In this article, we will look at how foam rolling exercises can improve your workouts.
You will learn ten benefits of foam rolling and two drawbacks, how to choose a foam roller, how to use a foam roller, how often to do so, and more.
Foam rollers are a simple and affordable tool used for self-myofascial release or self-massage. Their primary use is to improve flexibility, ease sore muscles, and loosen muscle knots.
They offer an effective means of reducing tension and elongating muscles for either a pre-workout warm-up or a post-exercise active recovery.
While advantageous to athletes, sedentary people can use the device to release muscle tension caused by everyday stress or from sitting at a desk all day.
Muscles you can target include those of the lats (back), sides, shoulders, quads, outer thighs, calves, buttocks, and more.
Foam Rolling Overview
After a hard workout, or when you are tense, your body can react by forming tight, painful knots in your muscle tissue. These knots are known as trigger points, and if they aren’t released, they can worsen over time.
They may present as localized pain, or you may feel the effects in other parts of your body. This is known as referred pain, which can also make you feel tired and make it difficult to sleep.
One way of getting rid of trigger points is to get a professional massage. While effective, this can quickly become very expensive.
Studies have shown that regularly performing self-massage with a foam roller can bring relief. With the right foam roller, you can ease sore trigger points, decompress your muscles, and get a good night’s sleep.
10 Benefits of Foam Rolling Exercises
Foam roller exercises were once solely the domain of athletes, fitness coaches, and physical rehabilitation therapists.
But you don’t need to be a professional sportsperson to experience the benefits of foam rolling. The reality is that anyone who wants to get the most from their workouts can experience foam rolling benefits.
Following are ten of the main benefits of foam rolling exercises.
Improves flexibility and range of motion
Stretching is, by far, the most used way to ease muscle soreness. But there are times when stretching does not reduce sore spots sufficiently to allow a full range of movement.
A foam roller can help you target these sore spots, improve your flexibility, and enable you to perform better during exercise.
Our muscles need oxygen to move and grow optimally. They get this through the circulation of blood. Tight muscles restrict blood flow, which in turn deprives muscles of oxygen. Foam rolling exercises can loosen the muscles and provide them with an adequate supply of oxygenated blood.
May ease lower back pain
Around 80% of the population will experience lower back pain at some point. A recent study showed that foam rolling can reduce lower back pain by 62 percent or more when done regularly.
Following an intense workout, the level of stress hormones in our body increases dramatically. Some studies have indicated that foam rolling can lower cortisol and reduce stress hormones.
Inactive people can use a foam roller to ease muscular tension and feel more relaxed.
Relieves muscle soreness
Making foam roller exercises a part of your fitness plan can help you to prevent muscle pain before it occurs or treat it.
Muscle pain is common for people who exercise, especially those who do high-impact workouts and/or use heavy weights to train. It is caused by the body repairing tiny muscle tears that occur during exercise.
If the discomfort is severe, it can slow progress or even put a total halt to your training. In this situation, by the time you can exercise again, you may have lost motivation or hesitate for fear of exacerbating the injury.
Speeds up the absorption of lactic acid
Strenuous or prolonged exercise often results in a build-up of lactic acid that can cause post-workout muscle cramps. While lactic acid reabsorbs into the body of its own accord, foam rolling will speed up the process and help to avoid cramping.
Helps to prevent sporting injuries
Doing a Warm-Up that includes stretching before exercising can help to prevent injuries from occurring. Combining the warm-up with foam rolling will potentially further lower the likelihood of sustaining an injury during workouts. This is because foam rolling improves blood flow, which in turn increases the range of motion.
People who sit for extended periods can, over time, find that certain posterior muscles lengthen and become weak, while muscles in the anterior of their body tighten. Foam rolling exercises can help to counteract this by promoting better blood circulation and loosening knots.
May Reduce cellulite
A shift in the connective tissue structure is a common cause of cellulite. When done regularly, foam rolling exercises can stretch connective tissues and break up fat fibers, helping to reduce existing cellulite and prevent further formation.
