To continue with our theme of “Recovery” for the past couple weeks, today we will look into something that has become increasingly practiced by many athletes: foam rolling. Unlike sleep or nutrition, foam rolling is a part of recovery that is mostly done inside the gym. But maybe it should be taken outside the gym as well! There are many benefits in foam rolling, but there is also a correct way to use the foam roller.
Before we look into HOW to roll, we must understand WHAT is that you are rolling. There are 3 main components that you put pressure on when you foam roll: muscles, connective tissue and fascia. There are also 3 main reasons why to foam roll: to help recovery, to warm up and to improve flexibility. Self-myofascial release, fancy term for deep tissue massage in yourself, can be done with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, golf ball, tennis ball or even the barbell.
What is fascia?
Fascia is the connective tissue that covers every muscle, nerve, bone, artery, internal organ and spinal cord. It is like a spider web of collagen fibers that is responsible for the freedom of movement of every individual. Fascia is one continuous structure that exists without interruption from head to toe. That means if you are tight around your ankles, it actually limits range of motion in other areas of your body.
Foam rolling certain areas help break down any scar tissue, relax any tight spots and improve circulation just by putting pressure and rolling. The goal is to return normal pattern movement to the body. That pattern could’ve been disrupted by stress, flexibility, nutrition, hydration, rest and posture. If you get knots on your muscles, save yourself the massage money and grab a foam roller. Think of your muscle fibers as a rope with a knot on it. If you stretch it, the knot gets tighter. By massaging it, you loosen the knot and are able to return the muscle fibers to its original state. When using the foam roller for recovery, it helps flush out the muscle break down waste stuck in your muscles, as well as relaxing and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues.
DO’S and DON’T’S
- Use the roller and your body-weight. On rare occasions you may use a KB to apply extra pressure, but remember: the goal is to restore normal function, it is not a pain tolerance test.
- Roll slowly. Let the pressure settle before moving on, specially if you feel discomfort in a certain area.
- If there is a knot in a muscle, roll through the entire muscle, not just the painful area.
- Don’t roll on a bone or joint.
- Don’t roll your lower back or neck on a foam roller. It will cause a negative chain reaction in the rest of your spine. Try a lacrosse ball there instead.
- Keep a good posture when foam rolling. Like I mentioned above, the fascia is connected to every part of your body simultaneously, so if you crouch while foam rolling your hamstrings, for example, you might be countering the stretch.
More than just recovery, foam rolling offers many benefits for overall health. It is like receiving a deep tissue massage but cheaper and more personalized, as you know what’s tender and what needs improvement. Make sure you are utilizing this tool to the max next time you come to the gym and if you need extra myofascial release think about investing in one so you can foam roll more often!
by Coach Matt