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Foam Rollers and the Benefits of Foam Rolling

So, you’ve been to the gym, pushed your body hard and got yourself some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). In an effort to try to relieve this tight, sore after-effect of ‘killing it’ during your workouts, you’ve asked those in the know or scoured the internet for some effective treatment and come up with foam rollers- but you don’t know what these are or how you’re supposed to use them!

Never fear, we’re here to help you with everything you need to know about foam rollers.

What are foam rollers?

Foam rollers are short tubes that are made from compressed foam. Although they come in various sizes and lengths, with different patterns pressed into the foam, they mostly do the same job all around the body, no matter what size or style you choose.

They started being used in the 1980s, alongside the rise of bodybuilding, as they were a fantastic method of self-massage. They soon became popular with dancers, gymnasts and, of course, bodybuilders. Rollers were also used alongside treatment from physiotherapists due to their ability to help loosen and stretch muscles, and many physio’s still recommend them for certain issues with connective tissues.

What do foam rollers do?

Foam rollers are used for multiple reasons. The main reason we use rollers these days are to help with connective tissues in the body (the tendons and ligaments), and to encourage blood flow to your muscles. To use the medical terminology, using a foam roller is a form of self-myofascial release.

Why does using a foam roller help?

With appropriate use, the benefits of using foam rollers can be immense. Firstly, they improve your flexibility and range of motion. This is because, the movements create pressure, which causes your central nervous system to release multiple hormones. One of these hormones tells your body to increase the blood flow to the area that is currently feeling the pressure. This increase in oxygenated blood allows your muscles to heal faster than they would without the foam roller.

Another hormone released through using your foam roller increases the vagal activity in your brain, which causes you to feel more relaxed, and lowers the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) while improving your pain tolerance.

Recently, The Independent conducted a study that concluded with evidence of an added benefit to using a foam roller before exercise. They had participants complete rolling exercises for two minutes, then rest for two minutes. As such, they performed better with leg extensions over time than those who did not prepare for their workout.

Another study concluded that foam rolling and roller massage may be effective interventions for enhancing joint ROM and pre and post-exercise muscle performance

Should I use a foam roller?

The simplest answer to this question would be to ask yourself if you think you need a roller, yet. We’re not saying you need to be a professional athlete to use one! Rather, if your exercise consists mostly of gentle stretching, or you haven’t pushed your muscles into their natural tear-and-repair cycle, then they may not be necessary.

However, as we can see from above, there are many reasons why you should be rolling as part of your exercise routine. So, if you think you’d like to try and see some of the benefits of foam rolling for yourself, then you should definitely pick one up. They can be relatively cheap to buy and are light and compact enough to take with you or keep tidied away at home – if that’s where you prefer to workout.

How do I use a foam roller?

We’re glad you asked! Before we get started on the basics, remember that you know your body better than anyone else, and if you think there’s a more serious issue at play, then definitely speak to your doctor before using your foam roller. Likewise, if using a roller is causing you too much pain, or you feel it is making your problems worse in any way, stop using your tube immediately and seek out advice from a doctor, trained physio or your personal trainer.

You can use a foam roller before or after your workouts. If you decide to use them beforehand, then try to get your muscles warm before you start your routine. Using smooth movement will help keep your muscles supple and avoid any damage occurring when you use your roller, so try doing a few jumping jacks, jogging on-the-spot or swing your arms around in circles (taking care not to hit anything- or anyone! – nearby). This will get your muscles ready for your exercises and get your heart pumping.

If you’d rather use your foam roller after a workout, then be sure to incorporate it into your warm-down routine. At this point, your muscles should already be warm and ready for the self-massage. Of course, you also have the option of including your foam roller as part of your main workout but this can usually cause your body to slow down compared to other exercises and might throw your body off a little!

The main areas foam rollers are used on include the quads, hamstrings, iliotibial (IT) band and thoracic spine area. In all cases, you’ll need to place the foam roller on the floor and roll yourself against it, in order to create the pressure you feel comfortable with:

You’ll need to lie on your front, in a manner similar to the plank position, with the roller placed under your thighs. Keep your body as straight as you can while you move back and forth over the foam roller.

IT Band
Similar to above, except you’ll be on your side, with the roller under your hip. It can be a little awkward to get the motion right, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be bobbing from side-to-side in no time. Don’t forget to switch sides to keep yourself equal!
Again, you’ll be in a similar position, except you’ll be facing upwards (face to the ceiling) and the roller just under your bum, while you move back and forth.
Thoracic spine
Thoracic spine foam rollerStill facing upwards, place the roller under your upper back. Using your legs, push yourself over the foam roller.

Adnan Munye

A certified personal trainer, Adnan specialises in weight loss, muscle building, body conditioning, core strengthening and injury rehabilitation. Adnan comes from a sporting background, where he has played football, badminton, rugby, and swimming all at various levels.

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