Foam Rolling 101 – the Perfect Choice for Athletes

by Jim Richardson | Last Updated: April 28, 2020

You’ve probably heard about foam rolling, or seen them propped up against the wall at your local gym, but many people are still in the dark when it comes to what foam rollers actually are and their benefits.

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In fact, these products provide a quick, convenient, and versatile method of massaging your own muscles without having to shell out on a professional. Once the preserve of elite athletes and physios, nowadays foam rollers are much less mysterious and more popular among athletes of all shapes and sizes. Here are a few facts about foam rollers and why, if you lead an active lifestyle, you should make them part of your routine without hesitation.

What is Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling, or ‘self-myofascial release’, is essentially just a form of self-massage. It’s intended to relieve tightness in the muscles and get rid of knots or ‘trigger points’ in the muscle – similar to regular massage. Regular exercise such as running, cycling, weight lifting or any other physically-demanding activities can result in stiff and sore muscles, as well as points where contracted muscle fibers can’t release, known as trigger points. Rolling your muscles regularly helps get rid of these knots and restore them to their original elasticity, which in turn can aid athletic performance and reduce the chances of injury.

More Benefits of Foam Rollers

There are many additional foam roller benefits – here are just a few reasons why you should make them part of your arsenal:

Improved circulation – rolling your muscles helps increase blood flow, which in turn speeds up recovery times. This means you can train harder and longer; making it the perfect choice for athletes of all levels. 

Increased flexibility and range of motion – lithe, elastic muscles can perform at their peak, which helps you get the most out of lifting weights, running, cycling and more. 

Reduced likelihood of injury – stiff muscles and physical activity are a recipe for disaster. Conversely, if you use a roller you’ll be much less likely to strain or pull a muscle. 

How to Use a Foam Roller

Foam rollers are very simple and can be used on a variety of muscle groups in the same way a therapist would massage you. These devices require the use of your own bodyweight, which is perfectly sufficient in terms of pressure to get the desired result. You can access different parts of the body by sitting, laying down, or leaning against the wall. As for the actual movement, go over your muscles backward and forward, but be slow and thorough. If you find a knot, focus a little on that spot and the surrounding area, as the pain may not be coming from the exact source. Here are some of the main areas you should target:

Quads – your quads are often a problem area, which can become stiff and shortened. Lay on your front, facing the floor, with the roller underneath both legs. Slowly move it up from just above the knee to just below the hips. If you want extra pressure, cross one leg over the other and roll one leg at a time. 

Calves – tight calves affect runners, gym-goers and hikers to name a few. Sit on the floor and prop your lower legs up on the roller. Proceed to roll up and down between the knee and ankle joints. Again, if you want a more intense massage, cross one leg over the other for increased pressure. 

Upper back/shoulders – this time you can stand against a wall, using your weight to press back into the roller. For those really hard-to-reach spots that a foam roller can’t quite get to, you can even use a tennis or lacrosse ball while standing either parallel or perpendicular to the wall. 

When Should You Use a Foam Roller?

In an ideal world, you should use a foam roller both before and after a workout, while warming up and then while cooling down afterward. It is best done before any cardio or stretching as a way to get the blood flowing before your training and reduce the chance of injury. When you’ve finished your workout, it can guard against swelling and inflammation caused by blood pooling, meaning your recovery time won’t be as long. It also helps your circulation and gets oxygen around the body to start the healing process. If you’re sick of not being able to sit for three days after leg day at the gym or a long bike ride, then make sure to use your foam roller regularly.

Why Does it Hurt?

Like with stretching, a little discomfort is understandable (and even expected), especially if you’ve chosen a roller with an uneven surface. Don’t let this discourage you – you’ll soon get used to it, and trading a few minutes of moderate inconvenience for an overall happier and healthier body is not much of a choice. However, be mindful of the difference between ‘good pain’ and ‘bad pain’. Avoid rolling joints or bones, and be conscious of sharp, shooting pains. If you’re concerned that you’re doing more harm than good it might be a good idea to get assistance from a professional.

See for Yourself

If you like the sound of foam rolling, it’s about time you find a place for it in your training regimen. Casual gym-goers and recreational athletes alike will no doubt discover a wide range of benefits from this simple and convenient technique, from improved circulation to pain relief and an increased range of motion. Not everyone has the money to spend on a professional massage therapist, but at a fraction of the price, you can get essentially the same thing. Try it today – you’ll wonder why it took you so long.



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