Foam rolling, or using your body weight to put pressure on a tense muscle on a compressed foam cylinder to release tension, was a relatively uncommon practice not long ago. Today, foam rollers are commonplace in fitness facilities, physical therapy clinics and locker rooms for good reason. The now better-known benefits of foam rolling include helping to correct bad posture, treating injuries, relieving aches and pains, and a host of other reasons to add it to your routine. But despite its many applications, foam rolling is still unfamiliar to many. We’ve teamed up with Tina Garnaat, the brand manager of fitness at TriggerPoint, on this introductory guide to foam rolling.
Is Foam Rolling Right for Everyone?
Foam rolling is an excellent addition to most people’s health regimens, but it’s not for everyone. Because foam rolling releases tension in your muscles, it influences blood flow and the position of your joints, so it’s best to talk to your doctor if you have any serious health concerns or injuries before starting. “There are common contraindications to foam rolling like, pregnancy, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and arthritis to name a few,” says Tina. “It’s also important to understand that contraindications are not absolutes.”
The Benefits of Foam Rolling
- Release muscle tightness
- Increase range of motion
- Work out knots and trigger points
- Faster recovery from exercise
- Regain flexibility
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Decrease pain
Restoring muscles and their corresponding fascia will help in all areas of daily life, whether you’re staying healthy on the job, relieving pain, recovering from injuries, or supplementing training for hobbies or sports.
Getting Started with Foam Rolling
Before beginning, it’s important to know that foam rolling, just like a deep tissue massage, can be painful. With time and regular practice though, you will experience less pain, more relaxed muscles and improved musculoskeletal alignment.
Step 1: Get the Right Foam Roller
There are three specific things to look for when purchasing a roller: quality, density, and education, says Tina.
A foam roller should last a while. While the simple dense foam varieties are generally less expensive, they may not hold their density as well as their higher quality counterparts. Be sure to try a few rollers first to decide which density works for you, as well. “If you are rolling on a regular basis (and hopefully you are) then the body will begin to change and adapt,” says Tina. “The muscles should begin to reduce tension and mobility should increase. Which means, that a denser roller will be necessary to continue seeing results.” Her suggestion is to get one that seems as if it’s a little too dense (not intensely painful but pretty uncomfortable to use) to give your body something to adapt to.
And when choosing a roller, make sure it comes with access to some instructions, such as online videos or printed instruction, or find a fitness or therapy professional to help you one on one. “Foam rolling is meant to mimic massage,” Tina says, so if instructions are saying to roll quickly or to do anything that doesn’t seem like something a massage therapist would do, don’t do it.
Step 2: Locate Problem Areas
A common mistake for those new to foam rolling is that they roll too quickly and without focus. In order to be effective, rolling should be done slowly running the length of the muscle belly while allowing the muscle to stay in a relaxed state as you search for areas that require special attention. Tensing muscles while you roll won’t allow for a successful session. When you locate a particularly painful spot, relax and allow the roller to sink in as you breathe. Hold yourself in place on the roller for 8-10 slow breaths, then move back and forth over the trigger point in one inch movements until you notice the pain has decreased. Although it’s unlikely foam rolling will ever be comfortable, regular practice can reduce the intensity of pain over time as your muscles adapt.
A word of caution: Do not obsess over any particular spot. Stick with 30-60 second holds on a trigger point. Longer will not help and can actually cause bruising or exacerbate an ongoing issue.
Step 3: Set a Regimen