the roller from side to side, staying in line with the spine.
In summary, foam rolling can be an effective way to reduce muscle tension before starting a workout, especially if there is leftover tension from the previous day or days. It can also be an important tool after exercising. Doing both may result in less soreness generally. And for general aches and pains resulting from too much sitting or standing, foam rolling can be helpful. Try it!