The Foam Roller: A Force for Good or a Torture Device?
Walk into any fitness facility and you’ll see wincing faces dragging their muscles along a foam cylinder. Foam-rolling has been around for a while, but it’s recently gained popularity as a way to aid recovery and alleviate soreness by “loosening” tight muscles.
However, if you’ve ever tested this method for yourself, you know it often feels more like punishment. This doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, but it’s critical to understand proper technique to ensure the discomfort you’re feeling is normal. Far too often I spot common mistakes that could be doing more harm than good.
People at both big-box and small local gyms like to play “monkey see, monkey do.” Rather than research or think objectively, we’re all too quick to mimic what we see or to take the advice of an uncredited source [i.e. the local gym rat]. This approach to fitness has the potential to put us in some compromising and unsafe situations. Although it may appear that someone is just mindlessly moving their body over the roller, there are some very specific do’s and don’ts to ensure safe and effective rolling.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, here is a quick background on the technique: foam rolling is a type of Self-Myofascial Release, or SMR. This is just a fancy way of saying that you’re releasing your body’s fascia. Think of fascia as tightly woven socks that surround your muscles to keep them all together. Exercise often causes our fascia to become tight or sensitive due to inflammation.
Done right, foam rolling helps relieve this discomfort.
Foam Rolling 101
- Steer Clear of Certain Areas
Attempting to roll out certain types of connective tissue only comes with an increased risk of creating additional inflammation and stress.
An example of this is the Iliotibial band (or ITB). The ITB is the area on the lateral [outer] portion of the leg that starts at the hip and connects down toward the outer portion of your knee. It is commonly rolled, but the ITB is better thought of as a track of tendons than as a “band.” When you try to roll it, there is a much greater chance you will actually cause damage to the set of tendons than get it to “release.”
Here are a few other areas to avoid when foam rolling:
o the Achilles tendon
o behind the knee
o the lower back
o areas of intense pain
- Take it easy
Do not spend too much time rolling out one area of knotted tissue — less is more.
Remember that you are using pressure to force out knots, inflammation, and tightly knit tissue, so pushing too hard or too long in one area may end up irritating that spot even further. Don’t end up creating more problems than you started with.
- Consult a professional
Before you begin any fitness program, consult a professional. This is especially important when you are not familiar with the activities you are going to be performing.
Below I’ve provided a basic foam rolling program to get you started. Be sure to use supervision if you are not sure how to complete any of these movements. Remember that mobility should be a part of any exercise program to maintain proper posture and avoid injuries.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Total Body Foam Rolling Program:
- Stay on the “meat” of the muscle
- Avoid the joints by roughly 3 fingers length
- Complete in the exact order the program follows
- Work the entirety of the muscle
- Do not overdo it. If an area is particularly sensitive, do not spend all of your time on that area
- You may repeat each movement twice, for 30 seconds each. Be sure to switch each time.
Place foam roller underneath the larger muscle of your lower leg (gastroc), slowly roll up and down the calf for roughly 30 seconds. Once done, switch legs. During this movement, you should have both hands behind you with your palms flat on the ground and fingers pointing behind you.
- Peroneus: (side of your calf)
Place the foam roller on the outer portion of your lower legs, roughly 3 inches from the knee and slowly work up and down the muscle for 30 seconds. Do the same on the opposite side. During this movement, you should be in a position that mimics a side plank with a sag at the hips to the floor.
- Hamstring: (back of your leg)
Place the foam roller underneath your leg from a seated position, roughly 3 inches from where your butt meets your legs. Slowly roll down the leg and pause roughly 3 inches before you hit the back of your knee and slowly work back up the leg again. Do this for about 30 seconds. During this movement, you should be seated on the floor with your hands back behind you, fingers pointing away. Try to place most of your weight over the leg you wish to roll, and switch.
- Adductor: (inside of your leg)
Lay the foam roller down at a 45 degree angle and get your body into a prone [chest down] position. With the leg you wish to roll, drape the inside of the leg over the roller. You will use your opposite leg and both arms to pull yourself front to back over the roller. Be careful with this movement to avoid injury. Slowly work up and down the leg stopping at the bottom 3 inches before you hit the knee. Continue this for 30 seconds and then switch.
Lay the foam roller at a 45 degree angle away from you and sit down on the middle of the roller. From here, outstretch the rolling leg and brace up on the opposite foot. Using both hands slowly work up and down the glute for 30 seconds and then switch.
Turn the foam roller lengthwise and get into a prone position with the foam roller underneath you. Position yourself so the roller sits on the upper portion of your quad. Using both hands out in front of you and the opposite leg, work up and down the quad stopping about 3 inches before the knee and 3 inches before the hip. Do this for 30 seconds and switch.
- Tensor Fascia Latae(TFL) or (upper lateral side of leg)
Position the foam roller as if you were going to roll out your quads, then turn your hips out so the roller is on the hip/side of your quad. Move yourself up and down this area about 3-5 inches, slowly. This is a very sensitive area so be careful. It may also take you a few tries to find the proper positioning. Do this for about 30 seconds and switch.
- Lats (the “wings” of your back)
Place the foam roller lengthwise on the ground and lay on your side with the roller near your armpit. Keeping the bottom leg in an outstretched position, bend the top leg and place the foot on the floor in a comfortable position for bracing/creating movement. Work the foam roller up just before the armpit, and down the lat about 3-4 inches before you get to the low back/hips. Continue this movement slowly for 30 seconds.
Still have questions or would like to learn more about how to properly recover from workouts? Contact us for a consultation with one of our trainers.