WHAT IS FOAM ROLLING?
Foam rolling, you may have heard of it a few times, but have you ever tried it? Back when I thought I was indestructible I didn’t see it as important. This has since changed now knowing the benefits it provides.
Since then I have come to my senses and do it almost every day. I LOVE IT!
Let’s get technical, foam rolling is the process of holding gentle pressure to your muscle which will stimulate the Golgi-tendon organ and induce autogenic inhibition. Which decreases the excitation in the muscle spindles and releases tension in the muscle.
If I had to break it down into one sentence it would be this: Foam rolling is used to relieve knots in your muscle and provide a “massage” to the area allowing the muscle to relax.
So, what are these benefits you are talking about? Almost there, I promise.
Your first-time foam rolling you may feel quite a bit of discomfort (completely normal by the way). And if you feel like there are marbles in your muscles, those are knots that need to be worked out (also normal). Be sure to take your time and focus on breathing, you will be tempted to start holding your breath when rolling over a tense area in your muscle.
It is important to take your time and work these knots allowing your muscles to relax and unleash their optimal performance. “Yes, knots hinder your performance”.
WHY SHOULD I DO IT?
Finally, here are the benefits I have been referencing. These are five reasons, aside from it simply feels good (well, once the knots are gone).
RELEASE MUSCLE TENSION
This is the main reason foam rolling is used, simply to release muscle tension and relieve knots in the muscle. When working out several times a week and not stretching adequately, knots tend to form in the muscle due to muscle tension from working out. This can decrease the ability of the muscle to contract efficiently, leading to reduced performance.
I don’t know about you but when I workout, I want the results. To continue performing optimally and keep muscles relaxed, foam rolling before and after a workout keeps muscles relaxed. Which in return reduces the appearances of knots and relieves some knots that are present. When you feel a knot while foam rolling, spend extra time on the area to relieve tension.
How does foam rolling increase recovery? Foam rolling increases blood flow which supplies the muscle with proper nutrients to begin the recovery process.
Related to recovery; I like to use foam rolling after a workout, in the morning, and at night.
We are all looking for ways to reduce soreness, simply another benefit of foam rolling and is a product of the two previous benefits. Releasing muscle tension increases recovery, which then reduces soreness.
INCREASE RANGE OF MOTION
Keeping a proper range of motion is important and we can all agree with that. By relieving knots in the muscle, you begin to gain muscle extensibility (because the knots are tight spots in the muscle) which improves range of motion. Keeping a good range of motion enables proper form when performing exercises and improves posture.
If the range of motion is hindered, it may be due to knots, or general tightness. Decreased range of motion leads to various postural distortions and increased tightness in other muscle groups.
Reducing muscle tension and increasing range of motion will lead to increased performance. By relieving the muscles of knots, they will contract and relax optimally. Increased range of motion will prevent muscle distortion patterns, and your body is able to perform movements without being restricted by tight muscles and which would cause you to compensate.
WHEN SHOULD I DO IT?
BEFORE | AFTER WORKOUT
Focus on muscle groups included in your workout for the day. This promotes extensibility which will enable you to achieve an unrestricted range of motion (knots restrict the range of motion), promoting smooth reps when performing exercises that require a full range of motion.
I stick to muscles that are used for the workout when foam rolling before and after a workout. This allows me to capture the extensibility and recovery benefits of foam rolling. It also enables me to get deep in the rep and obtain a better contraction.
MORNING | NIGHT
Foam rolling in the morning and at night keep muscles relaxed and promotes the recovery process. Muscles are usually tight at these times in the day when waking up and before going to bed. We are usually sitting down for a while in the evening and muscles tend to tighten and are of course tight when we wake up in the morning.
In the mornings, I like to work on the areas worked the previous day, since they are probably tight and sore the following morning. Before bed, I like to work on the muscles used that day in my workout.
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE FOAM ROLLING
TAKE YOUR TIME
It may be tempting to speed through foam rolling due to experiencing some discomfort due to areas where tightness exists. Using a fast approach is not as effective and does not allow the muscle to relax. Spend more time (roughly 30 seconds) on tender areas or where you feel a knot in the muscle. Increasing time spent on tender areas will enable the muscle to relax and release tension.
I prefer to have a timer in sight, this allows me to look at the time when I find a tight spot and spend roughly 30 seconds on the area. I then proceed to roll the rest of the muscle searching for additional tension that may exist.
It will almost be an instant reaction to begin short shallow breaths when rolling over a tight area as there will be noticeable discomfort. This breathing pattern is not beneficial to the goal of releasing muscle tension. Focus on normal breathing patterns, or long deep breaths to promote relaxation of the muscle.
When exhaling, I focus on relaxing the muscle, letting the foam roller serve its purpose. I find it easier to tell my muscle to relax when using deep breaths and controlled exhales. It is sometimes challenging to maintain deep breathing patterns when rolling over a tight area as there is usually discomfort. Be sure to spend more time on the tight areas and control breathing patterns.
DO NOT FOAM ROLL JOINTS | TENDONS
There is no benefit from foam rolling joints or tendons and this should be avoided. You can get close to the joint to reach the entire length of the muscle, but do not foam roll the joint or tendon. It is good practice to stop before you reach where the tendon connects to the muscle. You should be able to feel where the tendon begins as it will start to feel hard, and usually uncomfortable. The main muscles groups I foam roll are the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. There are other muscles to foam roll of course. Always take caution when foam rolling and contact a medical professional if needed.