How to Use a Foam Roller to Recover Your Muscles and Maximize Your Performance
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all had our own personal masseuse to regularly get rid of the kinks, soreness and tight areas in our muscles, any time we wanted? Nice thought. Well… there is a way to massage yourself to these effects any time you want! A simple piece of foam known as a foam roller will do the trick. The technique is known as Self Myofascial Release Technique (SMRT) and it can change the way you move, feel and workout.
SMRT is self-performed with a roller or a small ball, and by applying pressure to the area in contact with the roller you control how your muscles are released. This is not a relaxing type of stretching method by any means, as it does require effort on your part, but it is affordable, convenient and it works – the results are huge!
HOW OFTEN TO FOAM ROLL AND HOW TO INCORPORATE IT INTO A STRETCHING ROUTINE
Like any stretching routine, SMRT can easily be incorporated into your schedule. Daily foam rolling will increase the effectiveness of your flexibility, mobility and release any tension or soreness in the muscles. Taking a few minutes daily to roll out even just one area of the body will make a huge difference in how you feel and improve your workout performance.
The foam roller can be used to efficiently release soreness and muscle tension before, during, and after exercise. Foam roller techniques can be done everyday or even several times a day if you really wanted to, or if you had an injury that you were trying to heal.
Pre-workout rolling helps warm up the muscles, releases any tension from prior activity, and prepares them for the workout. Performing strength exercises that incorporate the foam roller is a great way to develop strength while also lengthening the muscles during your workout. Ending a workout by rolling out the muscles worked is an excellent way to ensure the muscles release tension, avoid soreness, prevent injury, and recover for the next workout.
When first starting foam rolling, it’s possible that your body may be sore the day after you roll. Your muscles should feel as if they have been worked and released, but not to the point of excessive soreness or pain. You should typically wait 24-48 hours before focusing on the same area again. However, if your muscles feel good, then roll again to ensure soreness is nonexistent. Try to spend 10 minutes on the foam roller to start your day.
SMRT offers beneficial properties every time performed and it is recommend as often as possible.
Benefits of using a Foam Roller in a stretching routine
- Increases flexibility
- Increases range of motion
- Decreases muscle soreness & joint stress
- Increases mind to muscle feedback
- Decreases neuro-hypertonicity (tension from CNS)
- Improves strength & performance
- Releases toxins from the fascia & the lymphatic tissue (connective tissue under the skin)
- Improves overall health & wellbeing
WHERE TO GET A FOAM ROLLER
Foam rollers can easily be purchased at a sporting goods store, local stores like Target/Wal-Mart, or a specific performance based online store. If you are going to invest in a roller, I would purchase a good one that is durable and made with good quality. Check out these stores for different foam rolling options:
The cost of a foam roller ranges anywhere from $15- $85 depending on the make, model, and quality you desire to purchase. A foam roller is an excellent investment that will leave you feel like a million bucks!
FOAM ROLLING EXERCISES
A foam roller can be used on all large muscles but I recommend using a small ball to locate intricate, smaller areas. It just depends where the muscle needs targeted and what tool would be best to accomplish this goal.
I have listed below some of the best SMR exercises and techniques you can perform during your next workout. You will need a foam roller or a small sports ball to perform these techniques.
Feet (massage balls, golf or tennis balls)
Start standing, balanced on one leg. Place the ball on the heel of one foot and begin to roll the ball while applying pressure on any trigger points found along the way. Stop when a sore spot is found and either hold until it releases or rock back and forth.
Calves: Gastrocnemius (outer calf), Soleus (inner calf)
(Foam roller or small ball)
Place both calf muscles (or one leg crossed on top of the other) on the foam roller. Roll up, back, and rock side to side on the entire area of the leg to find your trigger spots. Once found, stop and hold the pressure in that spot. Lift the hips off the ground with your hands to apply more pressure on your leg.
Roll the quads from every angle to find the trigger points or soreness in the muscles. From a prone position, prop yourself on your forearms or hands and place the roller just above the knees. Begin to roll up, down and rock side to side slowly to find the trigger points. Bending and straightening the back leg will help locate tension spots. You can do this one with both legs or one leg at a time for more intensity and focused pressure.
This is a sensitive area of the leg, so I recommend breathing through the exercise and going slowly until the pain dissipates. From a prone position, prop yourself up on your forearms and place the roller on the inside of your thigh. Roll from the inside of the knee up to the groin stopping on any trigger points felt. Apply pressure up, down, and rocking from side to side. Bend and straighten the knee on the trigger spots.
If you are a runner, this is an excellent one for you! Running causes tightening in the lliotibial band, IT band, and can result in “runner’s knee”. The IT band is a thick band of fascia that runs from your knee to your pelvis on the side of the leg. Rolling this helps loosen tightness, prevents injuries, and will help you feel lighter on your next workout! This one hurts a bit initially, but it will ease after a few moments.
Lie on your side placing the roller above the side of the knee and prop yourself up on your forearm. Begin to roll or rock up the side of the leg towards the hip. Stop and hold at any trigger point or soreness in the muscle.
Piriformis (foam roller or small ball)
If you spend the majority of your day sitting, then this muscle is probably tight! Sit on the roller with your hands supporting you on the floor. Shift all your weight to one hip and begin to roll or rock the body on the roller looking for tension or trigger spots. Small balls can get into the muscle deeper to massage an area the foam roller cannot.
Lie on one side with the roller beneath your underarm and top part of the ribs. Move the roller down the side of your body stopping to hold or rock side-to-side on any trigger points. Roll or rotate your body on the roller to target other muscles on the sides of the upper back.
Lie prone with your bicep resting on the roller. Move the roller up, down, side to side on the bicep to find trigger points. Once found, externally rotate the arm to massage out the tension.
Trapezius & Spine (upper & lower back)
Begin seated on the roller with the hands on the floor for support. Move the roller from the base of the spine, to the middle back, then to the upper back targeting sore or tension areas. Be careful about applying too much pressure on your spine. Move slowly with intention. Once to the upper back/ traps, keep your hips lifted to roll up, down, rock side to side or hold when a tension spot is located.
Chest (small ball)
Place a small ball on the pec and press down with both hands. Roll the ball around until a sore spot is felt. Rolling on the chest may be easier accomplished and felt if performed on a wall. Do this by trapping the ball between your body and the wall and move in all areas to locate the tension spots.
Rest your neck on the foam roller like a pillow. Slowly turn the head to both sides to release tension. There’s no need to apply a lot of pressure in the neck region.
Alignment & Rest
Once a full body roll has been completed, finding natural alignment of the spine will feel good! Place the foam roller vertically and sit at one end. Place your hand on the floor for balance and slowly roll the entire spine down on the roller aligning the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Keep the feet planted on the floor and let your arms open to the sides. Allow the spine to decompress and melt into the roller. This is an excellent way to align the spine and rest your muscles by allowing the weight of your body and gravity to relax you into the roller!
Video of Foam Rolling techniques for the Back Side of the Body
*Roll each muscle in every angle and direction by positioning the body differently on the foam roller. Move slowly as the roller moves along and against the muscle fibers searching for the tender, more sensitive areas to focus on.
Foam rolling will improve your overall fitness and health. It may not be as exciting as other workouts or a yoga class, but it is an excellent flexibility technique to release soreness, toxins in the muscle, prevent injury, and prepare your body for the next activity. Give your muscles and fascial tissue some love, and they will be good to you!
Good Luck Foam Rollin!
Maria Sollon, MS, CSCS