A How-To Guide to Foam Rolling
So you have been instructed to foam roll by someone in your life who cares for your health and well-being, and you think it sounds like a great idea but you have no idea where to start. Does this sound familiar? Read on, as this article has both the instruction and the tips that will get you well on your way!
Let’s start with the obvious, what is foam rolling? Foam rolling is a style of self-myofascial release. Meaning the foam roller acts as a tool for you to be able to address tight muscles and fascia on your own, at home, or at the gym.
While foam rolling is not rocket science, it can take a bit of practice. Certain muscles are harder to effectively reach than others. Muscles that can be easily addressed using a foam roller are:
Calves* (click each muscle for a video demonstration)
With any of the aforementioned muscles, there are some general tips. First, roll them at a slow to moderate speed, it is definitely not a race. Next, be sure to roll the entire length of the muscle repeatedly for approximately 5-10 full rolls (up and down is considered one roll for this example). Generally speaking, you don’t want to spend much more than a minute on each muscle. As you are using your foam roller, stop along your path to hold pressure over knots or tender spots that you encounter until you feel them give, relax or release.
Below are My Top 5 Tips for Foam Rolling:
1. Don’t just lay on it, be active ~
What I mean here is that foam rolling should be an active recovery movement as opposed to a passive exercise. This may seem obvious since rolling is in the name, but at times I have seen people just lay on the foam roller. Additionally, think about flexing and extending joints to shorten and lengthen the muscle as it is on the foam roller. For a visual example, re-watch the calf rolling video above. You could also get into a position that causes a stretching of the muscle you are trying to target. Then, while maintaining that stretch, add in simultaneous rolling on the foam roller.
This is one of my favorite ways for people who tend to sit at a desk to use a foam roller. By turning it lengthwise you are able to support your full spine, but also create space for a further stretch of your chest and arm muscles. You will lay on the foam roller so that your spine is parallel with the foam roller. From there, you will extend your arms out until you take the shape of the letter “t”. Unlike what I said above, this is more of a passive stretching position. You should feel a fairly big stretch across your chest and arms. If this is too much, simply stretch one side at a time. One way to incorporate movement into this position is to move in and out of the stretch or to move your arms from the letter "t" position up towards your head like you are making a snow angel.
You should be rolling your muscles in more than one direction. This is more for your fascia as fascial fibers run in multiple directions. Therefore, instead of simply rolling up and down the length of the muscles you are trying to target with foam rolling, try rolling side to side across the muscles you are targeting. Leave the foam roller in the same position, but try rolling your body segment side to side over it instead. These two styles of rolling should be done in conjunction with one another, one is not a better technique than the other.
4. It doesn’t have to last forever ~
Foam rolling should be a recovery tool, meaning you don’t want to give your muscles more of a workout than they have already had. It is something that you can overdue, so consider that less may be more in this scenario. You never want to cause bruising in the area that you are working on. It is my suggestion to not spend more than a minute at one time on each muscle. Like most rehab and self-care we prescribe, it is more beneficial to do multiple sessions as opposed to one long session of foam rolling. This should be music to your ears and should open up plenty of opportunities post-workout to add in foam rolling since it should only take about two to five minutes to roll the majority of the muscles that were utilized during your workout.
This brings me to my last point…
5. Roll after your workout, not before ~
As I said before, foam rolling should be a recovery tool. This means it is best used after a workout, not in your warm-up. Warming up should be reserved for elevating your heart rate, as well as static and dynamic stretching bringing blood flow and warmth to your muscles prior to your activity. Foam rolling after will help to push out lactic acid that has developed during the workout as well as help to re-profuse your muscles with new oxygen-rich blood. This will help decrease soreness and prevent you from getting stiff or tight after the workout.
Happy foam rolling!
* video example provided