You’ve probably seen a foam roll in your gym or on television recently as these simple yet extremely effective tools have become mainstream in the fitness world.
Foam rolls come in all shapes, sizes, densities and of course price ranges. The biggest difference you’ll find is the density or hardness of the roller, and this is what will affect the intensity of your soft tissue session. A soft (usually white) foam roll will be adequate for most beginners and provides a very mild intensity compared to that of a hard/firm (usually black) roll.
What exactly does a foam roll do?
Usage of a foam roll, trigger point kit, or any other form of self-massage is used to promote tissue health while improving recovery and reducing the likelihood of injury. This form of self-massage is often called myofascial release. Fascia is the soft tissue component of connective tissue and can be found covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. Think of fascia as a giant spider’s web that is connected through your entire body. It provides support and protection for most structures within the human body, including muscle.
We run into problems when the soft tissue becomes restricted due to disease, overuse, trauma, or inactivity. These restrictions can cause inflammation, pain, muscle tension, reduced range of motion, and diminished blood flow through the entire body.
So how do we repair damaged or unhealthy fascia?
Picture the restricted or damaged fascia as adhesions or “knots.” These knots aren’t always repaired through stretching and flexibility training as originally thought. Imagine tying a knot in the middle of a string and pulling on both ends… this will only tighten the knot– it must be worked out. Myofascial release can help to eliminate pain and increase ROM by breaking down these knots and restoring tissue to its healthy state.
Foam rolling technique
Identify target muscle or muscle group
Roll the entire length of the muscle
Adjust pressure/weight as needed
Pause rather than roll areas of extreme pain (30 – 45 sec)
When is the best time to use a foam roll?
There are mixed opinions on whether myofascial release is most effective as a part of a warm-up or during the cool-down and recovery stage of a training session. Epic Fitness recommends implementing 5 – 10 minutes of soft tissue work a day with mild stretching after each training session to aid in recovery, which will also help cool your body down properly. Initially focus on major muscle groups that have a dramatic impact on your overall body mechanics (glutes, hamstrings, low back, etc) and let your level of discomfort be a grading scale for how healthy your fascia is becoming. As the pain inflicted by the foam roller reduces you can be confident you are making progress in restoring your tissue to a healthy state.