The vast majority of us aren’t stretching nearly enough, myself included. All it takes is one wrong movement to tear something and make you think twice. Now, consider how many times we have all tried to stretch without any improvements, leaving us prone to injury with a general feeling of tightness. This can set us back in fitness. That’s where a foam roller can be very beneficial. Before we learn how to use one, we need just a quick overview of what it actually does.
A foam roller can be anything from a big roll of foam to a small tennis or lacrosse ball. All have their place in helping with muscle tightness. For the beginner, I would suggest the cylindrical foam roller; as it is easy to use. By reading this, you are just solidifying your place in the yoga hall of fame (with practice of course).
But what does it even do? We think a lot of times that the purpose is to relieve pain. While not far off, it’s not the only purpose of this fantastic tool. What we like to use the foam roller for is called Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). That simply means it helps release the knots we create inside of our muscles.
Picture this with me, you have a hand full of different headphone wires. Now line them all up and put them in your pocket all neat. Walk around for the day and take them out. What you get is a jumbled, twisted, knotted mess. That’s your muscles. Especially for the more active person, this happens to a higher degree. The constant contracting and stretching of our muscles causes knots in our muscles that simply stretching can’t get out. Go ahead and grab the ends of those wires and give them a pull, the knots don’t go anywhere. Now that you have taken control and learned what’s going on inside your body, it’s time to use that knowledge and get rolling.
Now we know what a roller is and what it does. This is how you use it:
Begin your workout with foam rolling. You don’t want to warm up and begin lifting with tight muscles. For example, your calf is tight and you want to roll it out. Sit on the ground, place one leg on top of the roller. The other leg can be crossed over for more pressure or simply left on the ground. Find the sore spot by gently rolling the foam roller and pressing your calf into it — trust me you will know when you find it. Now hold this for about 30 seconds. This tells the body to relax and release that knot. Once you do this in about two to three spots per leg, we go into our normal static stretches. You might even find this part to be easier or find that you have a greater range of motion from doing this a few times.
What about lower back pain? This is most likely the most common reason for people grabbing a roller. Please be careful when doing so. The problem with rolling the lower back is that there is nothing to support your spine while you put pressure on it. The upper spine has the ribs to protect them. When trying to relieve pain in the low back, look above (the thoracic spine) and below (the glutes). Rolling these areas may take some of that pain with it.
Knowing all this doesn’t fix the issue. You need to put it to use. Consistency is key. Stick with it for a few weeks and reap the rewards of foam rolling with less injuries and bigger gains in fitness.