How to use the foam roller
By Ben Leber, Manager of Physical Activity
Disclaimer: Please consult with your physician before beginning if you have any concerns about your safety while doing physical activity. If you have any doubt, please complete a PAR-Q here and follow the appropriate recommendations.
Foam rolling is growing in popularity as a means to help treat soft tissue concerns but also to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Foam rolling may be done before an activity to help loosen the tissue around the muscle or after an activity to help with the recovery and hopefully reduce some muscle soreness! Foam rolling when combined with stretching provides a great daily prevention and treatment regimen to keep your body happy, healthy and ready for the next activity!
Why is it beneficial?
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release. But what is that? Well if you break down the word, ‘myo’ means muscle and fascia is the tissue that surrounds your muscles. So essentially you are releasing and loosening the fascia that surrounds your muscle. Foam rolling is a form of self massage and trigger point therapy to help release muscle tightness. It may be painful to start but as you continue and progress, the degree of pain does diminish! Foam rolling allows you to control and be active in your recovery and healing process because only you can feel where you are most sore!
Foam rolling and actively releasing trigger points helps to restore proper movements. This will allow your muscle to work pain free. Foam rolling assists in ways stretching can’t. Foam rolling releases those painful knots! This then allows your muscles to work in a proper and normal function. Sometimes we have scarring from surgeries or injuries that also may affect your muscle’s function. Foam rolling also helps to break up scar tissue to allow for better movement. Foam rolling is a great way to promote flexibility, mobility and removal of lactic acid to keep your muscle happy and functioning at an optimal level!
Do’s and Don’ts of foam rolling
DO: Roll everyday! It is great for muscles.
DON’T: Do not roll directly on the sore spot, roll around the area to help alleviate the stress
DO: Roll slowly and concentrated. Take your time so your muscles can adapt to and manage the treatment to help eliminate those knots.
DON’T: Roll for extensive amounts of time on one spot. Make sure every 20-30s you are moving on to the next muscle. Feel free to come back to any specific muscles but make sure there is some time in between to help the muscles recover and adapt.
DO: Maintain good posture while rolling, you do not want to create further problems!
DON’T: Do not roll directly on your lower back. You risk your body entering a spasm to protect the spine.
Complete foam rolling routine
Whenever I foam roll, I like to roll the muscle twice, alternating limbs, and then give it a good stretch. The hope is that you roll it once to loosen the area, the second roll gets at those pesky knots and then stretch helps the muscle to return to a more optimal length. Roll each muscle for 20-30s each time and then stretch it for at least 30s, the longer the better!
Guidelines to follow:
When foam rolling your muscles, you may do each limb independently or do them together. Doing one limb at a time will increase the pressure and sensation felt. Make sure you roll the entire length of the muscle to reach the muscle tendons and muscle belly. I tend to split a muscle into 2-3 segments rather than trying to roll the entire length at once. It is also important to roll on the outer, middle and inner parts of each muscle. Make sure your muscle is relaxed and not clenched when rolling!
To roll, simply rock your body back and forth while applying pressure to the desired muscle. If you find you are clenching, relax and start again. If you continue while the muscle is clenched, additional problems may arise.
Using a more localized pressure like a tennis or lacrosse ball has also become more popular. These work great for localizing the pressure and help to get harder to reach muscles. Feel free to give it a try!
Note: To stretch, I like to put the foam roller on the ground against a wall, put my toes up on the foam roller and lean forward to get a nice deep stretch in the calf.
Note: To stretch the hamstring, find a comfortable height to rest your heel, keep a slight bend in the knee and keep your back straight as you hinge forward.
Note: When stretching, keep your knees together.
IT Band / Tensor Fascia Latae
Note: Try to roll higher up the thigh and towards the front to really get the TFL muscle. The IT band is the tendon for this muscle so you want to ensure the muscle is getting treated as well. Sometimes it works better to roll with a ball as the muscle is quite small and may be hard to get to with a full-sized roller.
Note: It may be tricky to relax the glute as you roll so really pay attention to it! While stretching, pushing down on the knee will get your gluteus medius and pulling up on the knee will get the gluteus maximus. The gluteus medius is commonly tight and weak due to sitting all day! Important to keep it loose and strong to prevent hip and lower back pain!
Note: Again, it may be hard to maintain a relaxed muscle so really focus on it. When stretching, do not roll, simply sit back and push down to feel the stretch under the arm pits towards your back.
Note: This is where the ball becomes handy. To roll, you need to angle the roller properly to get the front of the shoulder area. A ball helps to pinpoint exactly where you want to feel it. To stretch, put the roller along the length of your spine and simply allow your arm to rest to the side. The higher you put your hands, the more stretch you will feel. Hold this stretch for longer time to really get a deep stretch. It may also be done on the corner of your bed.
Note: You may use a ball to really put pressure on your trapezius muscle. Maintain a nice relaxed upper back while rolling. To stretch, gently pull your neck down slowly an ensure your other arm is behind your back.
Your body will be very grateful if you complete this routine a few times a week. Target more often the muscles you feel are tighter. Foam rolling will not be very comfortable at the beginning, but it does get better over time.
If you have any questions, please never hesitate to ask Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org) or 613-828-8586.