Here’s 9 GREAT Reasons!
What is it?
The technical name for Foam Rolling is Self Myofascial Release, or SMR for short. This technique has been around for ages, and is quite possibly the easiest thing that a person can do to help themselves feel better no matter their activity level. Lurking just underneath our skin is a protective layer of soft tissue called “fascia”. Fascia could be described as the goodwill ambassador of our bodies; its job is to connect bones, nerves, and blood vessels to one another in a harmonious balance that leaves everything working together fluidly. Together, muscle and fascia combine in what is called the myofascial system. As with most things in life, things can become unbalanced, and create discord. In the case of the myofascial system, this happens for several reasons-not stretching, falling victim to injury, or even not moving our bones enough. The technical term for this is adhesion, or when the underlying muscle tissue becomes stuck together with the fascia. Adhesion causes more internal discord through pain, soreness, reduced flexibility, and sometimes even the loss of range of motion. So, where do foam rollers come into play? Well, they are an inexpensive solution to keep adhesion and other muscle fatigues at bay. With a little of ingenuity and some at times comical experimentation, you can target just about any muscle group. Here are nine reasons why you should incorporate foam rolling into your routine.
Life happens, every day, and along with that comes stress. Maybe your dog ate your favorite pair of running shoes, or you locked the keys in the car, or insert stressful moment here: Whatever the case may be, stress is just part of the game. Everyone wears stress differently, in their shoulders, or legs or lower back. Spending a few moments of quality time with your foam roller will erase those knots and help you relax just like an hour long massage would. When you release those knots and sore spots, the tension you’re carrying releases in that connective tissue, or fascia, and the stress melts away. Bonus: You get to keep your clothes on.
2. Improved Circulation
One benefit of foam rolling is increased blood circulation. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research states that the mechanical effect of firmly applied pressure and movement used in foam rolling can improve the function of your arteries. Healthy blood flow is necessary for healthy tissue and organ function because it permits the continuous exchange of nutrients and waste in the cells. Lymphatic circulation is also increased through regular foam rolling; it too is extremely beneficial in ridding the body of toxins. Lymph nodes are found at key points in our bodies, notably under the armpit, in the neck, just underneath each side of our jaw. We usually only notice these guys when they are fighting off infections such as cold or flu, and are inflamed. These guys act as a filtration system, and a clear fluid called lymph carries impurities and waste away from our tissues. Just as blood flow is controlled by the heart, lymph fluid movement depends largely on the squeezing effect of muscle contractions. Foam rolling assists in moving this essential fluid out to greater benefit your overall health.
3. Improved Flexibility
Maintaining flexibility and balance is key for long term ease of motion, which means you should be stretching and doing activities that will maintain or increase your flexibility and range of motion. A common cause of lower back pain is the tightening of your hamstrings. Keeping them limber, and well exercised can help relieve this pain. Doing SMR regularly greatly benefits muscle capability. The more flexible your muscles, within normal range of motion, the more power they are able to produce. Our muscles are stretchy fibers, I liken them rubber bands. As such, they contain what is called elastic energy. The more stretch a muscle has, the more it stores energy, and thus more force is generated. Basically, this adds up to a much more healthier you. On the other end of the spectrum, a less flexible muscle produces less stretch, less range of motion, less stored energy, and decreased force output–like a broken rubber band. SMR, combined with adequate stretching, strengthening, and activity levels can help you stay fit for the long term. SMR has become standard practice among many collegiate and professional level athletes because of perceived performance benefits.
4. Improved Posture
How is your posture? No, I am not asking if you can walk with a book perched on top of your head. However, if you can, then go you! When I mention posture, I mean how is it going keeping your body in its natural alignment? Maintaining properly aligned posture is important because it helps decrease tension and helps you to avoid awkward positioning when doing everyday tasks, both at work and at home. Coupling foam rolling with a postural alignment program is wonderful because it encourages muscle balancing and promotes effective body movements and alignment. The benefits of combining these two modalities are immeasurable to improved posture
5. Pain Relief
A simple truth of life is that we are hard on our bodies. We work hard, and some of us play even harder. Sometimes the most random things, like standing (or sitting) for too long, can start a flurry of aches and pains that you probably wish were not there. Using foam rollers to work out those tight muscles aids in the breakdown of adhesions, and help the muscles in question burn off leftover lactic acid. This makes them more efficient, like those rubber bands I mentioned earlier, thereby making us healthier.
