Are you tired of feeling tight, stiff, and sore after a workout, or feeling this way in general? We've all been there. A deep tissue massage is a wonderful remedy but not always accessible or affordable. This is where foam rollers come in.
A foam roller is a cylindrical-shaped dense piece of foam. It comes in soft, hard, and spiked varieties to cater to various needs and preferences. It provides the benefits of a massage without the high price tag.
This form of myofascial release is a game-changer in your fitness routine. We'll discuss four benefits of using a foam roller and explain how to use one after your workout.
#1 Decreased Soreness, Aches, And Pains
Fascia, also known as connective tissue, exists throughout the body and surrounds and connects our muscles. Through overuse, injury, or repetitive movements, fascia can degrade and stick to muscle tissue. This can lead to soreness, knots, and general pain in your muscles.
But, when you do myofascial work, like foam rolling, it breaks down the fascia. The process of "rolling" enhances and strengthens the fascia by circulating fresh oxygenated blood. In turn, it reduces achy, sore, painful muscles.
#2 More Freedom In Your Range Of Motion And Everyday Movements
The pressure from a foam roller on your muscles hydrates the fascia, as we discussed above. It also helps clear scar tissue, which reduces muscle tightness and pain. When you free your body of this pain and restriction, it allows for a greater range of motion, as well as improved flexibility.
These benefits not only impact your gym workouts for the better, but they also impact your everyday life. You were bending over to pick something off the ground, playing with your kids or pets, working in the garden, and so forth. Any type of physical movement or activity you choose to do, you'll have greater freedom and mobility.
#3 Improved Recovery Time
Let's face it. When your body is really sore after a workout, you might not go to the gym for several days or even a week until that pain goes away.
Yet, by following a foam rolling workout, you decrease that pain and limit the amount of muscle fatigue. In turn, you recover faster and can get back to your favorite workout.
#4 Decrease the effects of physical stress on the body
There are several types of stress we experience — physical, mental, and emotional. When there's a pain in our body, it creates physical stress. If left unchecked, it can lead to mental stress and so forth. Until we're able to relax and shift our autonomic nervous system (ANS) from sympathetic "fight or flight" to parasympathetic "rest and restore", we won't be able to decrease the stress.
As we've discussed above, foam rolling eradicates painful, stiff, and sore muscles. And allows your body to recover, achieve homeostasis, and shift into the "rest and restore" ANS.
Foam Roller Exercises
Now that we've shared several benefits of using a foam roller let's talk about how to use one and cover some exercises to try. As you will discover, all these exercises involve muscle groups. Avoid rolling on a joint or bone, and never use the foam roller on your lower back.
Also, if you have any medical issues, consult with your medical professional before doing these foam rolling activities.
To recover from a long run, an intense set of plyometrics, or calf exercises, check out this foam roller exercise.
- Sit down on the floor with legs out front and hands flat on the ground for support.
- Place the foam roller under the base of your calf muscles, right above the ankles.
- Begin rolling using a gliding motion covering the entirety of your calf muscles, stopping right before you reach the knee.
- To target one calf at a time, cross your legs and then start rolling.
If you've ever pulled your hamstring or had some other kind of injury to this muscle, you know how painful it is. Consider yourself lucky if you haven't. To prevent that type of pain from happening, try these foam roller workouts for hamstrings.
- Sit down with your legs out in front of you and keep your spine upright.
- Position the foam roller under your hamstrings right below your glutes. And put the palms of your hands on the ground for balance.
- Start rolling and then stop right before your knees. Continue this motion for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Remain seated with your legs out front and the foam roller under your hamstrings.
- Bend your left knee and place it over your right thigh, keeping your right leg relaxed.
- Place your palms on the floor and slowly move up and down over the right hamstring.
- Continue gliding over your foam roller for about 30 to 45 seconds and then switch sides.
Your glutes are the largest muscle in your body. They're responsible for hip rotation and extension. They help you climb stairs and hike up hills and mountains. The glute muscles help you stand up from your chair or couch and support you when standing upright.
All muscles are important, yet if you only have a few minutes to roll, focusing on your glutes is a great place to spend your time.
- Sit down on the floor and place your roller underneath your butt.
- Put your legs into a "figure 4" position by crossing your left ankle over your right thigh, above the knee.
- Your right foot is flat on the ground, and you have your right hand on the floor to help maintain your balance and your left hand resting on your hip.
- Start rolling back and forth for about 30 seconds on your right glute.
- Then switch sides and repeat these steps.
The quads, or the front of your thigh muscles, get a lot of use in cardio and weight training exercises. To release the tension and pain in your quads, this foam roller exercise can help.
- Lay down on your belly and place your forearms flat on the floor, like you're in a plank position.
- Place the roller under your thighs and use your elbows to move your body up and down.
- Roll in the area between your pelvis and your kneecaps.
- To increase the pressure, cross your ankles over each other and then roll.
Upper Back Exercise
Back pain can result from injury, overuse, strain, or bad posture. But, using a foam roller can help reduce that pain and get you back in the gym or back to your favorite outdoor fitness activity.
Here's a popular type of back exercise you can try.
- Lay down on the floor and put the roller underneath your upper back, in the horizontal position.
- Put your feet on the floor and lift your hips up so your body is perfectly straight.
- Interlace your fingers behind your head or cross your arms over your chest if that's more comfortable. This will help you stay balanced and supported.
- Begin the rolling motion by moving down towards your mid-back, then back up to just below your neck.
Your latissimus dorsi muscles or lats for short, are the broadest muscles in your body. The pair of muscles make up a large portion of your back and help with shoulder movements and assist in taking deep breaths.
To use the foam roller on your lats, follow these steps.
- Lie down on the right side of your body.
- Place the roller under your right arm, slightly below the armpit.
- Stretch your right arm above your head and put your left hand on the edge of the roller for support and stability.
- Have both legs stretched out on the floor with your right leg straight and relaxed while your left leg is bent and your foot is flat on the ground.
- Begin rolling and when the roller gets down to the base of your ribs, roll back upwards and stop before you reach your armpit.
In the yogic tradition, they say that most tension and stress resides in the neck. So, it's no surprise that we often develop knots or kinks in our neck. Think about the phrase "you're a pain in my neck". There's a reason that phrase exists and is still uttered to this day.
The annoyance or frustrations we take on from others can contribute to the tightness and strain in our necks. Besides the neck rolls you do in yoga class, you can also use your foam roller to work out those kinks.
- Lay down flat on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor.
- Put the foam roller horizontally under your neck and slowly move your head side to side.
- Roll to each side about 10 times and make sure you take it slow like you're moving in slow motion.
Before getting started on these exercises, read the answers to these popular foam rolling questions.
Is it okay to foam roll every day?
Yes, you can foam roll every day. But, if you're feeling very tender in a certain spot, skip that area for a day or two. If you foam roll daily, make sure you're staying hydrated and properly nourished.
How long should I foam roll?
For each exercise, spend about a minute rolling on the targeted muscle. Spend less time on a really sensitive area on your body. Consistency with foam rolling is more important than the amount of time you spend doing it.
So, if you only have a few minutes, spend 15 to 20 seconds on each area. With rolling, a little bit of time is better than no time at all.
Is foam rolling better than stretching?
Both are important. Foam rolling restores the fascia in your body to decrease pain and fatigue. While stretching lengthens your muscles and increases flexibility. Suppose you want to do both, foam roll first and then stretch.