Foam rolling is the ‘hurts-so-good’ muscle recovery method that just keeps growing in popularity. Even if you’re not a regular foam roller, it’s likely you’ve turned to foam rolling once or twice to relieve some niggling muscle pains. Foam rollers are an effective way of reducing muscle tension and tightness by increasing blood flow, leading to improved recovery and performance.
Despite foam rolling being a relatively well known piece of equipment, how much do you really know about it? Whilst many of us diligently use foam rollers because we’ve been told to by our personal trainer or fellow athletes, have you ever stopped to think about what it’s actually doing and how it’s working?
How do they work?
Here’s the science-y bit. Also known as self-myofascial release, foam rolling works in a similar way to getting a sports massage. The use of your body weight in combination with the foam cylinder exerts pressure on your muscles, which relieves tension in the fascia (the connective tissue that our muscles are enclosed in).
In layman’s terms, foam rolling gently irons out the knots in our connective tissue that build up from doing exercise – something that stretching doesn’t quite manage to do.
Speeds up recovery and reduces injury
Having to miss training days due to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or injury can be super frustrating for athletes. Rolling after a workout encourages blood flow back into tight areas and key muscle groups used during the workout, helping to restore the muscles and reduce muscle soreness in the following days.
This is particularly useful for runners, who often have to contend with shin splints and other joint and mobility problems caused by tight muscles.
Foam rolling can reduce stress too
Another benefit related to foam rolling is that it can reduce your stress levels. Myofascial release can actually reduce your levels of cortisol – the hormone most associated with stress and anxiety.
Taking the time to foam roll post-workout will help you to wind down, especially after a big endorphin rush, giving you a clearer, more focussed mind – ready to smash your goals during the next training session.
Are all foam rollers created equally?
No, they aren’t. Believe it or not, there’s a fair bit of engineering which goes into these cyclical neoprene tubes. Foam rollers come in a range of densities, and ultimately which roller you decide to use will depend on your pain tolerance. When starting out, it’s best to try something on the softer side. As your technique and muscles adapt, you can move onto denser, more textured rollers which will provide a more targeted massage to work out larger knots.
Whether your exercise routine is short and sharp or a test of endurance, the practice of foam rolling really can benefit everyone – in most cases, stretching just simply won’t be enough.
Foam rolling can take as little as ten minutes a day but will have a huge impact on your training. It might just be the missing piece in the puzzle for smashing your fitness goals – why don’t you give it a try?
If you’re not sure how to use a foam roller, a local personal trainer should be able to help you.