Have you ever seen people rolling around on cylindrical pieces of foam (or even spiky balls) at the gym (most likely grimacing with pain) and wondered what the hell they were doing and why on earth they would want to do it? Well… that’s foam rolling. Keen to learn more? Read on…
What is foam rolling? Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release (SMR) (similar to a massage). It is an effective tool to add to your warm-up or cool-down. Using the foam roller can deliver improvements in flexibility, muscle recovery, movement efficiency, inhibiting overactive muscles, and pain reduction with just minutes of application. It can be painful when you first start. However, with regular practice, it can increase your capacity for optimum performance, so that you can recover faster and perform better in your workouts.
What is Fascia?
Self-myofascial release is a stretching technique that focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body. Fascia is a specialist layer of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, bones and joints to give support and protection to the body. Think of fascia as the sausage casing surrounding every muscle fibre, nerve fibre, bone and organ in the human body. Or have you ever noticed a thin, almost see-through layer of tissue coating your chicken breasts? That’s fascia.
Ideally, your fascia is healthy and therefore malleable enough to slide, glide, twist, and bend, pain-free. When it’s unhealthy, fascia is sticky, clumpy, and tight and can form restrictions, adhesions, and distortions (knots), which can lead to muscle imbalances in the body.
Let’s do an analogy; if you take a rubber band and tie a knot in the centre, the elastic around the knot will stretch, however, the actual knot itself will stay still. This can result in a blockage when it comes to the elongation and full usage of our muscles. The area around the knot will still be in full use, however, the knotted area won’t reap the same benefits from your training. This can result in an increased potential for injury, as your muscles aren’t being worked evenly.
By applying gentle force with a foam roller, the adhesions or knots are altered from a bundled position to a more straightened alignment with the direction of the muscle or fascia. The pressure from foam rolling will stimulate the Golgi tendon organ within the muscle and create an autogenic inhibition, decreasing muscle spindle excitation and releasing the tension of the muscle. In other words, gentle pressure breaks up knots within the muscle and helps to release unwanted muscular tension.
Should I foam roll before or after exercise?
Short answer- Both!
Long answer below...
It is suggested to foam roll before stretching because breaking up fascial adhesions (knots) may potentially improve the tissue’s ability to lengthen. It can be used to help correct existing muscle imbalances, reduce trigger points and inhibit overactive musculature which in turn will allow the body to move in a more efficient way during the main workout.
Foam rolling can also be done as part of the cool-down. It is beneficial for easing sore muscles, reducing inflammation and increasing range of motion. Moreover, regularly performing SMR is also great for relieving the delayed onset muscle soreness commonly experienced 24-48 hours after lifting weights. It will stimulate blood flow to these areas, delivering oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells, which is a critical part of your recovery process.
How to foam roll?
Slowly roll the targeted area until the most tender spot is found. Hold on that spot between 30 seconds and 90 seconds or until the discomfort is reduced. During the exercises it is important to maintain core stability. Use the drawing-in manoeuvre (pulling the navel in toward the spine) to maintain stability in the lumbopelvic-hip complex.
Ensure that you DO NOT roll over any joints, and if you feel pain – STOP.
Which muscles should I roll?
1. Quadriceps (quads)
2. Gastrocnemius/ Soleus (Calves)
3. Adductors (inner thighs)
4. Piriformis and Glutes
5.Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
6. Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
7. Thoracic spine (mid-back)
For a follow-along video on how to use the foam roller, check out my 40 min video on the On-Demand Platform on the website. See link below.