October 17th, 2018
woman foam roller

Foam Rolling 101: When, Where, Why

What is foam rolling?

If lifting weights and exercise is dinner, then foam rolling your muscles would be dessert. it’s the most beneficial things you can do for you muscles and only takes a few minutes. The pressure it creates can help relieve muscle tightness, imbalances, over activation, knots, pain, pressure and inflammation. A short bout on the roller can help reduce the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness caused by resistance training, as well as help improve flexibility and joint range of motion. Basically, it’s a self-controlled massage that helps muscle health, mobility and muscle recovery. The most common muscles to roll out are those of the lower body and middle to upper back.

Why it’s is awesome – let’s get scientific

Technically speaking, foam rolling is a form of self myofascial release (SMR). Your muscle tissue is surrounded by a layer of connective tissue call fascia, which encases the muscles and groups of muscles like saran wrap. Fascia binds muscle structures together and helps the muscles maintain their shape and function. It’s like the skin of a sausage, holding in all of the meat (your muscle fibers) together. Due to exercise and stress, fascia and the muscle tissue underneath it can become stuck together. This results in adhesions and knotty areas that can be a source of stiffness, pain and discomfort. Rolling your muscles helps soften and lengthen the fascia and work out the “knots”. This in turn helps increase circulation and stimulate the stretch reflex in your muscles.

The “Good Pain”

Inevitably, you will roll over tender spots or knotty areas and experience a “good pain” or slight discomfort that one feels when one gets a righteous neck or shoulder massage. These specifically tight areas may require extra pressure and time in order to really relax the muscles. Whatever you do, do not roll over the knee or lower back. Some say that rolling your lower back can be good for relieving tension but our general advise is to stay away.

Pro Tip: When you are rolling out your muscles and find a “sticky spot” or a “knot”, stop rolling and lightly hold the tension on the knot. As you’re muscles relax add more pressure and hold for 20-30 seconds.

When to foam roll

Foam rolling is an activity that only takes a few minutes that can help improve flexibility and mobility, circulation; it relieve knots and soreness should be considered essential for any active person. Benefits have been shown using the roller before lifting as part of an active warm-up, or afterwards to relax the muscles and prevent soreness. If you are pressed for time in the gym, we recommend prioritizing rolling after your lift. You can also roll out on your rest days to help your muscles recover from any soreness.

What type of roller should I use?

We recommend starting out with a soft foam roller to start. The more you roll and get used to the firmness, the more you will crave a harder and firmer resistance. If you’re trying to get extra firmness we recommend lacrosse balls and medicine balls. For the real masochist, we’ve seen people use PVC pipe.

Pro tip: Like foot massages? Standing up, roll the arch of your foot with a lacrosse ball… thank us later :)

Evan Clark

Evan Clark is a former wildland firefighter turned fitness pro (NSCA CPT). Though he loves his heavy squat and deadlift sessions, he believes that health and fitness extend well beyond the gym and that fitness should be a tool to promote mental health and lifestyle balance.

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