Are you watching the other people in the gym use (and rave about) foam rollers but still aren’t convinced they are for you? Sure, you’ve heard them talk about foam rollers effectively massaging their muscles and helping them get better results from their workout.
So, what’s holding you back? Probably, it’s the fact that the foam roller is such an unassuming piece of equipment that it’s hard to believe it could actually be as good as they say.
It’s All About Myofascial Release
First used as an exercise prop in the Feldenkrais Method in the 1980’s, foam rollers have gained much of their popularity from how effective they are for myofascial release therapy. I know it sounds pretty technical but myofascial release is really a simple concept and understanding it is the first step to appreciating what a foam roller can do for you.
Your fascia is a type of connective tissue that wraps around the muscles in your body, protecting and supporting them. A problem arises when your fascia is overworked or has suffered some kind of trauma. They become cross-linked, sticking to the underlying muscles and nerves, and interfering with normal movement.
Adhesions (also known as knots or trigger points) form in the tissues causing
- decreased circulation of blood and lymph fluid
- muscle tension
One of the most annoying things about these adhesions that they can cause (or trigger) pain in other parts of the body. Overtime, the condition worsens and can limit your ability to function in daily life.
The knots can be worked out by applying focussed pressure to the area. A trained massage therapist, osteopathic physician or a chiropractor can perform myofascial release therapy.
With self-myofascial release, you use an object such as a tennis ball or foam roller to provide the pressure needed to free up muscles, tendons and fascia.
Some Great Foam Rolling Benefits
Research into the effectiveness of foam rollers for self-myofascial release is on-going but to-date has produced some very encouraging scientific results. These results back up what many runners and fitness enthusiasts already knew.
1. Foam rollers speed muscle recovery. Whenever you exercise, you are actually causing damage to your muscle tissues. By massaging the muscle tissues after a workout you are improving the circulation of blood to help them heal and also increasing the amount of mitochondria in the muscle cells. If you recall from Biology class, mitochondria are where the cells produce the energy they need.
2. While rolling after a workout tends to get more attention, a pre-workout session has many benefits. The roller helps to warm up your fascia giving them greater range of motion.
A massage with a foam roller before you exercise reduces pain and soreness giving you a greater range of motion and the ability to put more time and effort into your workout. You can use the roller on your calves and quadriceps to loosen them up and reduce knee pain and discomfort. Used on your back, the roller helps to alleviate pain in your neck, shoulders, back and head.
3. Foam roller benefits include injury prevention. By making the fascia around the muscle more mobile and alleviating the tension in your muscles, the rollers are actually helping you to perform with greater accuracy. The risk of injury is reduced because your tissues can extend and function as they should, giving you the ability to move normally.
4. The benefits of foam rolling are not just for athletes and those of us who work out regularly at home or in the gym. People suffering from fibromyalgia have found that self-myofascial release with a foam roller is a great way to handle the all over muscle pain that accompanies the condition.
5. Improve your sleep with foam rolling exercises. Being tired, stressed and anxious can cause muscles to contract and lead to the formation of adhesions in body tissues. One of the most common side effects is difficulty falling asleep or to get restful and restorative sleep when you do manage to nod off.
You can use a foam roller to gently release tension in your spine and neck to help you fall asleep and sleep peacefully without waking from pain and discomfort.
Inexpensive & Effective
Often termed “the poor man’s massage”, foam rolling is truly an inexpensive way to achieve the myofascial release benefits that before you could only get through professional therapy. And, since it’s much less expensive, you can do it as often as you want (I wish that were true with massage too!).
Whether you decide to go with foam rolling pre-workout, post-workout or (ideally) both, you will start seeing and feeling the kind of results that other users are so happy about. Don’t forget too that the foam roller is a great sleep aid and as we all know good sleep is key to healthy living.