You’ve probably seen them in your fitness establishment: people manoeuvring themselves in various bodily shapes over what looks like a shortened, plump pool noodle. This is known as foam rolling. It offers our bodies a multitude of benefits – from releasing muscular tension to aiding muscular recovery after intense workouts. Let’s take a look at what exactly foam rolling is, the areas you can target with a foam roller, and how foam rolling benefits the body.
Foam Rolling in a Nutshell
The term ‘foam rolling’ is relatively new in the fitness industry but professional athletes have been using it for a very long time. Foam rolling is one of many ways to perform self-myofascial release, in other words, relieving musculo-skeletal tension yourself. The process involves using foam rollers, most of which are less than a metre in length and are made from condensed foam. The harder the foam, the deeper the massage you get when rolling your tired muscles over the roller.
Foam rolling works to relieve pain and exercise muscles in the same way that a massage would. It involves pressure applied directly to muscles using an object, be it a thumb, palm, elbow or – in the case of foam rollers – foam. You could go for a flat roller, which applies pressure over a wide surface area, or a knobbed foam roller with sections of foam protrusions that can pinpoint sore spots like only a thumb can.
You are in total control with a foam roller. Your body weight and applied pressure will determine how ‘deep’ your foam roller massage will be and you get to say when it’s getting too sore.
How Foam Rolling Benefits the Body
We’ve already mentioned a few pros of foam rolling but the total body benefits are still being discovered! Here are a few proven benefits of foam rolling on a regular basis:
- Improved blood flow throughout the body,
- Greater range of movement,
- Decreased risk of muscle injury,
- Reduced recovery time after injury,
- Breaking-up of scar tissue,
- Improved overall flexibility, and
- Lactic acid removal post-workout,
Muscles Targeted by Foam Rolling
The short answer is that foam rolling can be used to target all of the major muscle groups of the body, with some exceptions. The trick is to find the correct methods to target specific muscles. Anyone can buy a foam roller and start but this could be doing more harm than good if the techniques aren’t administered correctly. Here’s a quick full-body foam rolling routine from Kelly Collins over at PaleoHacks with images to help you with body positioning:
Many of us wear uncomfortable shoes all day, which causes us to walk in an odd position which ultimately puts strain on the calf muscles. Other causes of calf muscle pain include climbing steps or walking uphill. If not released through foam rolling or another self-myofascial technique, calf muscle tension can lead to pain in the feet, ankles, knees, hips and back.
Working a desk job, where you end up sitting down for most of the day? This, along with regular running, puts your hamstrings in a prolonged shortened position. From not stretching them out through the day hamstrings can become stiff and tight. This could cause pain in the knees, hips and lower back if not seen to by a professional or through foam rolling.
Strained glute muscles can cause a range of issues including sciatic pain, knee pain, and lower back pain. This type of glute strain is caused by repetitive movements normally associated with hiking, squatting, lunging or cycling. Luckily, self-myofascial techniques like foam rolling allow you to remove this tension before it causes any deferred pain.
Pain in the quadriceps can be caused by vigorous exercise or simply be leading an active lifestyle. They’re one of the easiest muscle groups to stretch, and usually become strained from squatting, running up inclines, lunging, cycling, and climbing flights of stairs. If not treated, quad strain can defer pain to the knees, hip flexors, glutes and lower back.
Other than shortening the hamstrings, sitting at a desk all day causes rounded shoulders and a forward-jutting chin. This causes upper-back, neck and shoulder pain which can become chronic when not treated in time. Foam rolling between the shoulder blades can work out knots and even increase your range of motion in your shoulders.
Sitting all day and incorrect lifting techniques can cause generalised back pain, something millions of people suffer with across the globe. The bad thing with back pain is that it can manifest in other areas of the body, like the neck and hips. This is the most common area worked with a foam roller, and, arguably, the most important.
Did you know that neck pain can be caused by sitting, driving, and even sleeping in the incorrect position? After the back, the neck is one area of the body you don’t want to neglect when it’s telling you there’s a problem. Neck stiffness can lead to headaches, nausea, and chronic pain in the shoulders, trapezius, and rhomboids.
*Images courtesy of blog.paleohacks.com