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Foam Rolling: What It Is and How It's Done

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Foam Rolling: What It Is and How It's Done
Foam Rolling: What It Is and How It's Done

Athletes, coaches and personal trainers use a variety of equipment, some of which you may have never seen or used before. And while some of it may seem strange, each serves a unique purpose.

A foam roller is one such piece of equipment, and it’s becoming increasingly common as a tool to release tension and increase muscle function and flexibility. The foam roller is used to perform self-myofascial release. The intent of self-myofascial release is to loosen trigger points in the muscles — spots that might be tight or sore — in an effort to improve muscular performance.

Fascia is a thin layer of fibrous tissue that covers the muscles. When these thin layers are torn and don’t heal correctly, adhesions or knots can form, which then prevent the muscles from moving as they should. By using a foam roller across the muscles, self-myofascial release works out those knots, releasing the tightness and improving blood flow, resulting in reduced muscle soreness, increased flexibility and improved athletic performance.

Self-myofascial release can be beneficial when performed before and after a workout. Although you may not feel sore immediately following a workout, taking some time to “roll out” your muscles can help prevent or reduce soreness in the ensuing days. The same technique can be performed using a lacrosse ball (or other small rubber ball) to pinpoint specific trigger points, applying pressure to a smaller, targeted area such as the foot, neck or shoulder.

Foam rollers are inexpensive and can be found at most sporting goods stores or sporting goods aisles.

Foam Rolling: How It’s Done

The self-myofascial release technique can be performed on any muscle group in the body, including the back, quads, thighs, calves, hips and shoulders. Begin by placing the foam roller on the ground and then sitting or lying on it so the area you want to target is on the roller. Using slow, controlled movements, roll back and forth across the roller. Don’t be too quick to move on to the next muscle group; work each muscle group for one to two minutes, and if you find an area that is tight or painful, pause over that spot until you feel the muscle release.

Self-myofascial release works as a form of deep tissue massage, so it’s common to experience minor discomfort or pain during the process. If you experience pain that is unbearable, stop. When you are finished, your muscles should feel looser and any pain or discomfort should diminish.

Before your workout, use the foam roller to improve circulation to the muscles and release any existing tightness. After your workout, use the foam roller to help your muscles recover, alleviate any tightness and improve flexibility. This technique can be used every day and is also beneficial on your rest day.

If you are new to foam rolling and self-myofascial release, a certified professional trainer can show you how to safely use the roller and demonstrate specific techniques to help reduce muscle tension and soreness.

Some muscle pain and soreness is normal after a workout, but if you experience persistent pain for days following a workout, schedule an appointment with your physician to rule out any type of muscle or soft tissue injury.