Foam rolling is a highly effective form of self-myofascial release or SMR.
A once unheard of technique, foam rolling is now widely used in the world of sports and athletics, and is also commonly utilized by physical therapists to aid in breaking up dead tissue and releasing knotted fibres in the muscles.
One of the primary benefits of foam rolling is that removing unwanted tissues and knots allows the muscle to relax, thereby improving its capacity for generating force as well as enabling the antagonist muscle group to fire more effectively.
An example of this would be foam rolling the hamstrings muscles in order to allow the antagonistic muscles – in this case, the quadriceps – to contract more freely and in greater harmony with the muscles of the upper leg as a whole.
All of this sounds great, but it still doesn’t answer the question of what exactly a foam roller is and how you should use it to achieve the best results.
The Right Tool for the Job
A foam roller will most commonly be around 12 inches in length and around six inches thick, although there are specially designed foam rollers which can be used to target more specific muscle groups.
Foam rollers are available in a range of different densities, often represented by their color, and this affects how hard or soft they are and how rigorously they can be used for SMR.
Of course, if you’re in a position of having never used a foam roller, or you’re incredibly sore with lots of knotted muscles, you’ll most likely want to start with a softer foam roller which has a lower density.
As you become accustomed to the process of foam rolling and the pain and discomfort which can be experienced during a SMR session, you might want to consider moving up the ranks, so to speak, and trying out harder varieties with a greater density.
Some experienced athletes will surpass foam rollers all together, opting instead for PVC piping!
Further Benefits of Foam Rolling
Beyond releasing knotted muscle fibres and helping to break up dead tissue so that it can be flushed from the body, foam rolling does provide a few other benefits.
It can be incredibly difficult and sometimes impossible to reach the deep tissues in the muscles with conventional massage techniques, and over time the knots and adhesions which form between and around muscles can severely limit your flexibility, mobility, and strength.
Also worth noting is the fact that breaking up these tissues significantly improves circulation to the affected area, enabling your body to provide adequate nutrients and hydration to your muscles so that your body can recover and you can always be at the top of your game.
By applying SMR in the form of foam rolling, you’ll be able to control exactly which areas you massage, how hard you massage them, and for how long you do so.
This means you’re in full control of the rehabilitation process and you won’t have to pay through the nose for physical therapy sessions!
But it Hurts So Much!
Foam rolling can be an incredibly painful process if your muscles are sore and you have a lot of knots and adhesions to break up.
Although you may initially feel as if you’re doing yourself more harm than good, you will almost definitely notice improvements in your posture, flexibility, and strength over time.
Furthermore, SMR performed correctly can actually improve the visual appearance of your muscles, making them appear fuller and with more definition as necrotic tissue is flushed away and healthy cells are able to grow in their place.
Just like eating your vegetables, you might not always like doing it but it’ll definitely pay dividends in the long run so grit your teeth and stick with it!
How to Use a Foam Roller
Foam rolling can be used on pretty much any muscle in the body, including:
- Upper back muscles such as the trapezius or “traps” and rhomboids;
- Lower spinal erectors;
- Hip flexors;
- Gluteus or “glutes;”
- Adductors and Abductors;
- Latissimus dorsi or “lats;” and
The best approach to take initially is to focus on the affected regions of your body, working slowly and thoroughly to locate the trigger points.
If you’re not sure where trigger points are found, don’t worry, you’ll definitely feel it once you find one!
Once you find a particularly sensitive area – a trigger point – you should then firmly and thoroughly massage all of the surrounding muscles to relax the area and then apply pressure to the trigger point.
This may be very painful at first but you should aim to press on the trigger point for around 30 to 60 seconds.