If you’re unfamiliar with foam rollers and what they do then you might be pleasantly surprised.
Foam rollers are a cheap, highly versatile piece of equipment that enable self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points. As well as the healing benefits of foam rollers, they can also be used within your workout to help sculpt an impressive set of abs – but we’ll come onto that in a bit.
So let’s take a closer look at foam rolling and the best way to use a foam roller.
Who needs an expensive therapist when you can self-massage?
Self-myofascial release, or foam rolling, once solely used by professional athletes, coaches and therapists, has evolved into a practice now used widely by people of all fitness levels. The science behind it is simple – by applying pressure to certain points on your body you can aid the recovery of muscles and help return them to normal function, i.e. healthy, elastic muscle fibres that are ready to perform almost instantly.
Many people find deep tissue massage – where someone works out the knots in your muscles – fairly uncomfortable and painful at times. Self-myofascial release allows you the ability to control the process by applying pressure in precise locations and with a force that is comfortable to you – because after all, only you can feel exactly what is happening and where on your body.
What causes trigger points and tight muscles and how does foam rolling help?
When we work out, especially if we’re moving heavy weights around, we put stress on our bodies. Generally our bodies learn to compensate for what’s thrown at them but sometimes we can overload them a little too much and our ability to recover becomes compromised – perhaps by over-training, poor posture and other lifestyle factors. Muscles then become tight and knots form causing pain, which is where you need assistance using recovery techniques.
Foam rolling seeks to release the knots that form in your muscles, also known as ‘trigger points’ as well as relaxing tight muscles through deep compression .
When you release trigger points you help your body to re-establish correct movement patterns and pain-free movement which in turn enhances performance. When you foam roll you help in breaking up these knots thus resuming normal blood flow and function. Of course, you might say that stretching properly after training should be enough to help prevent the need for foam rolling in the first place. But whilst stretching your muscles after a workout has many benefits, it’s not always enough to release muscle tightness and the body may need a little more help in returning those hard-worked muscles back to normal. The fact you can do this yourself and at little to no cost is just one reason why foam rollers are now so popular.
The Best Way To Use A Foam Roller
Here are some easy ways you can start using a foam roller within your workout routine.
Massage your muscles
Want a more affordable way to get a deep tissue massage? Slowly rolling over certain points of your body will help break up the knots that may form during exercise thus speeding up healing and recovery after your workout.
You can use a foam roller to loosen up tightness in common areas such as the outer thigh, quadriceps and upper back by positioning yourself on top of the roller and slowly rolling back and forth over it – almost like a rolling pin.
Acupressure done your way
Foam rollers work because they use the body’s natural response to pressure For especially tight spots, as your rolling you can slow down and instead apply constant pressure to the offending area which may work better than rolling back and forth.
If you have knots in your upper back, you can place the roller under your shoulder blades, cross your arms over your chest and then lift your hips off the floor and use your bodyweight to apply pressure to the tight area. For your neck, you could use the roller as a pillow, placing it under your neck, allowing your head to rest on top of the roller and slowly turning your head to the side and down.
Add some variety to your push-up or plank
If you perform exercises on an unstable surface you’re sure to engage more of your core muscles and transform total body exercises such as planks and push-ups into more challenging variations that will force your body to work harder in order to stabilise itself.
You can do this by placing one or both hands on top of the roller whilst performing a full plank or push-up, or slide it underneath your legs or your toes.
Prop-up your yoga routine
If you have issues with your back and you need some added support to help perform certain yoga moves, then you can use a roller for extra support. Slip it under your knees to help relieve pressure or use it as a block to help you balance. Foam rollers are so versatile they can be used in a number of different yoga poses and may help you to balance or release your muscles more easily than a yoga block.
Work that core
Force your core to work harder and take your ab workout up a notch. Foam rollers create instability which will mean your muscles will be working harder to help balance your body.
A good move is the marching crunch. Position the roller length ways down your spine with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor and position your hands behind your head with elbows out. Lift your head and shoulders off the roller and then try to lift your right foot off the floor slightly. Step it back down and repeat with the left. Do this for a total of ten reps alternating your legs each time.
Create a deeper stretch
Foam rollers are perfect for helping you stretch out after exercise as the help to increase your range of motion. Hip flexor, hamstring, and lat stretches can all be deepened by propping the roller underneath and using it as extra support.
Build your balance
Foam rollers can also be used to help improve your balance by taking advantage of their cylindrical shape and ability to move with you. You can perform a number of exercises and drills including a rolling lunge where you place your back foot on top of the roller, bend your front knee and extend your back leg out as you slowly lower into a lunge.
So Many Big Benefits From One Small Roller
As I hope I’ve shown, the foam roller is an incredibly versatile, effective, yet simple piece of kit that can not only be used for rehabbing muscle injuries and stretching out tired muscles post-workout, but utilised within your exercise routines as well to help challenge your body further and build even more strength and stamina. They’re a great addition to any home gym so if you’re interested in looking at what’s available to suit your needs, Amazon has a great selection.
Do you use a foam roller? If so what do you use it for and how has it helped you – either in increasing your performance or helping relieve knots and tired muscles? I’d love to know so please comment below and let’s talk!