Most everyone has seen the chopped up pool noodles propped up on the wall by the stretching and ab work areas at the gym. Even though they look like pool toys, foam rollers are a staple for many athletes, fitness enthusiasts and runners. Foam rolling relaxes and treats sore muscles in a form of self-massage, improving circulation and increasing flexibility. Cheaper than massages, this budget conscious option can be executed in as little as ten minutes.
Foam rolling works muscles by using a technique called myofascial release. Fascia are the soft tissues that give muscles support and protection. When these become restricted or inflamed from inactivity, overuse, or training, the resulting adhesions, occurring between the fascia and the muscle they protect, causes pain, tightness and a decrease in blood flow. Rolling these tight muscles relieves this strain by pressing on and stretching the fascia to relax the adhesive tissues. Helping to keep muscles loose, myofascial release is a key part of injury prevention.
Foam rolling helps prevent injury when used as part of a workout, and can be done as part of both warm-up and cool down. During warm-up, a short rolling session will help increase circulation to the desired muscles, preparing them for some hard work. After your workout, rolling stretches, massages and relaxes those same muscles after they were shortened and tightened by exercise. Avoiding any torn muscles, you can roll and relax most major muscle groups, including quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, lats and traps. Most runners swear by the foam roller for helping them avoid IT Band syndrome and aiding in recovery from a developing injury with deep tissue massage at very low cost. Smaller muscles, like the chest and psoas, are better reached with lacrosse, tennis or other dense, weighted ball.
You can pick up a basic foam roller for about twenty dollars anywhere that sells fitness equipment, Dick’s and Target both carry them. There are lots of different flavors of foam rollers available, including your choice of color to fancy trigger point styles, so you should try each kind and find what you like best. Different densities exist as well, with white foam rollers typically being softer than blue or black rollers, so know that the harder the roller is, the more intense the stretch is going to be.
With all the benefits of foam rolling, you have no excuse for not giving it a shot!