Foam rolling is recommended to athletes’ training for and completing endurance sports, especially runners and triathletes. You see them in the stretching zone of gyms in all shapes, sizes, and styles. You may use them regularly, but do you know how they actually work?
What is a foam roller?
Foam rolling is used when stretching alone doesn’t completely release muscle tightness. When you foam roll your muscles, you are completing what is known as a “self-myofascial release”. A ‘myofascial release’ relaxes and improves the stretch of muscles, while also improving circulation. This promotes muscle repair and loosens any knots or tightness in your muscles which have built up over time during exercise from overuse of the muscle. In short, foam rolling is a cost-effective alternative to a sports massage.
Different types of foam rollers
There are different variations of foam rollers. Generally, the more experienced you are to sports massages and foam rolling, then the denser the foam roller will be advised.
Smooth vs Textured Foam Rollers
A smooth foam roller provides consistent pressure all over. This creates a less intense massage, so suitable for those that are new to foam rolling. This may also be advised for those that are looking for an all-around massage and are experiencing lower levels of tightness.
A textured foam roller has been designed to target more precise muscle areas. It is suitable for working out a knot in your muscles for example. However, the massage is more intense than a smooth foam roller, so may be more uncomfortable, even slightly painful at times.
Do’s and Don’t’s of foam rolling
We have created a list of do’s and don’t’s when it comes to foam rolling, to help you make the most out of your time rolling.
- Consult a medical professional before you start foam rolling. In some cases, they may discourage you to foam roll. For example, it may worsen any pre-existing medical conditions.
- Try different types of foam rollers to find the one for you.
- Warm-up or have a hot bath before foam rolling. This will ensure that your muscles are warm enough to loosen up and will maximise the benefits of foam rolling. Read more about how to warm-up properly.
- Top tip: add Epsom Salts in your bath, these contain magnesium which will improve muscle repair.
- Use for a few minutes after a work-out. For the same reason as a warm-up or hot bath is advised, you may miss out on the full effects of foam rolling if your muscles are cold when you foam roll. Foam rolling can cause the muscles to feel relaxed, not what you need at the beginning of your work-out! As well as this, it can help lactic acid build up prevention after a work-out, which is another reason it will speed up your muscle recovery time.
- Keep well hydrated after foam rolling. As advised after a sports massage, it is important to increase your water intake after a foam rolling session. This will flush out all the toxins that are released from your muscles.
- Roll on a joint or bone. This could cause inflammation and further injury.
- Foam roll directly on injured areas. If you have pain coming from an area, often the tight muscles are the muscles that connect to that particular area. Instead, roll away from the pain centre to the connecting muscles.
- Roll too quickly, or for too long! Just like certain strength and conditioning exercises, you will get more benefit out of the movement if it is a slow and consistent speed. However, it is also not advised to spend too long on one particular area either as that can irritate the muscle. Aim for about 20-30 seconds on each area. If you are new to it, start little and often. Consistency is key. A few minutes a day is much more beneficial than one long session per week!
- Continue foam rolling if the pain is sharp or intense. It should be uncomfortable, but you shouldn’t be experiencing intense pain. Swap your textured roller for a smooth one or consider buying a softer one. If the pain continues, consult a medical professional or a physiotherapist before you use again.
- Foam roll on your lower back or neck. These sensitive areas could be at risk of further damage if high pressure is applied to them.
Foam rolling is an imperative addition to your training routine, especially if you are completing high volumes of training sessions. When used correctly, foam rolling can improve muscle flexibility, speed up muscle repair, and reduce muscle soreness during training sessions. So with our top foam rolling tips in mind, prepare to smash your next few training sessions and bounce back quicker than ever!