Do you remember the first time you saw a foam roller at the gym and wondered what in the world that was for? Maybe you saw someone rolling around on it and became curious about its function and proper use.
Foam rollers can be used for a multitude of things; from warming up your muscles and stretching them out to helping loosen tight, achy muscles and relieve pain. The main benefit for foam rolling is to aid myofascial release.
“Myo-what?” you may be wondering? It’s okay, most of us were taught a simplistic view that the body is like a machine with independent working parts, connected by ligaments at the joints. But we are actually much more interconnected with a mucosal, web-like structure of soft connective tissue throughout our whole body called fascia (‘fa-shuh.’)
You could imagine fascia as the body’s ‘soft skeleton’ because it is essentially a collagen casing around every muscle fiber, organ, bone, and nerve fiber in the body, providing protection, support, chemical signals for muscle memory, and much more. Fascia, along with your muscles, helps you to push, pull, jump, squat, twist, and more. With muscle injury or trauma, inflammation, misuse or inactivity, the fascia becomes stiff and thickens (i.e. ‘knots’ in your back), which can be painful and often lead to further injury.
This is where foam rolling can be beneficial, by helping the myofascial release and increase blood flow to carry more nutrients, antioxidants, and oxygen to tired and tight muscles, which helps improve recovery time. Applying pressure through rolling can also help stretch and loosen the muscles and fascia, making movements easier with less friction.
You can use a foam roller for the majority of the body, but you can also use a tennis ball up against a wall to help work out tight spots on the back or a golf ball for the bottom of the feet. Some like to roll right before a workout to help warm up muscles, but keep in mind that rolling induces a parasympathetic nervous system response, relaxing the mind and body, much like a massage. Most prefer to foam roll post-workout to help speed recovery, work through tightness and unwind. Another way to reap its relaxing benefits is to work foam rolling into your bedtime routine. Dim the lights to start stimulating melatonin production, put on some tranquil ambient sounds, and enjoy the healing experience of caring for your body. Visualization and affirmations can also be helpful during this time, so be open to releasing your emotions from the day as you release the stress of your fascia.
To get the most benefit, relax the muscles you are working on and simply allow the weight of your body to apply the pressure without adding any additional force. Instead of rolling around quickly, be patient, staying in each spot for at least 30-60 seconds, or until a warming, even burning sensation, is felt in the tissue. Relax and breathe deeply as you visualize the chemical changes that are taking place, initiating the release of tension.