Foam rolling is a wonderful way to stretch your muscles and release muscle tightness. It can feel a lot like you're giving yourself a massage. I use the foam roller every evening as a way to unwind and reset before heading to bed. A couple weeks ago I introduced a personal training client to the foam roller and we have seen physical improvements in her posture. My experience with her inspired me to share why the foam roller is something you should try and give you a few of my favorite stretches with the foam roller.
Foam Rolling: Treat Yo' Self to a Self-Massage
Why is Foam Rolling Good For You?
Foam rolling releases tightness and knots in your muscles. These areas area also called "trigger points". These trigger points form due to a lot of activity and tightening of the muscles. Your muscles should be soft, supple, and flexible. When the muscles tighten from runs or other exercise then the layers of the muscles can also adhere to each other. Stretching cannot always work these deeper trigger points out.
I saw a great metaphor for this phenomenon: think of a bungee cord with a knot at the end of it. When you pull on the bungee, the bungee stretches, but the knot stays just as tight as it was before. The same can go for your muscles. You can sit in a butterfly position to stretch your hips, but the act of reaching your thighs to the floor to open your hips may not break up the adhesions and trigger points in your hips and thighs.
The foam roller allows you to find those areas where you feel tightness and even discomfort. Essentially, you roll the foam roller across the areas relieving and breaking down the knots, while increasing blood flow to those areas.
A foam roller is a great tool because it is relatively easy to use and affordable. You may experience pain or discomfort during the rolling, but it should not be unbearable. After foam rolling you should feel more relaxed, stretched out, and a little better than when you started.
Basic Tips for Foam Rolling
1. Go slowly. Foam rolling is not a fast activity. Slow and purposeful rolling is key here.
2. Never foam roll over a joint. Make sure you are only foam rolling over muscles. Foam rolling over a joint increases the risk of injury.
3. Avoid foam rolling your lower back. Foam rolling your low back puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on that area. Your low back is sensitive and it needs less intensive home-techniques to stretch it out.
4. If the pain is unbearable, stop foam rolling. The pain should not be so intense that you can't take it. If the pain is crazy intense, then just stop and find another area. This is not a test to see how much pain you can take. If you come across an especially tight spot, stop the foam roller and apply direct pressure for 5-30 seconds. You should feel the muscle relax a little bit. When
5. Take deep breaths. Just like in Pilates and Yoga, breathing will get you through foam rolling. Taking deep breaths will help to relax the muscles and bring oxygen into your body.
6. Take breaks when you need to. Just like a work out, when it gets to be too much, take a break. This is not a race. This is all for you. Do what you need. Need a break? Take it. When you are ready jump back on the foam roller.
Laying on Your Back
Let's start with this juicy back stretch. This is a crowd favorite because of the relaxation that comes with it. Many of my personal training clients love this stretch because it opens their chest after a long day of sitting at the computer.
Benefits: Stretches the back, opens the shoulders and chest. If you sit at a desk for many hours of the day this is for you!
Set-up: Sit on the edge of the foam roller. Then slow lay down so your spine is parallel with the foam roller. Start with elbows bent and open the arms out to the side. You can gently rock right to left or just stay put. This is a great foam rolling exercise that does not actually require the act of rolling.
You can also take the arms in big slow circles in each direction and bring your arms over your head with your hands together. I like to lay on the foam roller holding arm stretches or circling my arms for about 5-15 minutes before I go to bed. This creates a very soothing feeling.
Benefits: This is a great exercise if you have tight hips and thigh muscles, or if you run or cycle a lot. It also feels good after a Pilates workout (especially after side leg lift).
Set-up: Lay your outer hip on the foam roller. Gently roll across the muscles of your hip. Your top leg can be used to push your body across the roller. Avoid rolling over your knee.
Inner Thighs and Hips
If you practice yoga this may look familiar to you, as this is basically lizard stretch with the foam roller. This is a nice exercise that you can also do without any actual rolling and just lay on your stomach taking deep breaths.
Benefits: This exercise stretches out your hips and inner thighs, therefore increasing range of motion and hip mobility. If you run, sit at a desk, cycle, do yoga, Pilates, or you name it you can benefit from adding some extra mobility to your hips.
Set-up: Lay on your stomach and lay the meaty part of your inner thigh on the foam roller. Make sure the foam roller is not underneath your knee. Stack your hands and lay your head down on your hands, or you can lay your head on a pillow. Take deep inhales and exhales allowing the muscles to relax.