As we work out, our exercised muscles are contracted—which means they are shortened in order to make them stronger. But for overall fitness, any muscle that is shortened must be lengthened again to reduce injury and that awful next-day ache, and also to aid in its recovery so you can work it out again. Naturally, stretching is one important way to accomplish this. But foam rolling is another recovery technique to put in your fitness arsenal.
What Does Foam Rolling Do?
Using a foam roller to isolate tight muscles and “knots” is a form of self-myofascial release (SMFR). Myo- relates to muscles, and the fascia is a type of connective tissue that groups the muscles together. As muscles are worked, buildup in the fascia causes adhesions, or “knots.” So techniques like deep-tissue massage or foam rolling aim to break up these knots and restore healthy function, as well as reduce pain. The “self” part of the equation means that with a foam roller you can perform a number of therapies to your muscles without the assistance of another person.
Ooh! or Ouch?
When we think of massage, relaxation and comfort are usually top of mind. But there definitely is a difference between a “spa” massage and a therapeutic massage. So this is also very true of foam rolling. If you’ve got a nagging knot in your muscle, foam rolling won’t exactly feel relaxing. It might outright hurt. However, with proper technique you can control the intensity of the stretch/release—and it’s important that you do. When it comes to working out, “no pain, no gain” is unwise advice (though exercisers need to understand the difference between a “good ache” and actual “pain”—the latter can lead to injury, while the former might make a coach say, “Suck it up, Buttercup”). The same is true with stretching and SMFR. Cautiously pressing a knot into the foam roller allows for control; pushing into an acceptable level of discomfort—on the edge of pain—in order to get the knot to release will be beneficial. Going past that could actually increase or introduce injury.
Getting the Most Out of Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a great therapeutic choice both before and after a workout. If muscles are cold (pre-workout), it can be great for adjusting the spine and loosening up joints. Intensive muscle manipulation should be reserved for warm muscles.
Many muscle groups are great candidates for foam rolling, but these are some great places to start and find relief:
- Back: using a roller both perpendicular and parallel to the spine can provide beneficial relief and even adjustment.
- Calves: release the often-used lower leg muscles with controlled releas.
- Inner and Outer Thighs: the adductors (inner) and iliotibial (IT) band can become very unbalanced particularly for those who work desk jobs (or other seated work). Releasing these muscle knots will make workouts more effective at building strength and balanced musculature.
- Lats: you’ve probably not felt the knots in your side muscles until you’ve tried to work them out with a foam roller! A tough start… but so effective.
- Glutes: work that booty… and then stretch that booty. Work out the knots and you’ll be grateful you did.
Learn more about the science and practice of foam rolling from some of these sources, and consider adding it to your well-rounded fitness regimen!
- ACE Fitness: Why You Should Be Foam Rolling
- ACE Fitness: How and When to Use Foam Rollers and Myofascial Release in an Exercise Program
- Men’s Fitness: 10 Foam Roller Moves for Your Entire Body
- BuiltLean: Does Foam Rolling Help Increase Flexibility?
Talk to our instructors and trainers for more information on balancing muscle contraction and stretching for well-rounded fitness!