Are You Foam Rolling the Right Way?
Posted: August 30, 2016
It seems like every week, we can find a new mobility tool on the market…one that's guaranteed to cure our aches, improve our performance, and leave us feeling years younger. While you can spend a small fortune staying up on the latest gadgets, the foam roller is one of the most reliable tools out there for increasing mobility, range of motion, and muscle recovery. Widely available and inexpensive, this is one addition you should include in your home gym. Once you've got it, getting the most from it requires using it, frequently and correctly.
Self-Myofascial Release Technique: Myofascial tissue (fascia for short) is a connective tissue that covers your muscles and runs throughout your body. Over time, fascia responds to injuries or muscular tension by developing adhesions or scars. These adhesions create tension within the fascia that prevents it from fully expanding and contracting, limiting the mobility of the muscle that is contained within this connective tissue. In addition to reducing the mobility of the muscle directly contained within that fascia, mobility and nerve patterns of other muscles can be impacted because of the interconnectedness of fascia tissue throughout the body. Healthy fascia provides better circulation to muscular tissues and reduces neuromuscular imbalances. While it's tempting to simply roll across your aching muscles as a form of self-massage, foam rolling should target trigger points, areas of greater tension within the fascia. So how do you target myofascial tissue in your foam rolling?
Slow Down: Targeting adhesions within your myofascial tissue requires using your foam rolling sessions to focus on trigger points, areas of increased sensitivity. The technique is simple. Start by rolling slowly along the targeted muscle, avoiding joint areas. When you find a sensitive or painful area, stay in that place, applying as much pressure as you can tolerate with the foam roller. Continue to apply pressure there for at least 20 or 30 seconds (remember to breathe). Ideally you should feel the tension in that area begin to release. Continue rolling and finding other areas of tension and focusing on those areas.
Timing: The most effective time to foam roll is after your warm up and before your workout. After you have warmed up, the circulation throughout your body has increased, making your foam rolling sessions more effective. Additionally, by releasing areas of tension and dysfunction, your mobility will improve during your workout, reducing your risk of injury and increasing your efficiency. Don't worry, however. If you struggle to fit in a foam rolling session during the middle of your workout out, the second best time to foam roll is whenever you can do it. Try keeping a foam roller in your office or living room and take foam rolling breaks while you watch television, read, or work at your computer.
Self-Myofascial Release Technique (SMRT) can be used on almost any muscle, taking care to avoid joint areas. If you wish to target areas of the low back or neck it is best to use a ball rather than a foam roller, in order to avoid the spinal vertebrae. Additionally, pregnant women should avoid foam rolling the inner calf, as that can be associated with premature labor. With these precautions in mind, foam rolling works well for nearly everyone. You can control the amount of bodyweight you place into the tool, allowing it to be adapted to your comfort level and pain tolerance. The slightly forgiving nature of the foam roller, make it better suited to SMRT than other, harder devices, which target deeper muscle tissues. Most importantly, remember to make a habit out of your foam rolling. While a session or two might improve your recovery, the biggest benefits will occur over time as circulation and muscle efficiency improve throughout your body.