Years ago when foam rollers were first introduced, you may have wondered how a 36-inch long cylindrical piece of foam could possibly be useful. Today, you can find foam rollers in nearly every gym and most strength and conditioning facilities, and they are great and here is why. Improved muscle recovery is one of the best foam roller benefits.
We all want to recover faster and get through the muscle soreness stages of exercise quickly. Foam rollers are a tool that can help you do just that. We will show you how to use a foam roller to speed up recovery properly.
What made foam rollers so popular today? Recently, more people have been moving towards a European-inspired process that focuses more on hands-on soft tissue care. Techniques like massage, Active Release Therapy (ART), and Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) can work wonders if you’re sore or injured. If elite-level athletes experience success from various soft tissue massage techniques, then so can you (1).
With a foam roller, you can get a soft tissue massage at a reasonable cost. Your foam roller is essentially your budget massage therapist. You can use it to provide soft tissue work in any setting. However, you need to know how to use your foam roller in order to get the most out of your massage.
What are Foam Rollers?
A foam roller is simply a cylindrical piece of hard-celled foam. You can usually get them in 1-foot or 3-foot lengths.
You can also get foam rollers in a number of densities, ranging from relatively soft foam to high-density rollers that feel more solid. Additionally, foam rollers now come with different textures and even large nob like tread. Many people prefer the nobs to get more of a trigger point style message, but there is no proof that nobs or flat give a better massage. You should choose the one that gives you the most foam roller benefits.
How to Use Your Foam Roller To Maximize the Foam Roller Benefits
Use your foam roller to apply pressure to sensitive areas of your muscles (sometimes called trigger points), knots, or areas of increased muscle density. You can use the foam roller to search for these tender, injury-prone areas. With a little direction on where to look, you can easily find these spots on your own. Roll these areas to decrease your muscles’ density and over-activity.
You should apply long, sweeping strokes to long muscle groups like your calves, adductors, and quadriceps. Use small strokes and more directed force for areas like your tensor fasciae latae (TFL), hip rotators, and gluteus medius.
Gear the feel of your foam roller and the intensity of your self-massage to your age, comfort, and fitness level. This is one of the pluses of being able to roll yourself: you can control the intensity with your own body weight.
Full Body Foam Roller Routine
When to Use Your Foam Roller
You can get foam roller benefits for your muscles both before and after your workout. Rolling your muscles prior to your workout can help decrease muscle density and promote better warm-ups. Rolling after a workout can help your muscles recover from strenuous exercise.
You can use your foam roller on a daily basis. You can even work trigger points up to 12 times a day if you’re experiencing acute pain.
How long should you use your foam roller? It depends. You should usually spend 5 to 10 minutes on soft tissue activation work prior to your warm-up at the beginning of an exercise session. Repeat for the same amount of time after your workout as well.
Best Body Areas to Target with Your Foam Roller
You can use your foam roller on almost any area of your body, but it works best on your lower extremities. Because your upper body tissue is not as dense, you’re less prone to upper body strains as you are to lower body strains.
Gluteus Maximus and Hip Rotators:
- For your gluteus maximus, sit on the foam roller with a slight tilt and roll from your iliac crest to your hip joint.
- For your hip rotators, cross your affected leg so that your hip rotator group is in an elongated position.
- As a general rule, you should do 10 slow rolls in each position (although there are no hard and fast rules for reps). You can also simply roll until the pain disappears.
TFL and Gluteus Medius:
Your TFL and gluteus medius are small in size. However, they can both be linked to significant anterior knee pain.
- To address your TFL, begin with your body prone and the edge of the foam roller placed over your TFL, just below your iliac crest.
- After working your TFL, turn 90 degrees to a side position and roll from your hip joint to your iliac crest. This will address your gluteus medius.
If you’re like most people, you probably focus a great deal of time and energy on your quadriceps and hamstring groups, but pay very little attention to your adductors.
There are two methods you can use with your foam roller.
- The first is a floor-based technique that is best if you’re a beginner. Start by abducting your leg over the roller. Place the roller at about a 60-degree angle to your leg. You’ll roll three different sections. Begin rolling just above your knee in the area of your vastus medialis and pes anserine. Do 10 short rolls, covering about one third the length of your femur. Next, move the foam roller to the mid-point of your adductor group and again roll 10 times in the middle third of your muscle. Lastly, position the foam roller high into your groin, almost to your pubic symphysis, and do a final set of 10 rolls.
- For the second technique to target your adductors, you’ll perform the same rolling movements, but in a different position. You’ll need to sit on a training room table or on top of a plyometric box. This allows you to shift more weight onto the foam roller and work deeper into your large adductor triangle.
Although most people use foam rollers primarily on the lower body, you can also use your foam roller on your upper extremities. You can use the same techniques for your pecs, lats, and rotator cuffs. However, you’ll need to roll with a much smaller amplitude, making the movements closer to acupressure.
Use Caution to Get the Best Results
Foam rolling is hard work and can even be painful. It’s important that you learn to distinguish between a moderate level of discomfort when you’re working a trigger point and discomfort that can lead to injury. When you’re done foam rolling, you should feel better, not worse. Also, the foam roller should never cause bruising.
Even though foam rollers are great, hands-on work is still better. A foam roller can’t feel your muscles like a masseuse can. But, foam rollers are still a great low-cost alternative. They provide unlimited self-massage for around $20.