Can save you money
Another of the benefits of foam rolling is that self-massage will cost you nothing other than the price of the roller. Compare that to the cost of a professional massage which you will need to pay for every time! It is also convenient, as you can do it at any time of the day or night.
2 Drawbacks of Foam Rolling Exercises
It can hurt
It’s typical for foam rolling to be uncomfortable or even painful at first. This is a sign that your body is rebuilding the tiny muscles tears sustained during vigorous exercise. When pressure is applied to these areas, the body’s pain receptors are stimulated.
NB: If the pain you feel is severe or sharp, stop and see your doctor, as you may have an injury that requires medical treatment.
It’s not always a good option
Foam roller exercises should not be undertaken on areas that are swollen. Using a roller under these circumstances could further increase inflammation and cause more harm than good.
Keep reading for tips on how to choose a foam roller.
Video overview of the benefits of foam rolling and the drawbacks
How to Choose a Foam Roller
If you decide to try foam rolling exercises, you will, of course, need to buy a roller. There are a few different types, each with an individual feel.
Foam rollers consist of lightweight cylindrical tubes of compressed foam that come in different densities and sizes.
The low-density foam roller is the lightest and softest option. This type of roller contours to the area being massaged as it eases muscle tension.
It is an excellent choice for beginners, and it is ideal to use after an intense workout as it won’t place too much pressure on sore muscles.
The hard-core foam roller contains a hard plastic core. It provides more pressure than a low-density roller, so it’s a good all-rounder.
The firm foam roller is denser, making it perfect for stronger and more intense massaging. It best suits those who have been practicing self-myofascial release for some time and athletes looking to recover quickly between workouts.
Textured foam rollers can take your massage sessions to another level again. Covered in bumps or wavy ridges, these dig into the muscles’ trigger points to quickly ease tightness and release knots.
The most common foam roller size is 36″ long with a diameter of between 5″ and 6″. This is most suited to rolling your back. A smaller one that is around 24″ long with a 3″ to 4″ diameter is a popular choice for working on the shoulders, neck, arms, and legs.
There’s also a 12″ option, which usually has a 5″ to 6″ diameter. This size is handy to travel with or take to a yoga class. It’s also a good choice if your workout space is confined, and it’s helpful in rolling your feet.
Keep reading for tips on how to use a foam roller.
How to Use a Foam Roller
Place one hand on each side of the foam roller and place it over or beneath the area you want to work. For some exercises, you will be lying on the roller.
Breathing normally, slowly start rolling over the desired area, exerting firm pressure. Roll each muscle group for approximately twenty to thirty seconds. If you hit a sore spot, move the roller gently back and forth for at least thirty seconds and up to sixty seconds.
How Often Should I do Foam Rolling Exercises?
There’s no hard and fast rule about how often you should do foam rolling exercises.
If you haven’t used a foam roller before, start with every other day. After a few weeks, try using it before and after every workout, or at a time that suits you if you are using it solely for relaxation. If you don’t have the time to do this, even a few times a week will be of benefit.
What Time of Day is Best for Foam Rolling?
There is no best time to do foam rolling exercises. The hour of the day or night you choose will depend on your aim.
Rolling pre-workouts will help warm up your muscles and improve your flexibility, so you will perform at your best.
Rolling post-workouts can hasten your recovery by improving your circulation and relaxing your muscles. This, in turn, can help to prevent stiffness and lower the likelihood of muscle soreness occurring.
If you wake up stiff in the mornings, a foam roller can help to relieve the pain associated with this, enabling you to be more active during the day ahead.
Foam rolling before you retire for the night can result in a better night’s sleep due to your muscles feeling more relaxed.
Whichever time of the day or night you choose to foam roll, you will get benefits similar to that of a good massage.
Final Thoughts on Foam Rolling Exercises
Foam rolling exercises offer a convenient and inexpensive way to ease muscle tension and tightness and improve your flexibility and sporting performance.
These benefits can be enjoyed by professional athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and sedentary individuals alike.
Give foam rolling a try if you want to prepare or recover from exercise or simply boost your circulation and feel more energetic.