Many athletes are familiar with a foam roller, that little tube that people roll up and down their legs. If you don’t already own a foam roller, we strongly suggest you invest in one; some cost as little as $20. This tool helps reduce the risk of injury, speed recovery and can make you a stronger athlete.
Reasons to Use a Foam Roller
Foam rolling can hurt. A lot. So why do people do it? Here are some of the reasons foam rollers exist:
- Simulate deep-tissue massage. Kinks, knots and muscle cramps happen, and since we can’t all afford a massage every day, foam rollers provide a cost-effective solution.
- Reduce muscle soreness by improving blood flow. Intense exercise causes damage to your muscles, resulting in soreness. Foam rolling after a hard workout improves blood flow to speed repair of the damaged muscles.
- Break up scar tissue. The muscle damage from exercise can also cause scar tissue to form. Foam rolling is one way to break up the scar tissue and maintain the elasticity of your muscles.
- Strengthen your core. Foam rollers can also be used as a workout tool to strengthen your core muscles. You can use a roller for crunches, push-ups and various balance drills.
- Prevent injury. All of the reasons to foam roll equate to one thing, preventing injury, and as long as you’re doing it properly, regularly foam rolling is an effective way to prevent sports injuries.
Types of Foam Rollers
Technically there is only one type of foam roller; the solid foam roller. But there are two additional products people use to simulate their own deep-tissue massage and strengthen their core muscles.
- Solid foam rollers. Standard foam rollers consist of a solid foam cylinder and are available in different densities. The denser the foam, the more pressure you can exert on cramped muscles. Denser foam rollers also last longer; less-dense rollers become soft and lose their effectiveness over time.
- The Grid. The Grid is a piece of plastic pipe with foam on the outside. The foam is molded into different “Distrodensity Zones.” These zones are designed to simulate how a masseuse applies pressure. For example, there is a zone for fingertip massage.
- Plastic pipe. Some people just forego the foam altogether and use a piece of plastic pipe (like ABS or PVC pipe used for plumbing) to roll out their kinks and break up scar tissue.
Tips for Using a Foam Roller
Using a foam roller sounds simple enough; you just roll up and down sore muscles. But there are a few things to keep in mind so you gain the most benefit from the experience.
- Only foam roll after a workout. Foam rolling works best when your muscles are warm and the blood is flowing. Attempting to foam roll when your muscles are cold will be more painful than necessary and can do more harm than good.
- Do not roll over bones or joints. Rolling over bones and joints will be very painful and potentially damaging, so keep the roller on your muscles.
- Sit in one spot for a while. Deep-tissue massage therapists often press in one area for a long time to “release” your muscles. You can do this with a foam roller by holding it at the area of pain or muscle attachment for a while before rolling the muscle out.
- Roll slowly. Don’t just sit on the foam roller and start rolling really fast. Going slow and focusing on trouble areas will give you a deeper, more effective massage.
- Apply as much body weight as possible. When foam rolling, you use your own body weight to give yourself a deep-tissue massage. The more weight you apply, the deeper the massage, but keep it within your pain threshold. Too much weight on a damaged muscle will only harm it more.
- Relax and breathe. Foam rolling can be painful, but it is even more painful if you hold your breath and tense up. Focus on relaxing and taking steady breaths to help loosen your muscles.
- Drink plenty of water. Water helps keep muscles limber and elastic. Foam rolling causes your body to use water, much like a workout, so you must replenish your fluids afterwards.
Foam rollers are a wise investment for any athlete. They are relatively cheap — available at most sporting goods stores — and can greatly reduce your risk of injury. And anything you can do to reduce your risk of injury is well worth it.Tweet