If you’re not foam rolling, you could be missing out on a range of health and performance benefits. Also known as ‘self myofascial release’ or ‘self massage’, foam rolling has become increasingly common in recent years for good reasons. When utilized correctly, foam rollers can be a great tool to reduce tension in tight, overactive muscles. In addition, it is a great way to ward off aches and pains and prevent muscular imbalances that can hamper athletic performance. If you’re still not convinced, here are six reasons to use a foam roller.
1. Fend Off Aches & Pains
At first, foam rolling may seem a little bit uncomfortable. However, the more you do it, the less discomfort you will experience. The reason for this is that our bodies are covered head to toe by a connective tissue called fascia. Healthy fascia can stretch and move easily. However, over time knots and tension can build up in the fascia, especially in athletes that train hard regularly. Knots in the fascia are hard and inflexible. Massaging and applying pressure to these knots breaks them up, resulting in less tightness and pain.
2. Increase Flexibility & Range In Motion
Muscle tightness is usually the primary culprit of a reduced range of motion. Luckily, muscle tightness can easily be combatted with a foam roller. In reality, our nervous system plays a large role in the perceived tightness of a muscle. For example, when our bodies experience stress such as what is experienced during an intense workout, our nervous system can send a defensive signal to the muscles to tighten. This is a protective mechanism for the body to avoid positions that the brain perceives as dangerous.
Things like foam rolling and massage put the nervous system in a relaxed state allowing the muscles to loosen. This leads to an increased range of motion which can be beneficial before a workout. Training with the extended range allows the body to complete movements correctly which makes it easier for the body to perform correct movements in the future, even without a foam roller.
3. Decrease Risk of Injury
One thing to keep in mind is that our bodies are giant kinetic chains and everything is interconnected. When one part of the chain is tight or overactive, it can lead to problems elsewhere. For example, someone with tight calves may round their back to compensate during squatting motions. Over time this can make them more susceptible to lower back pain and issues such as bulged discs. By properly addressing tight areas, the entire kinetic chain functions more effectively which reduces the risk of injuries.
4. Correct Muscular Imbalances
Often times aches and pains are caused by muscular imbalances that can be addressed with foam rolling. In my younger days, I used to do a lot of bench press while neglecting the muscles in my back which inevitably lead to rounded shoulders. Along with shoulder pain and back pain, this imbalance brought about poor posture and slouching in my day-to-day activities. I was able to combat this problem effectively by strengthening the muscles in my back and foam rolling the tight, overactive pectoral muscles. After a few months, I experienced noticeable improvements in my posture.
In addition, foam rollers have been an asset to many of the athletes I train. They’ve been a valuable tool to correct common muscular imbalances that I’ve observed, such as anterior pelvic tilt, crooked squat form, and limited ankle mobility.
5. Improve Performance
Training with an extended range of motion over time can help the body perform movements correctly and target muscles that would otherwise remain inactive. With this in mind, core muscles and stabilizers are likely to benefit the most. In addition, creating optimal functional movement patterns can lead to benefits in the sporting arena. When the body moves with optimal efficiency, less energy is wasted, meaning you’ll have more energy when it matters most.
Furthermore, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that foam rolling not only increased range of motion, but it also led to better performance on a vertical leap test. Another study found that foam rolling can have a positive effect on strength, speed, and agility when used in conjunction with dynamic warm-up movements. While there is still very little research on foam rolling and performance, the initial data seems to indicate that it likely has a positive effect.
6. Speed Up Recovery
When performed regularly, foam rolling reduces muscle soreness and speeds up recovery. It can help the body remove lactic acid after a workout and reduce the sensation of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Using a foam roller after a tough workout will literally make you feel better the next day and ensure that you’re ready to tackle your next training session sooner rather than later.
Beginner Tips For Foam Rolling
Spend at least 20-30 seconds on each muscle group that you foam roll. This is considered the minimum amount of time it takes for the muscle to relax. Search for tender spots and hold still when you find one.
To get the most out foam rolling, it is important to breathe deeply and relax. This helps the nervous system send signals to the muscles to loosen up and release tension.
Experts recommend foam rolling 3-5 times per week before and after working out. Consistency is key to reaping the benefits.
If you don’t yet own a foam roller, they are relatively inexpensive on amazon. With this in mind, I recommend going with one that is longer than 12 inches. I originally purchased a 12 inch foam roller and although it has been a useful tool, there are some spots that are tough to get to with a short foam roller and I have since upgraded to an 18 inch version.