Have you ever walked into the gym, looked over at the stretching mats, and watched someone sprawled out in a wacky position, rolling back and forth on a tube of packed foam?
Foam rolling has taken the health and fitness world by storm. Where we used to see maybe one or two rollers in a gym, we’re seeing rows of them in varying densities and textures stocked up and used regularly. If you don’t know anything about them, it’s easy to find yourself confused and intimidated by the whole thing.
So what’s the deal with foam rolling?
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release used to improve physical performance. Essentially, you roll your muscles, and it helps them function better in the same way that a massage would. Using a roller just allows you to get all of the hard-to-reach areas of your body without requiring the assistance of another person.
There are many benefits of foam rolling for everyone, especially active people.
Repetitive muscle movement from endurance sports, explosive movement from lifting, uneven movements that we can’t control, and even the complete lack of movement from sitting at a desk all day create myofascial adhesions that can be rolled out.
The crazy thing about foam rolling is that there isn’t actually consensus on how it works. Studies show that it helps performance, but they can’t pinpoint why.
This is where it gets scientific, so bear with us for a bit.
All of our muscles are covered in fascia. Fascia is a sheet of connective tissue that holds, stabilizes, and maintains the position of our muscles. You can think of fascia like the skin of a sausage. Effectively, fascia are what allow all of our muscles to connect to tendons and ligaments and bones. They perform all of the functions that we require of them – like squatting or picking up babies or pulling the ripcord of a parachute or any other action you could possibly imagine.
We’re sure you’ve heard the idea of having a “knot,” usually within the back muscles, but they can be anywhere. These knots are really just myofascial adhesions, which can pop up for almost any reason (too much stress, not enough stress, imbalance, you name it). These adhesions get in the way of your muscles doing what they need to do to perform movement smoothly, so the best thing to do is get rid of them.
It helps to think of fascia like hair. Knots in the hair make it difficult to brush, so we use massage to get the knots out. If you can’t afford a masseuse to follow you around all day, solutions like foam rolling are there to help you do it for yourself.
Some researchers say that foam rolling exercises just warms up your muscles. Literally. When you roll against a muscle, that friction creates heat, which loosens the muscles, which allows for a better range of motion and a more optimal workout/recovery.
Another theory says that when we foam roll, the neurological response it causes just tells the brain to loosen the muscles that are being rolled, and that’s where the sensation of release comes from. Those signals are (at the moment) inexplicable, but researchers are working on that too.
Regardless of the “how,” studies across the board have shown this technique to improve performance and reduce recovery time.
There are great arguments for rolling out both before and after your workout.
If you roll before your workout, it can enhance muscular efficiency, muscle elasticity, range of motion, and blood circulation – all of which support a great post workout and prevent injury.
Rolling out before both before and after your workout reduces muscle fatigue, which means DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) won’t feel as bad as it would have without it.
So, generally speaking, you should definitely roll before your workout, and rolling out afterward doesn’t hurt either.
Foam rolling is pretty straightforward. The muscles to focus on are the big ones: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, traps, and lats. You can also use something smaller than a foam roller – like a tennis ball – to target more specific areas. Rolling your feet at the end of a long day is a transcendent experience.
Some things are easier to show than to explain, and there are TONS of how-to resources on YouTube, so here is a video walking you through the major muscle groups and how to roll out that fascia.
Make sure that you DON’T roll out your IT band, lower back, neck, or abdomen. At best, it will do nothing for you, and at worst, it’ll cause injury. Another important thing to remember is that, while it may not be the most comfortable movement, it shouldn’t hurt in a bad way. You should feel a sense of release when you do it. If you’re feeling a sharp pain, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Foam rolling feels like magic: regardless of whether you know how it works, rolling feels like a massage and makes both your workout and recovery much easier. It’s a simple, fantastic tool to up your athletic performance and take your game to the next level. We have tools for foam rolling at all of our locations. Stop in, work out, and foam roll all of your knots away!