It Hurts so Good- Introduction to Foam Rolling
Foam rolling (also known as self-myofascial release or SMR) is a fantastic way to work out those painful knots, strengthen muscles and experience greater range of motion. I like to think of it as “self-massage” and if done correctly, can improve muscular performance and increased blood flow to muscles.
Because of advances in technology, we have become sedentary individuals. We sit for extended periods of time and sometimes stay in the same position for hours. We experience high levels of stress which also causes our muscles to tighten which in turn creates muscle imbalances. An overall dynamic and static stretching protocol is a must but foam rolling is the way to start showing your muscles some love.
First, there are a lot of misconceptions about the proper way to foam roll. Most people think foam rolling is the actual rolling of the foam roller up and down a certain part of the body in a quick movement. This is the wrong way to foam roll. The goal is to roll slowly on the specific area and once you come to a painful or tender spot, stop and hold on that spot for at least 30 seconds to release the trigger point in the muscle. It is important to breathe through this. It may not feel great and at times can be painful but do not hold your breath. Imagine yourself breathing air into the muscle and meditate through it taking long deep breaths and then release. You will notice after time, this will become easier and not so painful as you have worked out those knots and lengthened the muscle, so it becomes healthy again. The primary goal is to calm down the muscle. If you roll to quickly, you will excite the muscle and that is the last thing you want to do.
A common myth is that foam rolling will prevent soreness after an intense workout. Instead, foam rolling will speed up recovery time. For example, instead of being sore two days after a workout the soreness will present itself one day after. This is great for athletes in training since the recovery time is sped up and that means they can get back to training faster.
Additionally, foam rolling should not be used to get ready for an intense training session or to activate the muscles and ready them for use. Foam rolling should part of an integrative warm up. The main goal of foam rolling is to relax the muscles, work out the trigger points and gradually increase range of motion and flexibility. With that said, you can perform foam rolling before a workout (along with static and dynamic stretching) or after.
When Not to Foam Roll
There are some cases in which you do not want to foam roll:
- Varicose veins – SMR can cause varicose veins to rupture
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes – because of poor circulation in extremities and the inability to flush out the “waste” from knots, SMR is not recommended.
- Pregnancy – Miscarriage has been associated with massage in the first trimester and pressure points in the calf and adductors may induce contractions.
Types of foam rollers.
- If you are first starting out and foam rolling is very painful, try using two foam rollers or buy a lower density foam roller and then work your way up to a higher density foam roller.
- If you love pain and looking for a more deep and intense release, then try a high-density foam roller.
- If you want to really dig in to those trigger points in the muscle, then a bumpy foam roller is for you.
- If you are not sure what you need, buy a medium density foam roller.
- Can’t live without your foam roller and you now are completely addicted? You can purchase shorter foam rollers that are half the size and travel well.
Foam rollers run from $10.00 to $30.00 and the density of the foam roller will be specified. No matter what foam roller you choose, you are going to see amazing benefits.
I have been religiously foam rolling for quite some time now. It’s part of my morning routine before I start my day. At first, I didn’t like it- in fact for me it was very painful – especially the ole piriformis. Years and years of not giving my muscles any love, my muscles were now retaliating. Now, after I foam roll, I feel more relaxed during the day and I feel it is a part of stress relief and a relaxation technique, so I can get my day going.
As I mentioned before, foam rolling will help with muscle tightness and imbalances. With that said, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a knowledgeable trainer perform an assessment to identify muscle imbalances before beginning an exercise program. This type of assessment goes a long way in preventing injuries and making a workout more enjoyable. The trainer can identify muscle imbalances and help you work to get those muscles in balance again using SMR along with other stretching, balancing, and strengthening exercises. If you find you are having pain or are inhibited in doing some exercises, it could be because of a muscle imbalance or several imbalances. One imbalance can affect many different parts of the body.
As part of my research on this topic, I’ve watched several videos on the internet and most of them do not touch on the proper technique of how to foam roll. This video describes exactly the technique and how to reap the benefits of foam rolling. Click here to watch the video.
Remember, your muscles work hard every day for you. If you never show them any love, they will not function and perform efficiently. Give back to your muscles and they will give back to you.