Foam rolling, also known as myofascial release, is a popular technique used to warm up, cool down, recover…….or maybe even spend that awkward amount of time before class where you don’t want to be standing around doing nothing, but you also don’t want to be doing extra cardio.
Think of myofascial release as your own personal deep tissue massage. No, you don’t get to just lay on a table and let someone else work on all your knots; but you do get to be the one in control of what you’re feeling.
This means you can add more pressure or back off as soon as you feel that you need to. It’s much quicker than your massage would be too, you really don’t need to spend more than 90 seconds to 2 minutes on any given muscle in your body to get at least some benefit. Just like your massage though, you may be experiencing quite a bit of pain while wondering, “why did I ever think was a good idea in the first place?”
Why would we recommend doing something that hurts? Just to see that look of pain on your face… not really. The goal of doing it isn’t to cause or search for pain, but just to help you move and feel better. The pain you feel during foam rolling is typically either felt where you are adding pressure or referred somewhere else from that trigger point.
That being said, too much of any good thing can be bad. So be smart about how much you dig into any one area. We as humans tend to be extreme and you won’t do yourself any good by bruising and injuring the areas you are trying to help.
Although “conclusive research” is mixed on the long term benefits of foam rolling, it absolutely can help you better prepare for working out by bringing blood flow to the areas you roll and improve your functional range of motion.
This is done by downregulating some of the muscle tone (fancy word for signals) in some muscles and releasing knots you might have in some areas of the body. So yes, you may feel some pain in the moment… but you’ll feel better once you’re done.
Foam rolling is great to do in a warm up before a workout because it brings more blood flow to your muscles. That means you’re already initiating the warm up process as well as increasing range of motion for better form during exercise.
Working out legs today? Focus on rolling out those lower body muscles and maybe your mid-back. Your squats and lunges will thank you for it.
After a workout, foam rolling works well because it can assist in alleviating tension in certain areas of your body. The goal of a cool down is to get your body back to its normal resting state, which doesn’t typically involve overactive muscles.
Other great times when foam rolling would be beneficial is right when you wake up, on a recovery/rest day, and right before bed.
Applying some pressure to your muscles and bringing more blood and fluid to the area can help promote appropriate movement and mechanics no matter the time of day. Not to mention it brings our attention towards the benefits of self-care and recovery, not just pummeling ourselves into the ground.
How do you go about foam rolling? Really all you have to do is start on a muscle and roll back and forth for about 30 seconds. Take your time and go slow, try to feel if you have any knots or trigger points that feel or refer any pain. If you find a particularly painful spot, stay still on the foam roller and put some pressure into it.
Keep in mind that when you’re doing this, make sure you’re able to take a full deep breath. This is your cue on when to back off and maintain appropriate pressure.
Take a big breath in, and then let it all the way out nice and slow. You will probably feel the muscle relax on the foam roller as you get to the end of your exhale. Stay on this spot until you feel like the muscle has fully relaxed, then take note of how it feels to relax without tension.
You don’t need to spend more than 2 minutes on any given muscle, even as short as 30 seconds can be beneficial before moving on, just try not to rush.
Foam rolling is generally a safe activity and shouldn’t cause injuries or serious pain (although we encourage all not to roll areas of acute injury and seek doctors approval for all special circumstances). Although when you are rolling, there are a couple things you should avoid:
Don’t roll over a joint… stick to the just the muscles. For example, if you’re rolling the back of your leg, start on your calf. Roll from above the ankle to below the knee. Once you’re done, move up to the hamstring and roll from above the knee towards the glutes.
Don’t roll your low back. The position required to directly roll your lower back isn’t worth the reward as it can place a lot of pressure in the lumbar spine. The lower back should be a fairly stable region, so most would be better off focusing on rolling the hips below and mid-back above to relieve tension and stress that’s showing up in the lower back. For serious low back pain and issues, we invite you in for an assessment to better understand your body and always recommend seeing a medical professional.
Now that you know what you’re doing, try using a foam roller around your next workout. Give these rolling exercises a shot and see how loose and good your body starts to feel!
Look out for Part 2 coming soon... you'll learn about different types of rollers and why you should one vs the others.