Foam Rolling: What it is and why we should be doing it

Jan 26, 2018

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release. Segen’s medical dictionary (2011) describes this as a type of soft tissue therapy done by oneself to release physically restricted musculoskeletal groups. It is believed that chronic tension and trauma cause the fascia, which envelop muscle, to become fixed in a particular position, known as a myofascial restriction and manipulation of the myofascial group is believed to resolve the restriction.” This is done by applying a low to medium pressure while creating a dragging force across layers of soft-tissue in the body. After a period of time, the body will begin to release the tissues slightly, creating more space and mobility between those surfaces.

What are some of the benefits of foam rolling?

Foam rolling can have a wide range of benefits. Some basic benefits include increased blood flow throughout the muscles, better movement, and increased range of motion (ROM) or flexibility. These benefits may help to decrease the chance of injury and decrease recovery time after a workout. A decreased recovery time allows you to get back to your training more quickly, which in turn allows you to put in more sessions over a period of time. Increased circulation is huge for muscle recovery and greater ROM means you get to work your muscles more thoroughly and to their fullest extent.

What are some basic movements and areas that can be worked on to see benefits?

One of the first areas of the body that you will start to see benefits from are your calves. Our calves are often in a shortened position due to the shoes we wear, the way and length of time we sit, and how much work they perform. This limits the range of motion of the ankle and reduces function to the rest of the body. To address this, begin by placing one leg on the roller and then the other leg on top of it. Raise the hips and slowly begin to roll to just below the knee. If you find an extra tender spot, stop and hold in that position. After about 20-30 seconds continue to roll through the area several times. Once done, set the hips on the ground, rotate the leg in order to reach another area of the calf muscle, and repeat this process until the entire calf has been reached.

Another great area to address is the quadriceps. If we are often in a seated position, this area can become shortened and affect the function of the hips and put additional stress on the low back. Begin by lying down in a plank position and place the foam roller just above the kneecap. Slowly roll down towards the hip. If you find a tender spot, stop and hold for about 20-30 seconds, then resume the rolling. After doing this a few times, bend the knee so that the quadriceps muscles are stretched and repeat. Just as with the calf, rotate the leg in order to reach all areas of the quadriceps. Make sure to breathe properly through the entire process.

A third area that would benefit from foam rolling is the upper back, or thoracic spine. This area is designed for rotation and extension but with poor posture or increased tightness, this area can get stuck. Begin by sitting on the ground and lay back so that the roller is just below the shoulder blades. Support your head with your hands and lean back into slight extension. Raise the hips and begin to roll towards the shoulders. Make sure not put pressure directly onto the neck. This area normally does not feel quite as tender as the others but if it does, feel free to once again stop and hold pressure on any tight or sore spots. Roll through the area of the spine several times with the hips up. Make sure, in addition to the middle part of the back, to adjust the foam roller and roll the outer edges of the back as well.

When should foam rolling be done?

Foam rolling can be done both before a workout as part of a dynamic warm-up or/and as part of a cool down. As part of the warm-up, it can be done to aid blood flow to the areas that may not be receiving as much and to help reduce tension in muscles. As part of a cool down, it can help flush out blood that has pooled in the working muscles and allow fresh nutrients and oxygen to come in and begin the healing process. Foam rolling for as little as five minutes before or after a workout can have a great impact on the quality of each training session!

Now go and give it a try!!


Amy Barca


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