The Do’s and Don’ts of Foam Rolling

Foam rolling has become a hot fitness trend and likely one you’re looking to try if you experience frequent muscle stiffness and inflammation. Like with any exercise equipment, however, there are key reminders and best practices to keep in mind when using a foam roller to prevent undue pain or injury. Don’t miss these essential tips:

Do Pick the Right Foam Roller for You

Depending on your size, weight and needs, the type of foam roller you buy or borrow at the gym may vary. Choosing the perfect foam roller should include considerations about what density you want to roll on (i.e. hard, medium, soft) as well as the length of foam roller you require for targeting specific body parts.

Foam rolling may be an integral part of your recovery regimen following a hard workout, or you may simply keep one at home for working out daily aches and pains. Longer foam rollers can be utilized for body use, while smaller foam rollers can target isolated muscle groups to work out specific trigger points. Foam rollers are reasonably priced with many in the $14 – $25 range. Just remember, you will want to find a foam roller that can withstand the continued use of your entire body weight on it.

DON’T Roll Through Pain

Your inclination to roll over and hold at a trigger point again and again and again no matter how painful is a definite no-no. Just like with any myofascial release therapy, some soreness and pain may accompany deep pressure application to inflamed or tight tissues. Rolling through severe, sudden pain, however, is not going to help you gain any relief and could indicate the occurrence of a fitness injury like a tendon tear or strain.

Rolling out restricted and contracted tissues incorrectly can stimulate your body to tense up even tighter in pain. This defeats the purpose of foam rolling and may actually trigger stronger and stronger stress responses in your body. Instead, you want to relax into a roll, practice deep breathing, and embrace a mind-body awareness that helps you visualize the fascia release.

DO Take the Opportunity to Learn

The more you educate yourself about the body and how foam rolling can aid your flexibility, mobility and recovery, the more benefit you will see. For example, did you know that foam rolling doesn’t target your muscle tissue as much as it does the tough, flexible tissue called fascia that covers your muscles and joints? By loosening up tight fascia and rearranging jumbled tissue fibers, foam rollers can improve your flexibility, muscle activation and range of motion.

Guided direction from a knowledgeable instructor (in your gym, or streamed online on YouTube, for example) plays an important role in helping you nail good foam rolling technique to prevent potential injury as well. Understanding that relieving low back pain may actually result from foam rolling tight hips and upper leg muscles require an informed approach and willingness to learn.

DON’T Rely on Foam Rolling For Success

Foam rolling is a valuable contribution to a recovery regimen that involves stretching and refueling the body after a moderate or high-intensity workout. However, it is not the end-all-be-all of flexibility and mobility success. The human body is a complex piece of biomechanical machinery and your own athletic performance and recovery are not based solely on the muscles and fascia.

Your metabolic rate, your bones and joints (including the spine, knees, hips and feet) your nervous system, and even your skin all work together when it comes to enhancing your movements and alleviating pain. Foam rolling is one of the puzzle pieces that must be accompanied by routine fitness and dynamic stretching to keep tissues pliable and strong.

DO Maintain a *Slow* Roll

Applying deep pressure to underlying fascia tissue with a foam roller takes a targeted and slow approach. Quickly rolling back and forth limits your ability to truly release stiff and encumbered tissues, and can preclude you foam maintaining the best form possible during this type of stretch.

Experts recommend rolling at about an inch a second, conscious of your pace and breathing. When you reach a trigger point or target location, maintain the weight on it, count for about 10 breaths, and wait for the tension to dissipate. A 2015 study in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy suggests foam rolling for 30 seconds to 1 minute per muscle group roughly 20 minutes a day, 3 day a week.

For some, results of foam rolling are felt almost right away. For others, routine foam rolling may take a few sessions to positively impact pain and performance levels. Self-myofascial release is also possible through massage and using trigger point tools like a trigger point wand or mobility ball.

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