If you are anything like me, it’s your goal to stay in the best shape possible and find ways to challenge yourself year after year. When we start out in our twenties, avoiding injury for the sake of acheiving a goal barely crossed our minds…Even jumping off a roof was somehow seemed doable with minimal risk involved…almost nothing hurts us! All we had to do was figure out some type of creative dive roll landing and most likely we would walk away without getting hurt or injured!
If you’ve said goodbye to 20, 30, 40, 50, 60…etc you’ve probably learned through trial and error that the days of physical invincibility bordering on recklessness are over. Now, implementing strategies that help you remain flexible, mobile & injury free so you can continue to compete, challenge yourself & stay active is just as important as the workouts themselves.
The foam roller is a great tool for improving mobility & reducing risk of injury and it’s something you can easily learn to use on your own. In the following article I’ll give you a glimpse of what it is, why it’s helpful, and how to use it. Never heard of a foam roller? No problem, I’ll explain everything in the following paragraphs and give you a series of photo demonstrations on how to use the roller at the end of this article!
What is a foam roller
The foam roller is a foam cylinder (think pool noodle, but shorter and more dense) that allows you to use your own bodyweight to apply pressure to trigger points and sore, knotted muscles. It’s inexpensive, versatile and portable. The roller comes in a variety of forms, long, short, bumpy, soft, hard, and super hard.
This sounds odd I know, but determining which roller is right for you is often based on the amount of pain you feel during use. If the pain is excruciating, you need a softer and possibly smaller roller. If you feel nothing at all, then you should choose a roller that is more dense and firm.
Why use a foam roller
The foam roller allows the individual to perform SMR (self myofascial release). The (myo)facia is a thin sheath of fibrous connective tissue that encloses the muscles (picture tightly wrapped plastic wrap surrounding the muscle) and plays an important role in flexibility and mobility.
Throughout the day, our bodies go through a variety of repetitive movements (anything ranging from your normal daily movement patterns to repetitive sports movements) and during all repetitive movement, your muscles and fascia undergo loads that cause adaptations. Under normal conditions one of these adaptations can be microscopic damage to the tissues and during the healing of this microscopic damage the tissue is rebuilt stronger and more prepared for the next load.
Occasionally, when the muscles or fascia are stretched too far beyond its normal load bearing capacity, it begins to tear. As the tears heal it can cause knots in the muscles and adhesions in the fascia (adhesions can be likened to scar tissue). These knots and adhesions might cause pain, limit mobility or lead to a severe injury over the course of time. Using a foam roller can help release knots and adhesions that may have formed in your muscles and fascia and assist in allowing normal blood flow, healing and function to return to the injured area.
What is the difference between foam rolling and stretching
While the focus of stretching is on releasing tension in the muscle tissue, foam rolling applies pressure directly onto the tissue with the intent of causing knots and adhesions to release and repair themselves. Directly applying pressure on the tissue during foam rolling can also help to further release tight muscles and areas that are difficult to stretch on their own.
What is the value of foam rolling
One of the least talked about but most important parts of health, fitness & performance is recovery. Foam rolling is a technique that facilitates tissue recovery, improves tissues ability to perform and allows you to be more prepared for the next round of physical activity. A quick list of benefits includes:
- Healing benefits to overworked or injured muscles
- Prevention of new injuries
- Improved flexibility and joint mobility
- Reduced recovery time by breaking up lactic acid and increasing circulation which helps remove waste from muscle tissue.
- Corrects muscle imbalances
How to use a foam roller
- To foam roll properly, apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group using the roller and your bodyweight.
- Roll slowly, no more than one inch per second.
- When you find areas that are tight or painful, pause for several seconds and relax as much as possible. You should slowly start to feel the muscle releasing, and after 530 seconds the discomfort or pain should lessen.
- If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area.
- Maintain proper stomach tightness (navel drawn in) while rolling, this provides crucial stability to the lower back and hips during rolling.
Foam Rolling Exercises
The IT band runs from the outside of your hip to below the outside of your knee and serve as stabilizers when you walk or swing a club. They can become stressed, leading to a sore back, hip or knee. Position yourself side lying on foam roll. Bottom leg is raised slightly off floor. Maintain head in “neutral” with ears aligned with shoulders. Roll just below hip joint down the lateral thigh to the knee. Refer to the picture above for a better understanding of how and where to foam roll to target the IT Band.
Begin positioned as shown with foot crossed to opposite knee. Roll on the posterior hip area. Increase the stretch by pulling the knee toward the opposite shoulder.
Place hamstrings on the roll with hips unsupported. Feet are crossed to increase leverage. Roll from knee toward posterior hip while keeping quadriceps tightened.
Body is positioned prone with quadriceps on foam roll. It is very important to maintain proper Core control (abdominal DrawnIn position & tight gluteals) to prevent low back compensations. Roll from pelvic bone to knee, emphasizing the lateral thigh.
Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
First, refer to the photo at the beginning of the demonstration section to locate the TFL. Start by positioning the body as shown in photo 1 (on the left). In this photo I plan to roll the both the front and side of the left hip (Foam roll is placed just lateral to the anterior pelvic bone (ASIS).). Once I roll the anterior portion of the TFL, I roll onto my left side and roll the lateral portion on the left side. Rolling the lateral portion of the TFL requires a position similar to the starting position for the IT band. (Targeting the TFL can be a little tricky)
Extend the thigh and place foam roll in the groin region with body prone on the floor. Be cautious when rolling near the adductor complex origins at the pelvis.
Position yourself side lying with arm outstretched and foam roll placed in axillary area. Thumb is pointed up to pre-stretch the latissimus dorsi muscle. Movement during this technique is minimal.
The muscles of your mid to upper back, including your rhomboids and trapezius fibers, help maintain your posture while your thoracic spine rotates during the athletic movement. Cross arms to the opposite shoulder to clear the shoulder blades across the thoracic wall. While maintaining abdominal drawn-in position, raise hips until unsupported. Also stabilize the head in “neutral.” Target the mid-back area with the foam roller.
1. http://www.performbetter.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/PBOnePieceView?storeId=10 151&pagename=91
2. http://breakingmuscle.com/mobilityrecovery/whatisafoamrollerhowdoiuseitandw hydoesithurt