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Published on July 24, 2018

woman exercising using a foam roller

#TryItTuesday: Foam Rollers

The other day I shared with my mom that I was planning on writing an article on foam rollers. She replied, “Why would anyone care about those pink rollers I used to put in my hair?”

I quickly explained to her that I’m not writing about those foam rollers. LOL! The foam rollers I’m talking about are cylindrical pieces of foam typically used after working out or in conjunction with physical therapy.

Foam rollers are great for relieving myofascial pain and increasing flexibility. Best of all? They’re really easy to use.

What You Need 

You only need two things – yourself and the roller. Your body weight and the rolling exercises help soften the fascia, which is the layer of fibrous tissue that covers muscles.

Foam rollers are relatively inexpensive and portable, and you can target specific body parts based on your unique needs. The workout, called rolling out, also helps stretch your muscles and tendons, which boosts flexibility.

My first experience using a roller was when I had physical therapy for lymphedema. From my first introduction to the roller and feeling its benefits, I’ve been in love with rolling.

While usually long and cylindrical, rollers come in many shapes, sizes and varying textures. When used for self-massage, they help soothe tight, sore areas known as “trigger points." They also speed up muscle recovery. This process of rolling out tight muscles and relieving tension is also called myofascial release.

Self-Massage and More 

Using a foam roller for self-massage is a great way to relieve tension and stress throughout the body. By putting pressure on your muscles, foam rollers break up the fibrous tissue that increases tension and triggers muscle aches.

This process can help you to be more flexible, improve the range of motion and help your tight muscles recover from strenuous workouts.

Exercise programs, like pilates and yoga, often use foam rollers in their routines. In these programs, the roller is used in ways that increase flexibility and range of motion.  Or the roller can be used to create instability that challenges the core, promoting strength and balance.

Types of Foam Rollers

There are several types of foam rollers. One of the key aspects of choosing a foam roller is the density or firmness. The density determines how the roller will feel during use.

Standard density: These rollers have a medium firmness, making them ideal for both self-massage and exercise. They provide just enough hardness for a deep massage while still having moderate cushion. Their medium density also serves nicely as stable props for use in pilates and yoga routines.

Soft density: Soft density foam rollers have more “give” or cushion to them.  A soft foam roller is perfect for beginners and is great for those who are just getting used to foam rolling.

Firm density: Firm density foam rollers are more effective at relieving tight muscles and trigger points. Firm density foam rollers are perfect for those looking for a deeper, more intense massage.

To provide a more intense massage, some foam rollers have ridges or points, almost like miniature spikes. These ridges provide a deeper penetrating massage that breaks up fascia on even the tightest, compact muscles. Only use this style if you’re experienced with foam rolling and are ready for plenty of hurt-so-good pain.

How To Use Them

When I first attempted to use my foam roller, it felt awkward. With a little practice, the technique became much more natural.

When using a foam roller, it is essential to roll slowly and apply pressure directly to the targeted area. As mentioned, there are several types of rollers, and choosing one depends on your preference for massage intensity and individual needs. 

When you first start rolling, expect to feel some discomfort. If the pain is too much, use a less dense or rigid foam roller.

Ready to get rolling? Check out the following tips. If you’re unsure of technique, see a personal trainer for a few basic lessons.

  • Add some rolling at the end of your workout, when your muscles are warm. Begin by using a soft or medium density foam roller.
  • Choose a part of your body that’s tight (your quads are a great place to start) and position the roller between the selected area and the floor.
  • Move back and forth across the roller, almost as if you’re flattening a piece of dough with a rolling pin.
  • Moving slowly, follow the natural contours of your muscles as you roll, beginning with the point closest to the center of your body and rolling outward.
  • When you reach an exceptionally tight or knotted spot — called a “trigger point” or “hot spot” — hold the position until you feel the area loosen up.
  • Roll out each muscle group for about 40 seconds, relaxing for about 15 seconds between sessions, and completing two sessions per muscle group.
  • Remember a little pain is normal. When you roll, you stimulate nerve endings.
  • Keep your first few sessions brief – no more than 15 minutes.
  • Take at least a day off between sessions.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • After a few weeks, your recovery time will decrease, and you'll be able to tolerate more extended, more frequent sessions.

A good recommendation is to stay on soft tissue and avoid rolling directly on bone. If your tightness is the result of an injury, see a doctor before attempting self-myofascial release.

Live Better. Live Balanced. Avera.

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