Just like one yoga class does not a yogi make, having a one-and-done mentality when it comes to foam rolling will not benefit you going forward. To really see the benefits of practice, this is a habit that will best be served with daily practice. Regular foam rolling will help prevent cramps and will even strengthen your muscles long term. Sure, you may have a little discomfort in the beginning, as with any other form of exercise, it will get better over time, and will save you from worse pain, and even injury down the line.
6. Post Injury Recovery
As is the case of life happening all of the time, so do injuries. We all have that friend, or were that friend, who played around too roughly, and fell off that bicycle, or sprained their ankle doing the chicken dance at their cousin’s wedding, and soon found themselves in a cast for six week’s time. When that cast came off, how did that limb feel? Stiff, uncomfortable, and for a few lucky people extraordinarily hairy, right? While the bones were busy setting, the muscles and tendons knitting themselves back together, tissue mobility was compromised. All of this is due to scar tissue, or fascia. When you are injured, fascia breaks, or dies. During the healing process, fascia returns to haunt you, only this time it is in the form of scar tissue. That happy-go-lucky goodwill ambassador that we all know and love has headed for the hills. Problems arise when that scar tissue is not broken up, mobilized, and properly aligned. Have you noticed, after healing from an injury, that you suddenly have an uncanny ability to tell the weather? It is all due to compromised tissue mobility. Months and years can go by, and our old injuries can begin to plague us, once more causing problems. Of course, it is absolutely possible that our injuries may have never properly healed, or have been properly rehabilitated, which will inhibit normal tissue mobility and function. Our bodies are wonderful, complex, and mysterious things, and will compensate in other areas as we continue any activities, but will cause additional pain and even injury. If you MOVE on a regular basis, it is important to keep muscles and fascia healthy and mobile, easing motion in the long term.
7. Foam Rolling vs. Massage
The benefits of regular massage are too innumerable for the sake of this post. Glorious as they are, massages take time and money, both of which can sometimes be in short supply. Using a foam roller as a part of your regular life maintenance, or WELLNESS WAY can help you recover from damaged muscles, and can even help prevent a host of injuries. Let’s face it, using a foam roller will not feel like a massage, but the benefits are quite similar. Would you rather pay $30 dollars upfront for a foam roller, or several thousands of dollars on the back end as you try to get your body back to normal?
8. Helps Prevent Common Conditions
One of the most important reasons for a regular foam rolling routine is it can possibly prevent those often too common LIFE-related injuries, for example all I did was sneeze and my back is killing me, or I must have slept funny. Foam rolling every day ensures you are massaging away fascia buildup in your muscles; in order to help prevent those areas from becoming something that debilitates you even in the short term.
9. Improved Immune System
Lastly, let’s recap, with less stress, less pain (eventually), improved circulation of blood & lymph, increased flexibility and better posture, how can you NOT have a better immune system? Foam rolling, and SMR are about making you the most efficient machine that you can be. Using this simple tool can be empowering, allowing you to take charge of your health and wellness.Using a simple tool such as the foam roller gives you the power to take charge of your health and wellness.
Please be aware that foam rolling is a mild exercise. With that in mind, please be sure to take these tips into consideration:
- Always check with your doctor before using a foam roller for myofascial release.
- Keep your first few foam roller sessions short. 15 minutes is all the time that you need.
- Be sure to rest a day between sessions when you start.
- Perform foam roller sessions when your muscles are warm, after a walk or workout.
- Position the roller under the soft tissue area you want to release or loosen.
- Separate larger muscles in sections, don’t try to roll your whole hamstring, back quad etc all at once
- Gently roll your body weight back and forth across the roller while targeting the affected muscle. approx 8-10 repetitions or rolls per section
- If you find a particularly painful area (trigger point), hold that position until the area softens.
- Move slowly and work from the center of the body out toward your extremities.
- Focus on areas that are tight or have reduced range of motion.
- Roll over each area a few times until you feel it relax. Expect some discomfort. It may feel very tender or bruised at first.
- Stay on soft tissue and avoid rolling directly over bone or joints.
- Drink plenty of water after a session, just as you would after a massage or exercise.
- After a few weeks you can increase your session time and frequency if you choose.