At this point I’m sure you’ve heard about the importance of foam rolling or at the bare minimum a good friend or your trainer has introduced you to it. Many of us know that we should be foam rolling but struggle to understand the “why?” in regards to using it in a safe and effective manner.
Why should I foam roll?
Foam rolling is simply a self-myofascial release or a self-massage technique that one can use to break down trigger points or knotted up tissues in the body. When done properly and consistently foam rolling will also aid in the recovery process by improving the tissue quality of the muscles from increased blood flow and circulation to that part of the body. Foam rolling can ultimately lead to muscles that are more supple and joints that have greater ranges of motion, which is important for any athlete looking to increase their performance or reduce the risk of future injuries.
How often and how long should I foam roll?
There is not a one size fits all answer or approach to this question. In a perfect world, I would like one to foam roll for roughly 10 minutes a day. It can be done before or after a workout, before bed at night, or anytime in between. Honestly, the timing of it is less important than just making sure you fit it into your daily routine.
Is foam rolling painful?
Yes, often times foam rolling can be painful depending on how tight your muscles are in addition to which part of the body you are rolling. Those who tend to spend more time foam rolling and have made it apart of their daily routine will find that it’s not as painful as when they first started using a foam roller. It’s common for some people to not know how much pain is too much or if it’s not painful at all they will wonder if they are doing it correctly. I like to use the term therapeutic pain to describe what you should be feeling when you’re foam rolling. It might not exactly be the most comfortable feeling but it should not be so painful that it’s tough to bear for a few minutes (with most things in life, moderation is the key).
Typically, if it’s not painful at all then you may either need to switch up the foam rolling tool you are using (i.e.: switch from a foam roller to something smaller and more dense like a lacrosse ball) or that particular area that you are rolling might not need as much attention as another part of your body.
I’ve never foam rolled before, how do I know which type of foam roller to buy?
In my experience I have found that this is an often overlooked key to uncovering some of the benefits from foam rolling. Foam rollers come in all different shapes and sizes, and in different densities. For beginners, you should start with a foam roller that is a little softer and less dense than some of the more advanced ones.
The issue with someone who doesn’t have much experience with foam rolling starting on a very dense foam roller or something like a lacrosse ball is that this person is probably fairly tight and won’t be able to relax their muscles at all during the time that they foam roll. If it is incredibly painful your nervous system and muscles will tighten up which won’t allow you to work the tissues in the muscles properly. If you are new to foam rolling, start by being conservative with which foam roller you use, and you can progress to new, more dense ones once your tissue and fascia have been opened up.
Common Pitfalls and Mistakes
– You roll too fast. Slow down! When you just blindly roll over a muscle quickly you will most likely miss the trigger points and knots that really need your attention.
– You don’t spend enough time on it. 30 seconds of quick rolling over a certain muscle is most likely not going to create any lasting changes. Try to spend at least a couple minutes on each area of the body you are working on. When you find a particularly tight spot spend 30 seconds to a minute on it before moving on.
– The foam roller or tool you use to roll is too dense. Thus it’s too painful when you roll (see above).
– You have bad posture when you foam roll. Yes, even when you are foam rolling you need to think about keeping good postural integrity. Some positions while foam rolling require strength and the ability to hold yourself in a certain position for a period of time. Make sure to be aware of this while rolling.
– You foam roll your low back. Foam rolling your lower back is one of the cardinal sins of foam rolling. Doing so puts an inordinate amount of pressure in this region on the spine and should be avoided. FYI, the low back or lumbar spine is not always the reason for low back pain. It is often times coming from somewhere else in the body.
– You only foam roll when something hurts. Yes, foam rolling can be a helpful tool when something is flaring up, but it should also be used as a preventative or maintenance tool to avoid muscle tightness and future injuries.