5 Benefits of Foam Rolling for Your Muscles and Circulation
With the advancement of new research and technology, sporting goods stores are being filled with all kinds of new fitness equipment and tools to promote improved athletic performance, better health, and faster recovery. Unfortunately, many of the products being sold have little to no impact on good health and fitness while other products are complete game changers. One of the products proven to give users a boost in all aspects mentioned above is the very popular foam roller.
Foam Rolling for Self Myofascial Release
Foam rolling is one of the most popular forms of self myofascial release. Myofascial release is a type of massage that targets muscle fibers, soft tissues, and connective tissues. Pressure is applied to various parts of the body and is dragged along the fibers to help the body release the tissues. (1) Therapists utilize myofascial release techniques in order to improve flexibility, boost strength levels, improve posture, promote proper body movement and mechanics, and to loosen up tight tissues that hinder movement.
Nowadays, foam rolling has become popular among health buffs, fitness enthusiasts, athletes, or even for the average person who wants to enhance their health. Experts agree that foam rolling has numerous benefits that could substantially improve one’s life.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
1. Foam rolling can help you save money.
Who doesn’t want to save a little extra cash? You may be surprised with how much money one can actually save by simply purchasing a foam roller.
A high-quality foam roller may cost you the equivalent of a standard massage session. (2) Think about that for a second. Owning a foam roller means that you have access to an unlimited amount of massage sessions all for the price of one roller. Additionally, the other benefits that foam rolling can give users which are written below will help people spend less money on treatment, therapy, rehabilitation and medicine.
2. Foam rolling can help prevent injuries.
A common injury that runners suffer from is called Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome. The iliotibial band is located on our outer thighs. It is a ligament that is stretched from our hip to our shin. Iliotibial band syndrome occurs when the IT band is inflamed or tight causing discomfort/pain while running or even walking. (3) Foam rolling the IT band can help ease tightness which helps prevent IT Band Syndrome.
IT Band Syndrome is just one of the most common injuries that foam rolling can prevent. One reason why injuries occur is due to tightness in our muscles and other tissues. Tightness can shorten internal fibers/tissues which can end up pulling joints or other parts of our bodies resulting in pain and injuries. Foam rollers give us the ability to loosen up tight areas and prevent injury.
3. Foam rolling reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Have you ever gone through a heavy, intense leg workout and found yourself limping around for the next 2 days from being too sore? This is called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. Experts believe that DOMS is caused by exercises that stress the eccentric (lengthening of the muscle fibers) parts of the movement resulting in micro-tears in the muscle fibers. (4)
Studies show that foam rolling post-exercise can greatly reduce the pain one experiences from delayed onset muscle soreness. (5) Foam rolling can greatly benefit those who train frequently but don’t want the pain and soreness to get in the way of performing other tasks throughout the day.
4. Foam rolling improves flexibility and range of motion.
Have you even noticed why babies and children are more flexible than adults? It’s because they’re constantly playing and making use of their bodies. As we get older, most of us adapt a more sedentary lifestyle. This can be due to having a desk job, constantly being stuck in traffic, or just sitting at home watching T.V or on the computer to unwind from a busy day.
Flexibility and being able to move body parts in a full range of motion is essential for good health, posture, and is key for many activities such as sports and yoga. Studies show that foam rolling sessions can increase flexibility and range of motion especially for sit-and-reach tests. (6)
For example, people who participate in sports that require good mobility such as powerlifting will be able to use their bodies to it’s full potential. Flexibility and mobility can significantly enhance strength since there will be no kinks in the chain impeding movement. Additionally, those who participate in yoga will notice a significant increase in their performance since the body won’t be as tight. You’ll be able to master different yoga poses in no time with regular foam rolling.
5. Foam rolling improves blood circulation throughout the body.
When using a foam roller, pressure is applied to different muscle fibers and connective tissues allowing blood to reach many areas of the body. (7)
Obstructions in the veins, capillaries and arteries are released due to the dragging pressure caused by foam rolling. These obstructions include lactic acid, it’s byproducts, and other toxins. When these obstructions are flushed and released, better blood circulation is achieved.
Improved blood circulation is essential for good health. The blood carries vital oxygen to all parts of the body which can greatly enhance recovery, strengthen the immune system, and will help prevent certain illnesses such as heart disease. Additionally, organ function becomes more efficient and cell growth is promoted with improved blood circulation.
With all these amazing benefits that good blood circulation can give us, foam rolling sessions should be done more frequently.
How to Use a Foam Roller to Target Specific Muscle Groups
Start in a seated position on the floor with your legs extended. Place the foam roller under your upper legs and have your hands spread out on each side of your body for stability.
Slowly lift your hips off the ground using your hands and place pressure on one leg with the foam roller. Slide your body up carefully allowing the foam roller to slowly slide down the hamstrings of one leg. (8)
Your starting position will be face down on the floor. Place the foam roller on the teardrop area of your quadriceps (inner thigh located slightly above the kneecap). The leg placed on the foam roller should be at a 90 degree angle bending at the knee.
