Foam rollers have become popular in the bodybuilding and athletic community in recent years. They are a cheap, highly effective piece of equipment which, when used correctly and regularly, can provide several benefits. The best news is, many of these effects can be felt immediately as your muscles relax, and tight, painful areas—also known as trigger points—are eliminated. Foam rollers have the appearance of a cylindrical tube and are available in various sizes and levels of firmness. The roller can be rolled over and pressed on areas of the body, using your bodyweight as pressure, where your muscles feel knotted, tight and painful. This technique is called self-myofascial release and is very similar to the techniques used by therapists during a deep tissue massage.
What are the benefits of using a foam roller?
Foam rolling has immediate and long-lasting benefits and should be incorporated regularly into your regimen to experience the best results.
1. CAN BE USED EFFECTIVELY AS PART OF A WARM-UP AND COOL-DOWN
Stretching alone is not a sufficient warm-up before your workout session. Although stretching starts to warm the muscles, it doesn’t affect the fascia—connective tissue that covers the muscle. Self-myofascial release helps dispel the tension in the fascia, making it pliable and more resilient, meaning you are less prone to injury. A foam roller makes an excellent addition to your warm-up and cool-down sessions. Pre-workout, use it before you undertake any stretching or cardio to encourage blood flow and reduce tension in your muscles. When a foam roller is used after your workout, it encourages blood flow to your muscles, meaning oxygen and nutrients can start to heal them straight away.
2. RELIEVES ADHESIONS IN YOUR MUSCLE
When your muscles feel tight and knotted, this is likely due to an adhesion—an area of the muscle that has tightened up due to dehydration, injury or overuse. This contracted muscle cannot get the blood or nutrients it needs for optimal health and is likely to become more painful if the problem isn’t taken care of. Self-myofascial release is the ideal solution. When used daily, foam rollers break down adhesions and relax the muscle, offering you instant relief from tight and painful spots. When a tender area is located on your body, simply bear down gently with the roller and press for between 30-60 seconds. Allow the roller to move around one inch per second targeting each specific muscle group for one to two minutes for best results.
3. INCREASES YOUR RANGE OF MOTION
Range of motion is important for athletes. If your muscles cannot attain their maximum range of motion, it will negatively affect your performance and results. A 2013 study showed that only 2 minutes of foam rolling certain muscle groups can increase your range of motion in the muscle by as much as twenty degrees, without losing any strength.
4. BREAKS DOWN SCAR TISSUE
Undertaking intense training such as bodybuilding causes micro-tears in your muscle fibers, which builds up over time into scar tissue. This can affect your nerves and vessels and cause many problems. Foam rolling helps to break down the scar tissue, meaning your muscles remain pliable and healthy.
5. DECREASES YOUR RECOVERY TIME
Using a foam roller post-workout helps to decrease your recovery time in several ways. Self-myofascial release encourages blood flow to your muscles, allowing oxygen and nutrients to enter the muscle tissue and start to heal it effectively. The roller also breaks down old scar tissue, meaning your body can build new muscle more effectively. You’ll also find that after using a foam roller for just a few minutes after every workout, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is greatly decreased.
6. RELIEVES LOWER BACK PAIN EFFECTIVELY
Foam rollers can help immensely with pain in your lower back. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t use the foam roller directly on your lower back—this can force your spine into unnatural positions, potentially making any problems worse. Instead, focus on rolling your hip flexors, glutes and calves. Tightness in these muscles contributes towards pain in the lower back. Working them with your foam roller will give you some instant noticeable relief. Once the tightness in these muscles is relieved and proper blood flow is restored, you’ll notice an immediate reduction in pain levels, as well as a more natural posture.
How to use a foam roller
For best results when using your foam roller, concentrate on one small area at a time, and use controlled, slow movements. Position yourself over the roller and bear down with your bodyweight. When you feel a painful or tight spot in your muscle, hold the roller over the spot for between 30-60 seconds, or until you feel relief. Don’t press down too hard at first. As you get used to the sensation of the roller, you’ll be able to utilize more of your bodyweight.
POINTS TO REMEMBER BEFORE USING A FOAM ROLLER:
- Consult a physician before using a foam roller if you have any painful or persistent injuries. It may not be suitable for certain problems.
- Don’t use the roller directly on your lower back or neck, even if you’re experiencing tightness and pain. These areas are delicate and you should always seek professional advice regarding persistent problems in these spots.
- Foam rolling will feel uncomfortable, and may even feel slightly painful at times. The feeling will be similar to a deep tissue massage. Any slight pain should go away after you have worked the affected area and relieved the tension in the muscle. However, if you experience any sharp pain or other unexpected effects such as nausea or dizziness, stop using the roller immediately and consult your physician before continuing use.
- Don’t use the roller on your joints or bones. This could cause an injury. Foam rollers are meant for use on muscle tissue only.
Foam rollers are a versatile and portable piece of equipment that should be an essential part of your fitness toolkit. For the best results when you’re seeking hypertrophy, a well-rounded approach is needed to your training and recovery. Foam rollers can relieve painful adhesions, break down scar tissue and encourage blood flow, meaning your muscles are always at their optimal health. Adding a foam roller to your workouts provides an extra dimension to your warm-up and cool-down sessions, helping your muscles heal more effectively, and ultimately helping you achieve greater gains for your hard work.