Foam Roller: The Magic Bullet?
What is foam roller?
A foam roller is a cylinder of dense foam, usually six inches in diameter. Typical lengths are one foot or three feet.
What is foam rolling used for?
Foam polling is a way to release muscle tension and possibly even improve athletic performance. This practice is most often used as a form of self massage, working out the soreness and tight spots in our muscles. It’s much more economical than seeing a masseuse, athletic trainer, or other body-worker; plus, you’re able to control precisely where to apply pressure, and how much.
You may have heard many different terms being used to describe this practice, including “trigger point release”, “self-myofascial release” or “active release.” You may have also heard the term “soft tissue mobilization,” which is the physical therapy term for massage.
How to use foam roller?
Technique is quite simple. You place the foam roller on the floor and use your own bodyweight to apply pressure to various muscle groups, slowly rolling back and forth across each muscle (e.g. upper back or hamstrings).
Types of foam rollers
Rollers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and densities and can be purchased online, at sporting goods stores and at physical therapy clinics. Selecting the type and length of roller you’ll need is a personal decision, dependent on your height and weight, experience level and overall needs.
The two most common types of foam rollers are circular and semicircular, either three feet or one foot long.
- Circular rollers. Circular rollers are more unstable than semicircular rollers, which means they’ll be more challenging to use, especially for core stability and strength exercises. They are usually six inches in diameter.
- Semicircular rollers (often called “half foam roller”). Semicircular rollers are three inches in diameter. They are flat on one side and curved on the other. If you’re new to foam rolling, you may want to start with a semicircular roller and move to a circular one once you’re comfortable with this type.
Types Of Foam Rollers Densities
Foam rollers come in a variety of densities. The harder, or more dense, the foam roller you use, the more “good pain” you’re likely to feel. Softer foam rollers don’t offer as much pressure on your soft tissue as do harder foam rollers. Unfortunately, there is no clinical research to date that tells us which type of roller is best. Most health and fitness professionals recommend starting with a softer foam roller. This is especially true if your muscles are chronically tight and/or you have a sedentary job. You can progress to more dense versions as your muscles get accustomed to foam rolling.
Once you’re comfortable with basic foam rolling and you experience minimal “good pain” in your muscles, you could consider the most intense foam roller of all: The GRID. Made by Trigger Point Performance, The GRID is a hollow tube of sturdy plastic covered with dense foam. Rather than being smooth like other foam rollers, The GRID is covered in ridges with areas of differing densities for a more intensive massage. It’s much more durable than standard foam rollers, and even though it’s hollow, it can support up to 500 pounds. It’s five inches in diameter instead of the usual six. Most commonly found in the 13-inch length, it’s also available in a 26-inch length. Because it’s lightweight and hollow, the 13-inch GRID is a great travel option.
Possible benefits of foam rolling
- Muscle and trigger point release
- IT band syndrome (the iliotibial band)
- Muscle recovery and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- Improves both flexibility and mobility
- Increasing physical performance
- Core strength and stability
- Decreasing negative impacts of prolonged sitting
- Decreasing and preventing low back pain
- Increasing blood flow to muscles
- Reducing soreness after workout
What Body Areas are Foam Rollers Best Used?
Foam rollers can be use on almost any area of the body, but it works best on the lower extremities. Because the upper body tissue is not as dense, people are not as prone to the same frequency of upper body strains as lower.
Safety tips before you begin
Using a roller looks like child’s play, but utilizing it correctly is no easy feat.
- Before you roll your way to better posture, flexibility and relaxation, you should do all you can to make sure you’re performing the exercise correctly and that your exercises and massages are comfortable and things you look forward to. They shouldn’t cause pain.
- Foam rollers can be used by anyone, but if you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition, it’s highly recommended that you obtain personalized instruction from a trained therapist prior to engaging in a roller exercise program.
- It is ill-advised to use the roller if you suffer from the following: severe pain, poor balance, poor coordination, and/or the inability to get up and down from the floor unassisted.
- Even if you’re in good health, it’s wise to have someone spot you when first getting started.
- Make sure the area around you is free of obstacles.
- Always use a roller on a firm, non-slip surface.
Foam roller basic exercises
Designing a balanced exercise routine that includes flexibility movements with strength training, cardiovascular exercise and relaxation can reduce chronic discomfort. Since foam rollers break up interwoven muscle fibers and help move oxygenated blood into those muscles, they’re an excellent vehicle with which to release those tight spots in muscles (the technical term is “myofascial release”) and return the muscles to a more optimal state. This can be done prior to exercising to improve range of motion, or after a workout to relax tight muscles and reduce soreness. As opposed to other weight training accessories, wrist straps seem to have the least serious drawbacks.