Slightly lift your body off the ground using the foot of your straight leg along with your hands for support and slide towards the leg on the foam roller. The foam roller should be rolling out your adductor. (9)
3. Iliotibial Band (IT Band)
Start out by lying on your side with the foam roller under the leg closest to the floor. The roller should be placed on your upper, outer thigh area. (Take note, this foam rolling exercise can be very painful at first so using your other leg for support is highly recommended for beginners. Those who are used to rolling out the IT band can put the full weight of their lower bodies on the foam roller.)
Using your hands for stability, raise your body off the floor and slide the roller form your hip to the area just above your kneecap. Remember to relax the leg you are foam rolling and breathe regularly. (10)
4. Latissimus Dorsi
Lie on your back with your arms crossed in front of you and both feet flat on the floor. Tilt to one side and place the foam roller behind your armpit.
Lift your body off the ground using your feet and slowly slide your torso up making the foam roller roll down your lats. The foam roller should stop at the bottom of your lats and repeat the up and down rolling motion. (11)
Lie face down on the floor in a planking position. Place the foam roller under the top area of your quads.
Using your hands for balance, slide your body up with the roller sliding down your quadriceps. To apply more pressure to one leg, shift your bodyweight slightly to the leg you choose. Those who are used to the pain may want to put all the pressure on one leg by having your other leg hang off the foam roller. (12)
Be sure to switch legs and thoroughly foam roll the quadriceps as they are one of the largest muscle groups.
Start out in the same position as the latissimus dorsi foam roll exercise except have the foam roller under the middle of your upper back. Having your arms crossed in front of you should help expose the rhomboids.
Lift your body off the floor using your feet and carefully slide your torso up making the foam roller slide down your rhomboids. (13)
What Kind of Foam Roller is Best?
Foam rollers vary in density, size and shape to suit your personal needs. Out of these 3 characteristics for foam rollers, the density of your roller should be prioritized when choosing one to purchase.
Foam rollers made with higher density materials are much harder and give people a deeper, more intense massage. For this reason, beginners should always start with foam rollers of lower density and work their way up to harder ones.
They also come in many sizes. Long foam rollers (2 feet or longer), which gives users better control, stability, and balance are great for whole body myofascial release. These type of rollers require more space which is why they are suited for yoga studios and stretching areas in gyms. Medium sized foam rollers (1 foot) are perfect to have at home for personal use and also provide good stability and control. This is the most popular size for foam rollers.
Small or mini rollers (average of 6 inches) are best for people constantly on-the-go. They conveniently fit in gym bags or even in luggage when you are traveling. It’s more difficult to balance on mini rollers but once the user is accustomed to it, myofascial release is still effective.
The shape of your foam roller plays a major role on how effective your soft tissue exercises can be. Most rollers have smooth surfaces to allow more fluid movements which is perfect for those who want basic myofascial release sessions.
One of the most popular types of foam rollers with a unique shape is called a rumble roller. Rumble rollers are equipped with small, firm spikes that loosen the fascia and even the most tight knots in muscle fibers and soft tissue. Rumble rollers provide users with a deeper penetrating massage but can be very painful for some to handle. Individuals should build up their pain tolerance to standard foam rollers before advancing to a rumble roller.
Tips for Foam Rolling
Often times, people rush their foam rolling exercises only to miss out on the many benefits that foam rolling can give. Make sure to slow it down. Roll out each muscle group carefully allowing the tissues and fibers to relax. (14) Additionally, tight or tender areas should be given extra foam rolling time to get rid of knots.
Don’t spend too much time on painful or tight areas. The mentality of “no pain, no gain” can actually do more harm than good when it comes to foam rolling. Applying too much pressure to knots may cause nerve or tissue damage. When an area is tight, spend an extra 10 seconds on it then slowly roll away.
Purchase or use a foam roller that has a density right for you. A foam roller that is too soft will not give you the full benefits you can achieve by self myofascial release. Also, you won’t be able to make full use of a roller that’s too hard due to the pain involved. Buying or using a foam roller with the perfect density will require you to test it before using.
Precautions and Warnings
Those who suffer from osteoporosis should avoid foam rolling altogether since bones are more fragile. The risk for fracture is significantly increased with foam rolling. Pregnant women who don’t have experience with foam rolling should avoid it. Stretching and foam rolling could do more harm than good for pregnant women.
Always be sure to consult your physician to make sure your body is in a healthy state to perform this activity or foam roll under the supervision of someone who has experience performing these types of exercises and self myofascial release techniques.
The standard foam roller is an amazing tool that has paved the way to better health and enhanced fitness performance. This very affordable piece of equipment can substitute numerous massage and therapy sessions that many of us spend a lot of money on. In addition to that, it can help prevent injuries that may require visits to physical therapy rehabilitation centers or chiropractors.
With improved flexibility, the reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness, and improved blood circulation , foam rolling is perfect for athletes and fitness enthusiasts to help boost athletic performance and to enhance recovery from intense training sessions or workouts.
Please bear in mind that you don’t have to be an athlete to gain the many benefits that foam rolling gives users. Foam rolling can improve the life of those who live sedentary lifestyles by aiding the body to get rid of toxins built up in capillaries, veins, fibers, and connective tissues. It’s amazing what this small, inexpensive piece of equipment can do for our performance and our health.