Foam rolling, which helps in the process known as myofascial release, is a popular way of releasing muscle tightness and trigger points.
Muscle tightness can develop anywhere in the body, but there are some muscle groups that are particularly known for becoming tight.
When these muscles become chronically tight, it can cause a lot of the common pains and postural problems that we experience.
It is through the process of foam rolling which can help relieve this tightness and restore the natural length of the muscles.
In this post, we’ll look at what foam rolling is, the benefits and how to foam roll the different parts of your body.
How Do Foam Rollers Work?
The most simple way to describe foam rolling is that it is a form of self-massage using a foam roller device.
Rather than it being a massage where someone else’s hands are doing the work, the movement of the foam roller is applying the pressure instead.
Foam rollers work by using bodyweight to compress your muscles onto the roller, which you can roll over the muscle in a self-controlled way.
This compression causes muscles to relax and loosen just like they would from a massage.
The Top Benefits of Foam Rolling
Although foam rolling seems so simple, there are many benefits from massaging the fascia or performing myofascial release.
Foam rollers used to be reserved for athletes and physical therapy patients, however, compounding evidence touting their benefits has shown how helpful they can be for everyone else.
Whether you want to massage tight muscles, speed up recovery after exercise or alleviate pain, there are several health benefits foam rolling can offer you.
1. Releases Tension and Improves Circulation
Foam rolling boosts the flow of blood in the muscles you use it on, which in turn increases circulation throughout your body.
The compression of your muscles and connective tissue with a foam roller forces blood to leave the muscle and be replaced by a fresh supply of blood.
When microcirculation within muscles is impaired due to tightness, oxygen and nutrients like glycogen become depleted in the muscles.
With more blood flow, muscles can function better and heal faster.
It can relieve muscle pain and reduce the risk of injury.
2. Allows You to Control Your Own Massage
You can customize your massage and control the areas you want to focus on based on the feelings you get as you use your foam roller.
This allows you to use your own sensations as a feedback mechanism for massage, rather than relying on someone to massage you.
By focusing on areas with tenderness or pain, you can get more out of your massage.
3. Speeds Up Muscle Recovery and Relieves Sore Muscles
Myofascial release has been proven to reduce recovery time between workouts, especially when used right after completing a workout.
During exercise, lactic acid builds up within muscle tissue.
Foam rolling helps your muscles flush it out by putting compression on them and drawing fresh blood into your fatigued muscles.
By helping your muscles get rid of lactic acid and get the nutrients they need to recover, foam rolling allows them to rebuild faster.
Lactic acid build-up in muscles is what causes delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is a common complaint after a hard workout.
Foam rolling is shown to improve pain and tenderness caused by DOMS when performed after exercise.
4. Increases Your Range of Motion
By loosening tight muscles, foam rolling increases muscle flexibility.
By releasing the fascia (connective tissue around muscles), it lubricates the muscles so that they can separate from the bone and be used in their entirety without friction.
Better range of motion translates to better athletic performance and a smaller chance of pain or injury after a workout.
5. Better Athletic Performance
If you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle mass quickly, you can do it faster with myofascial release in between training sessions.
By boosting blood flow in your muscles, foam rolling helps them stay better hydrated, oxygenated and energized during exercise.
Looser muscles are able to move faster with less friction.
This gives you faster, smoother movements during exercise and reduces the risk of injury.
6. Relieves Common Pains
Foam rolling releases inflammation around the bone, which helps relieve pain.
If you’re an athlete, you may be familiar with shin splints, IT band pain in your knee and pain in your Achilles tendon.
Foam rolling can help with these leg pains, which in turn saves your back from potential pain because it doesn’t have to compensate for sore legs when you move.
If you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer desk and experience upper or lower back pain, foam rolling can help reduce the inflammation and help your tissues heal.
How to Foam Roll Your Entire Body
In this section, we’ll take a look at how to massage the different parts of your body.
To roll out your quads, roll from the top of the hip to the top of the knee. Keep your belly in and core tight.
You can try rolling with the feet facing out or inwards depending on where your tender spots are.
If you feel any tight spots bend and extend the knee to iron out any trigger points.
2) IT band
The IT bands stretch from the top of the hip down to the knee.
Some people say it’s a waste of time foam rolling the IT band as it has no effect but you can try it for yourself and see if you notice any positive benefits.
To roll the IT band, start at the middle of the leg and balancing on your forearm keeping your core tight.
When you feel a knot bend and extend the leg. Repeat on the other side.
3) Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
The TFL is a small muscle near the top of the hip.
To foam roll the TFL, balance your quads on the foam roller then twist your body slightly to one side.
Angle your body then roll up and down and repeat on the other side.
If you want to go extreme or need more release, a massage ball can be very effective on this area.
The position of the roller is important because the adductors can be hard to reach, as they are in the fleshy area of your inner thigh.
The piriformis muscle helps abduct the leg and if it becomes too tight can give you the duck feet look, as well as sciatic pain.
Learning how to foam roll the piriformis can help alleviate these conditions.
To foam roll the piriformis, sit on the foam roller and cross one of your legs over the other, then drop the knee down and start rolling.
Having tight hamstrings is particularly common especially if you never stretch them out.
Luckily foam rolling the hamstrings is very easy to do.
Sit on the foam roller supporting yourself with your hands and start rolling from the butt then stop before the back of the knee.
If you don’t feel anything with a foam roller, you may require further pressure in which case you can use a lacrosse ball.
Runners and athletes are susceptible to getting tight calves.
By foam rolling them effectively you can help release tension and prevent them from tightening up.
To foam roll your calf, place one ankle on your foam roller then cross the other on top for added pressure. Roll your foot from side to side. If you find any pressure points stop rolling and circle your ankle in both directions.
If you need more release you can try one of those myofascial release tools.
If you have shin pain or suffer from shin splints you should find foam rolling your shins beneficial.
To foam roll your shin, cross one leg over and place shins on the roller. Roll up and down. Rotate foot when any pressure points are felt.
9) Upper Back
Place the foam roller near the top of the shoulders. Rest your head in your hands, elevate your hips and roll up and down. Bring your elbows in for a deeper message.
For greater release massage balls are very effective in this area.
The lats which run down the side of your torso can also be prone to getting tight especially if you sit all day.
Start at the armpit, rest head in hands and rotate forward and back across the roller.
Move the roller down, then start rotating again. Then move roller down one more notch and again rotate across the roller. Repeat on the other side.
Further Tips and Advice
In the beginning, you may find foam rolling very painful, which is often a sign you need it.
Over time the more you do, the less it will hurt.
Not only will it hurt less, but you should also find that your muscles should feel looser.
If you aren’t already foam rolling then start today! It’s definitely a practice worth incorporating into your daily routine.
Related: Best foam rollers