Is Foam Rolling Just Another Fad?
One popular fitness practice that's recently rolled into the average athlete's repertoire is a technique called foam rolling. It's a cheap and easy form of self-massage that's more or less just what it sounds like; you roll sore or tight areas of your muscle across a cylindrical foam device in order to stimulate and loosen them.Foam rolling is not as pleasant as your typical massage, and most people even find it somewhat uncomfortable. However, many people find foam rolling worth pushing through the pain because of its proven benefits, which include decreased post-workout pain, quicker workout recovery time, and better performance and increased range of motion in future workouts.
Foam rolling works by breaking up areas of scar tissue in your muscle that are technically called "myofascial adhesions." These occur when your fascia, the bundles of fibers that allow your muscles to move, get tangled and stiff.
Left untreated, these areas of adhesion, informally known as "knots," will not, like the rest of the muscle, be able to get stronger following workouts. Long term, these adhesions could thus end up keeping one muscle weaker than its opposite-side partner and increase your risk of injury over time.
Foam rolling seems to reduce these adhesions because the sustained pressure it provides to the "knotted" area signals to your nervous system to reduce tension there. It also increases oxygen and blood flow to the area, which can also help your muscles heal and regenerate.
Additionally, foam rolling can serve as a useful warm-up technique as well as a recovery aid; research has found that rolling beforehand can increase your performance and flexibility during your workout.
Foam rolling seems to be most useful for endurance athletes since repetitive movements are the kind most likely to cause these adhesions, but foam rollers certainly aren't just for them, or for other people who frequently do intense workouts.Even some people who aren't athletes at all have found foam rollers useful in relieving the tension caused by prolonged sitting, poor posture, or unhealthy movement patterns. Foam rolling has also shown tentative potential as a pain relief method for people with fibromyalgia.If you're interested in trying foam rolling for yourself, foam rollers may be available to borrow from your local gym, or you could easily purchase your own online or at your local sports store.
Of course, there's a lot more than one kind of foam roller. Bigger ones will allow you to work larger muscle groups, while smaller ones may be more convenient for frequent travel or for hitting hard to reach areas.
Rollers can also vary by foam density; beginners to the technique would probably be best served by starting with a less dense, softer roller and progressing to a firmer type as they get used to the sensation. There are also specialized grid style or deep tissue foam rollers and pricier vibrating versions that can help provide a more pleasant sensation.
Since the sensation of foam rolling can be intense, experts recommend that beginners start by applying only a small amount of pressure and experimenting to figure out how much they can tolerate.
You'll also probably get the greatest benefits by targeting the areas of your body that are the stiffest or most sensitive, or that you've worked out most recently. Twenty to sixty seconds of rolling on each area is probably a good starting point.
You should avoid foam rolling if you have certain health conditions or an acute injury, but otherwise, there's not much to lose by trying it out! If you're not ready to invest in a foam roller, you could also try similar rolling techniques with a tennis or lacrosse ball.