You might have one in hand in your living room or your local gym, but it might also be the gift you’ve been offered by a relative, currently collecting dust in one of your cupboards. Foam rollers are now part of many homes, whether we are the occasional jogger, heavy lifter, keen cyclist, or club football player.
It has become the mainstream self-massage tool when most cannot afford a good sports massage every other day. But there might still be a lot of burning questions that you didn’t get an answer to. Don’t be ashamed: here is a little roundup.
How does it work?
Your physiotherapist will probably refer to it as a self-myofascial release (or SMR) technique. In short, foam rollers’ purpose is to release tension held in the fascia - connective tissue that holds all your organs, muscles, vessels, bones, nerves together.
Fascia could be described as the spider web between all your organs, structuring and linking our body into one whole. In sports, they enable us to make elastic, flexible, and smooth movements.
But if you spend a lot of time on your feet, or you tend to train a lot, or increase your training regime, your fascia will get tighter and compress your muscles. It creates trigger points that can be very uncomfortable or limit you in your movement.
It is clearly when the foam roller comes into play, stressing these trigger points. This tool will help fascia get more flexibility again, releasing it - and you can say goodbye to trigger points!
What is its purpose?
If the medical jargon isn’t your cup of tea, foam rolling helps to reduce muscle stiffness, and improve your flexibility and range of motion. Athletes (and anyone practicing sports) often underestimate it as it can contribute to an injury-free life and help you recover better and faster. Are you convinced yet?
When is it best to foam roll?
Good question! You can do it right before or as you finish your activity. Before you head out, it might be a good idea to use your foam roller to start warming up, as it will get your blood flow.
If you’re already sore and hoping for an instant solution, we’re sorry to announce that your muscles will not instantly feel fresh again. Even a few minutes will help you increase tissue elasticity, blood circulation, and range of motion… and you’ll feel the difference in the days to come. Even if you’re not sore, don’t skip it as it will help in preventing injuries.
Now, you did your run or you went for your workout. Stop!
Don’t put your roller at the bottom of the cupboard just yet: plan to resume your day after you roll again. Foam rolling has more than one magic trick on its sleeve as it will help you recover. How does it do that? By increasing blood flow, more oxygen will be carried to your muscles which will boost recovery.
How long to roll for?
Our best tip: don’t be in a rush!
Ideally, you’d want to roll between long strokes, covering the entirety of the muscle you’re trying to stretch. We recommend spending between 1 and 3 minutes per muscle for optimal effect. When you find a trigger point, consider sustaining (bearable) pressure on it for 30 to 60 seconds.
Why does it hurt?
Your fascia could be very tight. In this case, applying pressure or even just rolling on your foam roller can feel uncomfortable or even painful.
Stay reassured: it is normal for it not to be as enjoyable as a spa massage but it should never be too painful. If it is, don’t force yourself. Be more gentle, don’t apply all your weight on it or stop rolling. Waiting a couple of days until you see progress in your recovery might be a more suitable option to work hand-in-hand with your body.
Can it replace stretching?
Foam rolling and stretching are complementary! Of course, it will always be better to do both if you're struggling with time. Don’t collapse in a sweaty heap! While you're uploading your latest activity on Strava and waiting for kudos, think about performing both foam rolling and static stretches. While foam rolling will help with fascia, stretching will increase the length of your muscles and train the body for the controlled elongation of muscles during movement.