21 Feb Foam Roller
What Are Foam Rollers For?
****NOTE this blog was originally published in 2013. It has been UPDATED as of December 2015 with new information****
What Exactly IS a Foam Roller?
Well, it isn’t a “gimmick” and it is actually one of the greatest introductions to the world of functional fitness and rehab. A foam roller is basically a piece of foam, or a piece of foam wrapped around a solid tube (harder and more advanced) used to ‘roll’ the body.
To begin, you can use a foam roller to help release tension from those over-active or ‘tight’ areas before a work out. When you use your own body weight and apply pressure along muscles and tendons, you’re increasing blood flow to those areas.
You know that feeling when you go and get a massage and the masseuse finds ‘a spot’ that makes you jump, and they just dig in on that spot until it ‘releases’? Well, the same thing is happening here. When you find one of those areas while “rolling”, you want to keep moving back and forth over the area for a good 20-30 seconds. Doing this will often cause the tension to release.
It can get pretty complex scientifically, but I’m going to keep it simple for you. With applied pressure you’re stimulating the muscle spindles and Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO) to effectively release tension, while increasing the circulation of oxygenated blood to the soft tissues. More oxygenated blood prepares you to work hard and helps you to perform better — much faster, and often with much more intensity.
Following your work out, a foam roller can definitely help you accomplish a faster recovery by helping to release tension from tight muscles and stimulating blood flow to aid in recovery.
In addition to the muscles, we all have soft connective tissue just below the skin called fascia. Applying pressure with a foam roller helps to break down adhesions, as well as scar tissue, between skin, muscles, and bones while softening and lengthening the fascia.
For example: after an intense leg session, I concentrate the foam roller on pressure points in my IT bands, quads and calves. I won’t lie – it’s an intense practice at first. But with some practice, you quickly figure out the areas where your body benefits most from this form of pressure therapy.
Similar techniques called Muscle Activation (MAT) or Active Release Therapy (ART) are used by athletic trainers everywhere. Professional sports massages have the same goal of recovery, lengthening and release that involves long, steady pressure applied to the soft tissues while traction is applied to the fascia and specific pressure points.
While I certainly can’t claim that a foam roller should take the place of a sports massage (I love getting mine!), I can highly recommend this as a part of your daily workout routine. I believe that it closely mimics some of the effects of massage, and really helps me recover even faster, with less pain and injury.
Foam Rollers Can Help With Injury Prevention
Since you’re regularly using the foam roller to warm-up and/or recover, you’re addressing smaller injuries as soon as they happen — lessening your chance of injury — which is what everyone wants! A proper warm-up prepares the body to work and keeps you from over-exerting unprepared muscles and joints. A proper stretch and recovery enables you to keep fascia and muscle tissue from becoming stuck together (adhesions), increase total flexibility and range of motion, and reduce pain and soreness. Better flexibility and range of motion leads right back to increased coordination and balance, which in turn improves your workouts. See the full circle?! It’s amazing right?
Which Foam Roller Should I Get?
I’m sure you have seen many different brands, types, and colors of foam rollers. What I am going to share with you today, is 3 of the most popular foam rolling options. Click on each picture for a more in depth-description (will open a window)
This white roller is perfect for beginners and those that are more sensitive to pressure. This is a great place to start, as the foam roller is inexpensive and it is one you can always use for certain muscle groups. It is ALWAYS good to have one of these around, especially if being used by only 1 or 2 people. It isn’t very durable in a commercial gym situation where it is getting used all day long, but it is perfect for at home. I still have my white foam roller and use it when I’m SUPER sore or just want a more comfortable, relaxed roll.
This black foam roller is made of a denser foam that will last about 3x as long as a white foam roller. It will help you get into some of those harder to reach muscle groups (the psoas) that need a bit more oomph to get the muscle to release.
This roller will last about 5x longer than one of the ‘black’ foam rolls. That is because the roll is not entirely made of foam like the white and black ones. This foam roller is a PVC pipe with foam wrapped around it, and a neoprene/cloth cover over the foam. Because the foam is wrapped around PVC pipe, it is a lot harder, and a lot more durable. I have had one of these foam rollers for over 3 years now, and I can’t tell a difference from the day I got it. It is a bit more expensive, but it definitely lasts. It is perfect for really getting into some muscle groups, but there are times when I want the comfort of my white foam roller.
You can easily get all 3 of these tools for under a hundred bucks…or about the cost of a good massage. I think it is 100% worth it!
When Should You Use a Foam Roller?
I personally love the foam roller because it helps me get a deep stretch in my over-active muscles (my quads) before my workout and then completely massage my muscles when I’m done with my workout. For example, usually we have under-active glutes and over-active quads. The foam roller helps turn those over-active muscles off so the under-active muscles get more of a workout. When used post workout, you really can get in there and massage all of those muscles since you are done working out.
Why Should You Use a Foam Roller?
Besides the fact that it just feels good, it helps to prevent and minimize lower back pain, and just like stretching — aids in faster recovery time when done after a workout.
How Do You Use a Foam Roller?
You want to place the foam roller underneath any of the muscles you want to work on (glutes, hamstrings, upper back, quads, calves, hips, etc.).
Place foam roller underneath the front of your quads and roll back and forth. You can increase pressure by placing one leg over the other. Do this for a few minutes or until your muscles feel nice and loose.
To roll your calves, simply place the foam roller underneath your calves, lift up on your hands and massage away! If you don’t have a foam roller, you can use a tennis ball or something similar to release that muscle. Do this for a few minutes.
Foam Roller Recap
I love discovering simple (and inexpensive!) ways to boost my workouts, as well as improve my overall strength and health. Using the foam rollers at your gym, and possibly investing in one for your home, (watch some boob tube and become more flexible at the same time!), will absolutely produce improvements you never even imagined, as well as help prevent injuries you’d much rather avoid. So get rolling! Literally.
PS – You can get foam rollers at most sporting goods stores. You can also find them quite inexpensive by clicking the pictures above to shop at Perform Better, an online retailer of quality sports and training equipment. There are also plenty of options over on Amazon.com.