Foam rollers can be found at every one of our gyms, but unless you’ve used one in the past, you may not know what they’re for.
But here’s the thing: whether your exercise routine is short and sharp or a test of endurance, the practice of foam rolling can benefit everyone by boosting recovery speed and helping you relax.
So what exactly is foam rolling, and how can it take your training to the next level?
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release, which is the practice of tension release in the fascia, the layer of connective tissue surrounding our muscles. It’s basically a massage that you can give yourself.
If the fascia (a tissue-based band around all of our muscles) is tense or knotted, your mobility is restricted, which triggers pain. Ironing out any adhesions in the fascia can reduce this tension and minimise the likelihood of injury, as well as increasing the range of motion in your muscles.
When to use a foam roller
Foam rolling is a form of self-massage and can be done anywhere and anytime, without the help of a therapist.
How often you incorporate a foam roller into your cooldown routine depends on how often you feel muscle tightness. For those who often feel tension in their muscles after exercising, it’s worth using a foam roller on a regular basis.
Sure, it doesn’t quite beat the hands of a specialist, but for those who don’t have the time (or the money) to visit a professional, foam rolling is a must.
The benefits of foam rolling
- It helps before exercise
Using a foam roller is beneficial after exercise, but it can be beneficial before exercising, too. Rolling your body before a workout will enhance your flexibility and thus reduce the risk of injury. We suggest that you both stretch and use a foam roller before you start your workout.
- It helps speeds up recovery
Foam rollers considerably reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is most often associated with long-distance running and other endurance sports.
Using a foam roller after a marathon, for example, will help blood to flow back into tight areas, as well as back into the key muscle groups used during the run. Foam rolling will help to restore and replenish the muscles, and will reduce muscle soreness in the coming days.
- It reduces stress
Myofascial release can help reduce stress by lowering a person’s cortisol level, which is the hormone most associated with stress and anxiety.
Practicing with a foam roller after a big workout may help you relax and wind down more easily, especially during a post-exercise endorphin rush.
How to use a foam roller
You can start using a foam roller to improve your post-workout recovery rate in 7 easy steps.
- In a kneeling position, begin with the outside part of your lower leg (most associated with shin splints).
- Starting at the top near your knee, work the roller down the leg.
- Sat with your legs out in front of you. You can target the calf by moving the roller down from the back of your knee to the top of your ankle.
- Massage the front of your thigh by positioning yourself in a plank position.
- Rock your plank forward and back with the foam roller underneath your thighs to relieve tension in that area. Avoid using a foam roller on your back, as it will add unnecessary pressure to your spine, which could prompt injury or a spasm.
- To get the full effect of rolling, be sure to use your whole body weight, if it's not too painful. Roll slowly, only covering 1 to 2 inches every second.
Where you come across knots, hold the pressure on that area until the pain subsides.
For more information on how to use a foam roller, check out our guide on the best foam roller exercises.