Foam Rolling 101

Basics of Foam RollingAs mentioned in our prior post about recovering from hard workouts, foam rolling is a great way to prevent injury and soreness by keeping muscles loose and pliable.

Here’s The Deal:

Techniques like massage, trigger point therapy and foam rolling smooth out tight spots of fascia in your body (It is also known as myofascial release therapy).

Fasciae are bands and sheets of dense collagen fibers that form a big protective web to suspend, support and separate every muscle, bone, nerve, artery, vein and internal organ in our body. Fascia is the ultimate girdle.

Physical manifestations of experiences like a fall, surgery, poor posture, inflammation or repetitive stress (working out) accumulate in the body and make your fascia tight and stiff.

In the case of working out, you basically damage your muscles (in a good way) so they can repair themselves to be stronger next time you task them with a similar load.

Your fascia doesn’t understand the nuance of good damage versus bad and literally tightens up to protect your muscles from further “harm”.

Tight fascia changes the way our body feels and functions. It generates pressure causing pain, headaches or lack of mobility.

Foam rolling is the application of pressure to free up your fascia allowing all the structures it surrounds to move freely.

The result of this freedom is elimination of adhesions, less muscle or joint pain, increased circulation and improved mobility. Or in two words: muscle paradise.

You can find foam rollers for sale in a lot of places these days – online, at fitness centers, physical therapy clinics, even at some department stores that dabble in fitness goodies. They are relatively inexpensive – especially considering the benefits they bring.

Carve out a little time when you can to get down on the floor and roll around. Be careful if you have children or dogs in the vicinity. They are likely to want to be involved.

Here are the Do’s:

  • Do roll slowly and deliberately up and down the length of the muscle you are targeting.
  • Do spend 30 seconds to a minute on stiff areas and use a pressure that works for you. Uncomfortable is okay, scream out loud pain is not.
  • Do remember, everything is connected. Start at the center of tenderness or pain and work away from it to surrounding muscles.
  • Do use visualization to help the process. Close your eyes and imagine the area of tightness. Envision it softening and melting away.
  • Do also use your breath to help with the loosening. Take big, full inhales and exhales and let your body release to the point it is able.
  • Do use your other muscles to make this whole process happen. Foam rolling is work. If you are rolling your quads, your arms need to hold up your torso and move your body. Engage and support.

Here are the Don’ts:

  • Don’t roll over joints or bony areas.
  • Don’t roll sensitive and complex areas like your neck and lower back – these should be referred to a medical professional.
  • Don’t overdo it on a tender area. Creating more inflammation and tension in an area that is already stressed is not helpful. Too much is too much.
  • Don’t roll every hour or multiple times in a day. Loosening happens over time and your fascia needs time to recover. 24-48 hours is a good length between sessions.

Photographs by Craig Ismaili ©2017 BSDI

17 thoughts on “Foam Rolling 101

  1. this is a wonderful article. I wills share with my aerial yoga peeps as we just had a session on fascia this past weekend!

    1. Cool! Yes, fascia is pretty neat stuff – who knew it was all one continuous piece running through your body and that it would have such an effect on how your body moves and feels. Keep it loose!

    1. Yes Jana! I spend a lot of my day on a computer and my upper back gets very tight. After writing this, I went out and bought a 36 inch tube of foam to roll around on – I now close out every day by rolling my upper back before bed. I can hear the little pops run up my spine as it releases from the pressure. Good stuff! I learned quickly to be careful not to roll over my pony tail. Ouch. 🙂

  2. i use puffy, air-filled balls for my back, and a set of knobby firm balls to hit the stiff/sore spots in my shoulders and neck…different tools, same results…they help sooo much!

  3. Helpful information, I have only used a foam roller once but I think I’ll give it another shot.

  4. I have a love hate relationship with my foam roller. It works, but it does hurt sometimes.

    I find that it cannot get deep enough in some areas, so I will use a lacrosse ball to help focus on those knots.

    I’ve been following body tempering and I would love to add that to my arsenal. Just need to find someone to make those tools for me.

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