Foam rollers can be found at every one of our gyms, but what exactly are they for? Whether your exercise routine is short and sharp, or whether it’s a test of endurance, the practice of foam rolling can benefit everyone. Discover how and why here…
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release, which is the practice of tension release in the fascia, the layer of connective tissue surrounding our muscles.
If the fascia, a tissue-based band around all of our muscles, is tense or knotted, mobility is restricted and pain can occur. Ironing out (in basic terms!) any adhesions in the fascia reduces pain and eventual injury plus increases range of motion in muscles.
Foam rolling is a form of self-massage, and can be done anywhere and anytime without the help of a therapist. Sure, it doesn’t quite beat the hands of a specialist, but for those who don’t have the time (or the money) to visit a professional, foam rolling is a must.
How often you incorporate a foam roller into your cool down routine depends on how often you feel muscle tightness. For those who often feel tension in their muscles after exercising, it’s worth using a foam roller on a regular basis.
It helps before exercise
Using a foam roller is beneficial after exercise, but it can be beneficial before exercising too. Rolling your body before a work out, whether it’s a group class or a long run, for example, will enhance your flexibility and thus reduce the risk of injury. We suggest that before exercising you both stretch and use a foam roller.
It helps speeds up fitness recovery
Foam rollers considerably reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which is most often associated with long distance running and other endurance sports.
Using a foam roller after a marathon, for example, will help blood to flow back into tight areas as well as back into muscles used specifically during the run. Foam rolling will help to restore and replenish the muscles, and will result in much less muscles soreness in the coming days.
It reduces stress
Myofascial release can help reduce stress by lowering a person’s cortisol level, which is the hormone most associated with stress and anxiety. Practicing with a foam roller after a big workout may help you relax and wind down more easily, especially during a post-exercise endorphin rush.
How to use a foam roller
In a kneeling position, begin with the outside part of your lower leg (most associated with shin splits). Starting at the top, near your knee, work the roller down the leg. Sat with your legs out in front of you, you can target the calf by moving the roller down from the back of your knee to the top of your ankle. Massage the front of your thigh by positioning yourself in a plank position. Rock your plank forward and back with the foam roller underneath your thighs to relieve tension in that area. Avoid using a foam roller on your back however, as it will add unnecessary pressure to your spine, which could prompt injury or a spasm.
To get the full effect of rolling, be sure to use your whole bodyweight, if it's not too painful. Roll slowly, only covering 1 to 2 inches every second. Where you come across knots, hold the pressure on that area until the pain subsides. For guidance on how to use a foam roller properly, feel free to ask an in-gym member of staff.
For more information on how to use a foam roller, check out our guide on the best foam roller exercises. If you’re looking for tips on how best to recover from a marathon specifically, see our guide to marathon recovery as well.