Benefits of Foam Rolling: What is it, and How Does it Help?

benefits of foam rollingThis past fall, I began attending a yoga class with a friend of mine who happened to be in the middle of getting her personal trainer certification.  As a result, she was often rushing into yoga class after already having worked out earlier in the day.  I was on the phone with her one evening, asking her how she felt, and she said that her legs were really sore.  I figured that meant she would not be in class that night, and understandably so!  When she came strolling in later, looking chipper as ever, I asked her if she was sure she was up for another class.  “Oh totally,” she said, “I foam rolled!”

At that moment, I had never heard of such a thing before.  We went over to her house after class so she could show me what she was talking about, and how on Earth it had helped her.  What she brought out was undoubtedly a foam roll -meaning a roll made of foam.  She then began showing me how she used it on her legs by a combination of balancing on it, and rolling it over her thighs.  She said it really helped take that post-workout soreness away.  I was sold immediately, and told my husband I wanted one for Christmas.  When I opened it that morning, he said “I still don’t know what that is, but I’m glad the sporting goods store had it”.  So was I.

What is Foam Rolling?

benefits of foam rollingThe fancy term for the process is “Self-myofascial release”.  Or, in other words, self massage to help with muscle soreness, tightness and overwork.  It has become a more popular trend in recent years.  The reason my husband and I had never heard of it before was because it was mainly reserved for physical therapists, coaches, and professional athletes.  Still, common sense says that if it is helpful to them, it can be helpful to you too!

You use the foam roller to apply pressure to specific areas of your body.  This helps reduce soreness, and promotes healing and elasticity. Technically speaking, you could also use a lacrosse ball, or a round cane to do the same thing, but you are probably going to need that aforementioned coach or physical therapist there to help you.  Foam rolling is something you do yourself, whenever you need it.

How Do I Know if I Need to Use One?

benefitsoffoamrollingThat depends on how you answer this question: How do you feel the day after a workout?  There’s that “good” kind of sore, which is not really soreness, but more of a feeling that your muscles were worked really well – and then there is the bad kind.  If you have ever limped into work after “leg day”, or watched your favorite TV show with pillows stuffed behind your back to make the chair bearable, then you are the bad kind of sore.

Another way to tell is by massaging the sore area.  What you probably feel are some points that are more tender than others.  We sometimes call these “knots” or “trigger points”. You will feel pain when these are pressed on, but not anything sharp or stabbing.  After rubbing the area for a few minutes, it should feel better.  If that is the case, then you are going to love your foam roller when you get it.

Why Are My Muscles So Sore in the First Place?

back pain between shoulder bladesWe really throw a lot at our bodies, don’t we?  We sit in desk chairs all day, we maybe don’t eat the healthiest foods all the time, we push our bedtimes back too far, and we can sometimes really overdo it at the gym to try and compensate for all that.  Our bodies are pretty incredible, and they can adapt to most situations, but when too many things stack up all at once (a sleep deprived, slightly dehydrated hour of CrossFit, for instance) our systems get overloaded.  Our bodies can not repair the damage fast enough, and we experience that “crash”.  Sore muscles, exhaustion, etc.

This is where foam rolling can really help you out.  By using a combination of strategic roll placement, and body weight, you can apply therapeutic pressure to your worn out muscles, and begin to feel better sooner.  The motions will help soothe any inflamed muscle tissue or tendons, while also promoting better blood circulation to the areas that need it most.

My Friend Says She Tried it, and it Kind of Hurt!  What the Heck?

If you have ever gone in for what they call a “deep tissue” or “sports” massage, you probably felt a similar level of pain in that too.  Remember that it is not really that the foam roller “hurt” you, it is more than your muscles are already hurt, and applying pressure, even good pressure, can be pretty uncomfortable.  Naturally, you always want to run new fitness routines by your doctor before you begin, so do let him or her know that you would like to begin foam rolling.  That way, if anything really troubling does turn up (again, a sharp or stabbing pain), you can bring it to your doctor’s attention right away.

How Do I Get Started?

benefits of foam rollingWith all this talk or soreness and injury, you might think that foam rollers are only beneficial on your worst days.  Actually, you can use them anytime, and still enjoy the benefits!  No need to reserve the foam roll for only the times when you are feeling sore.  Paying attention to your muscles regularly, stretching, foam rolling, massaging and proper hydration are all good things to do no matter what.  Foam rolling can be a great addition to your warm ups or cool downs, and you may begin to find that those “bad days” don’t really come around that often anymore.

Want to know more about the benefits of massage therapy on sore muscles?  Check out Udemy’s course called “Sports Massage“.  It is specifically targeted towards athletes, and the prevention and healing of sports related injuries.