Tuesday, March 11, 2014

USING A FOAM ROLLER: THE BASICS

If you've never used a foam roller, you're really missing out!  Think of it as a deep-tissue massage for nearly every muscle in your body.  It's the perfect way to begin a workout.  I've always known about foam rolling but I never took advantage of its benefits...until I had an injury.

HOW I MET THE FOAM ROLLER
I dislike running as a form of exercise.  That's partly because running used to make my knees hurt (which is partly due to the fact that I have scoliosis...which has caused many muscles imbalances...which I will chat about in a future post).  Anyway, I'd start a run and within 20 minutes, I would experience excruciating pain along the outside of my right knee and thigh.  At the time, I wasn't well-educated on anatomy so I met with an orthopedist who ordered x-rays and an MRI.  Both turned up nothing.  I also went through a series of appointments with a chiropractor which helped at first but as soon as the sessions stopped, the pain returned.  Fast-forward nearly 10 years (yes, it took that long!), I was emailing back and forth with a Personal Trainer in Michigan and she casually mentioned the foam roller as a way to improve my imbalances.  It changed my life!

OMG! THIS IS PAINFUL!
The first time I foam-rolled, well...all I can say is "OUCH!!!"  It was really painful but I now know that the pain I felt was a clear indication that foam rolling was needed in my daily routine.  That first time lasted less than 10 seconds.  I couldn't handle another second because it was so uncomfortable. Nowadays, I could foam roll for hours (I don't do it for hours...but I could if I wanted to).

WHY FOAM ROLL?
Here's a quick (and overly simplistic) anatomy lesson: There are things (not the medical term) in muscles that make them contract and there are things in muscles that make them relax.  Optimal balance between these two things creates functional movement and prevents injury.  If there is an imbalance (and if you don't use a foam roller), any warm-up or workout that you perform will just lead to tissue overuse and potential injury.  Foam rolling (also called Self-Myofascial Release) can alleviate any tight muscle restrictions and help promote system balance.  So, muscle imbalance leads to tissue compensation, which leads to overuse, which may lead to injury, which means YOU NEED TO USE A FOAM ROLLER!

HOW DO YOU USE A FOAM ROLLER?
Click *here* to see my go-to foam roller exercise (it's for your IT Band which was the tissue causing the pain that I experienced many years ago).  Many individuals (including professional athletes) use a foam roller incorrectly.  The goal is to roll across the muscle tissue until you come across a tender spot (versus simply rolling back and forth along the entire muscle length without stopping).  Keep the applied pressure on the tender spot for up to 60 seconds and move slowly back and forth (only about an inch or so to keep pressure on the tender spot).  Our muscles come in all shapes and sizes so you can also try multi-directional movements to apply pressure to various areas. 

WHY IS IT SOMETIMES PAINFUL TO USE A FOAM ROLLER?
First, let me be clear.  Foam rolling should never cause so much pain that your movement is restricted or you have tears of pain welling in your eyes. Usually, the pain is felt when you use a foam roller for the first time (your muscles are tight, they need a little kneading).  Once you've had a chance to roll consistently, any pain you felt will be reduced.  If your muscles are really tight, I suggest starting off with a soft roller on carpet.  If you hit a seriously tender spot, try to roll as close to that spot as possible and hold the pressure in place.  Eventually, you'll be able to roll back and forth with little discomfort. As I mentioned earlier, when I first starting rolling, I lasted a few seconds. Now, I can roll for an endless amount of time with no discomfort.  So, give it time.

WHEN SHOULD I USE A FOAM ROLLER?
Most people wait until they've completed a workout before using a foam roller (I've been guilty of this) but it's actually best to use a foam roller before your workout session and better yet to use it before a warm-up.  It's a great prep for static stretching since the act of rolling is like ironing out any kinks in your muscles.  You can foam roll before and after a workout, but if you're only going to do it once, do it before.

WHAT TYPE OF FOAM ROLLER SHOULD I GET?
Foam rollers come in all shapes and sizes but the most important feature to consider is density.  If you use a roller that is too soft, your rolling actions may prove to be ineffective.  Conversely, if you go with a roller that is too hard, bruising and other forms of tissue trauma can occur.  Most foam rollers are 6-12 inches in diameter but there are some exceptions.  You can also find rollers that have grids or ridges that may increase the pressure that can be applied.  It all comes down to preference and comfort.  Many different types of foam rollers can be found at sporting goods stores as well as places like Target and Walmart and it wouldn't hurt to try it out at the store so you find one that fits your needs.

4 comments:

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