The Art of Foam Rolling

Muscle soreness, stiffness, and general feelings of fatigue. They follow us everywhere. If you’ve been around the sport, or really any sport or exercise routine, for a while, then you know that at a certain point, you do workouts that leave you pretty beat. These workouts leave you feeling like you don’t want to walk, and just sleep for the rest of the day, they really take it out of you. This feeling is pretty normal, and its nothing to be concerned about. It means you pushed yourself hard and got the most of that day. But what happens next can be crucial to your body being able to rebound and be ready for the next day. Immediately after the workout is done, you begin the process of muscle recovery, and if you don’t take it seriously, it can derail your training for up to several days.

There are many ways you can facilitate your body’s recovery. There are sleeping techniques, ice baths, proper nutrition, and a seemingly never ending list of tools designed to bounce back for the next day’s training. This article is going to focus on one one tool in particular, the foam roller. Rollers can be used for a multitude of reasons, but we’ll just look at muscle recovery.

The first thing I’d like to touch on about of foam friend is some background. All of your muscles are covered by a sheetlike tissue called fascia that helps to hold muscles together and transfer tension between muscle fibers. When you put a lot of strain on your muscles, these tissues like to tense up and occasionally not release which can cause that painful feeling of stiffness after a hard workout. This makes your muscles feel tender to the touch and painful to move. When fascia gets caught in this state of tension, it is referred to as myofascial knots or simply muscle knots. The key to easing up the tension in your muscle and allowing for normal movement is to break up the knot and work the tissue back into its normal state. This is where the foam roller comes into play as a very handy tool.

Foam rollers can act as a big picture massage working out kinds in the broad muscle groups such as quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes and back muscles. To get into some of the smaller nooks and crannies, there are a number of other options such as a lacrosse ball, but that’s a whole different story. To get a good result out of your foam roller, treat it like a massage, and work over the areas you’re having trouble with. When I foam roll, I like to start with the muscle group that feels the worst. For me, this is usually my quads, which luckily is a very big muscle group and easy to target with a roller. If you aren’t sure where the knots are in your muscles, a good way to find them is to start at one end of the muscle (ex: towards the knee for rolling quads) and work your way to the other end. At some point along the way, there is usually a sport that gets either a little painful or where the roller seems to get stuck. In most cases, this is where your knot is. Once you can find the trouble spot, rolling right on the spot, or back and forth right over it, a few times will tend to release the fascia little by little. Just make sure to work it out as much as you can. Once you get past one area, and this shouldn’t take more than a few seconds, you can move your way up to the next trouble spot and repeat the process until you’ve successfully rolled through the entire muscle. Once you get through one muscle, you can run over it again from other angles and take different lines (more medially or laterally) to find more knots, or move on to the next muscle.

Foam rollers are a great tool to use for recovery on a regular basis or for the days you feel particularly bad. While most studies on foam rolling have been difficult to recreate, many have shown that mild foam rolling can have positive effects on flexibility, power generation, and overall performance. Whether foam rolling directly effects these or not, foam rolling does in fact feel good after you’re done and that can go a long way in athletic performance. Happy rolling!