HEALTHY LIVING: The benefits of foam rolling

HEALTHY LIVING: The benefits of foam rolling

Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release, also known as self-myofascial release, which involves massaging muscle and connective tissues with a foam cylinder to sooth inflammation. There are different types of foam rollers available for purchase that vary in texture and size. Some of the more popular rollers are made from smooth Styrofoam or equipped with stiff abrasive ridges to penetrate deep within the muscles. 

These tools can commonly be found among the exercise equipment at your local gym or for sale at a fitness equipment retailer. Foam rolling is a technique that fitness professionals have been utilizing since the 1980s to help reduce muscle soreness in athletes by breaking up lactic acid.

Self-myofascial release has since permeated all spheres of the fitness industry, garnering considerable attention for its health benefits. Using a foam roller before your workout will increase circulation throughout the body, which helps to maximize range of motion. Pre-workout rolling also enables you to isolate certain muscle groups and turn-off overactive ones that tend to take over during an intense workout.

Post-workout foam rolling is said to decrease time needed for recovery in-between workouts. Getting into the habit of stretching regularly post-workout, in conjunction with foam rolling is most advantageous. Rollers are typically found in sections of fitness centers designated for stretching, which makes it really simple to add foam rolling to your gym routine.

Foam rolling is best done on soft, level ground. You will need sufficient balance and decent strength for optimal results since rolling involves leveraging your body weight against the cylinder to massage the muscles. However, anyone can foam roll at a pace and intensity that meets their skill level and needs.

Since strength training involves making tiny tears in muscle fibers in order to increase muscle size and density, kneading the muscles regularly using SMR is a popular method to break up scar tissue. SMR is a known alternative technique to treat chronic muscle pain. Targeting trigger points where adhesions build-up in the muscles can mean increased length-tension relationships.  

After stretching at the end of a personal training session, I like to take my clients through a foam rolling sequence that begins at the calves and spans the length of the body. I spend a fair amount of time showing my clients how to foam roll both of their hamstrings synchronized, and then each leg individually. I follow this same model for the quadricep muscles.

A small narrow muscle called piriformis, located deep behind the glutes, is notorious for holding a lot of tension. This pent-up muscle tension often times irritates the sciatic nerve. SMR for the piriformis is always among my initial recommendations for those suffering from persistent lower back pain.

After focusing on these areas, I then direct my clients to roll the abductors and adductors which are the outer and inner muscles of the thighs. Once the lower body is completely rolled out, we make our way up to the thoracic spine. Each muscle group requires about 30 seconds of consistent rolling. 

I always emphasize that it is not safe to foam roll any bones, joints, or tendons, this includes the backs of the knee and the lumbar spine. You should not roll to the point of excessive pain or tenderness. Make sure to give yourself recovery time between SMR sessions, ranging from 24 to 48 hours. 

Consult a certified personal trainer or a reputable exercise physiology webpage for detailed demonstrations on how to properly use a foam roller and reap the benefits of self-myofascial release.

Kristen Dearborn is a Wallingford native,  NASM certified personal trainer and author of the blog dearfitkris –