Foam Rollers - What are the benefits and how do you use them?

Image result for picture of foam roller

You hear me talking all the time about the importance of stretching and how it keeps our muscles healthy, strong, and flexible. However, it’s not the only thing we should be doing before and after each workout. You have seen them for many years but have you used them...yes I am talking about Foam Rollers. Foam rolling is a type of self-massage using a lightweight piece of dense, cylindrical foam, which helps loosen sore muscles and tight joints, and aids in muscle recovery. This is a healthy habit you can get into before and after each workout and even at home right in front of the TV :)  It won't be long before you start seeing results in how your body feels! At my fitness classes in Cincinnati we incourage clients to use them before and after each class. 

FOAM ROLLING AND MYOFASCIAL RELEASE

If you’ve ever been to a gym, physical therapy, or personal fitness trainer, you’ve probably seen foam rollers among all the other equipement. Though once a mysterious technique reserved for professional athletes, foam rolling is becoming a familiar practice for everyday gym-goers at all fitness levels. You can purchase them most anywhere they sell fitness equipment and comes with a full aray of instructions to help with myofascial release. 

Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release. Fascia or myofascia is the tissue that covers all of our muscles and bones - sort of like a net holding in your muscle tissue.  The best way to describe it is like a wearing a spandex bodysuit that extends from the top of our head to the tips of our toes. Under a microscope, myofascia looks like a spider web or fish net. When healthy, our myofascia is relaxed, soft, and flexible. If our fascia is damaged due to overtraining, poor posture, or stress, it can become tight and inflamed. If our mysfascia gets damaged it can cause several problems in our bodies, including headache, back and neck pain, and recurring injuries.

Deep tissue massage is a common form of myofascial release. If you’ve ever heard your therapist say you have “knots” in your muscles, she could be referring to mysfascial trigger points (which are small fibers of hyper-tensed muscle that have clumped together). These spots are painful because they inhibit blood flow to the affected tissue. Since getting a massage before and after every workout isn’t realistic for most of us even if we would love it, the next best thing is to apply pressure to these affected areas with a foam roller. We highly recommend following a session of foam rolling by drinking plenty of good pure water, as it can help muscle tension and cramps as well. 

THE BENEFITS

The main goals of foam rolling are to relax tight fascia, break up trigger points, and increase blood flow. Specifically, here are a few ways this form of self-myofascial release benefits the entire body.

1. Improve flexibility and range of motion

When the fascia surrounding our muscles and joints becomes tight, it restricts our range of motion. Applying intense pressure to these areas through foam rolling breaks up the tension and improves our flexibility before and after a workout.

2. Stress relief

There’s a reason we feel blissed out after a great massage, an infrared sauna or a good steam room. ( By the way we have a fabulous infrared sauna at my Personal Training Center and you can stop by anytime.) Myofascial release through foam rolling has been shown to calm your nervous system, targeting acupressure points that are connected to the adrenal glands. Plus, creating elasticity and length in the muscles can help deepen the breath, which creates a sense of calmness in the body.

3. Remove lactic acid and aid in workout recovery

After a strenuous workout, lactic acid builds up in the muscles and can result in pain and stiffness. Typically, the symptoms set in 24-48 hours after an intense workout. Foam rolling after exercise is great for breaking down this lactic acid which will speed up your recovery time and keep you free of aches post workout.

4. Improve blood circulation

When the fascia is tight, creating those “knots” we mentioned earlier, it decreases blood flow to the surrounding tissue. Using a foam roller to break up these tight areas not only alleviates the pain and discomfort these trigger points cause, it improves our circulation, which is crucial to overall good health.

5. Prevent workout-related injuries

As they say, “Prevention is the best medicine.” Using a foam roller before and after each workout heightens our awareness to tight muscles. “Rolling out” with a foam roller allows us to loosen up, increase flexibility, and improve blood flow to these areas before an injury happens.  

THE TECHNIQUE

Using our own body weight, foam rolling allows us to dig deep into tight, inflamed tissue. With the foam roller beneath you, roll back and forth on the muscle group you’re targeting for 30 seconds to a minute, spending extra time on trigger points. We should be targeting our hip flexors, IT band, hamstrings, glutes, calves, upper back, lats, and chest before and after each workout. Here is a diagram that will help: http://www.oxygenmag.com

Hope that helps get the knots out :)

Trisha