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  • Adam Cardona

Foam roller basics

The foam roller has to be one of the simplest pieces of gym equipment created has seen a rise in popularity in the 21st century. It seems to be everywhere nowadays from the gym, to a dance company, at the yoga studio, or even in your friend’s house. These days it seems to be everywhere like when you go to the gym and see a person on the ground crawling on the ground while rolling out one limb or their back? Do you wonder what it is? Or maybe you know what it is, you know it can benefit you, but don’t quite understand how to do it. Don’t worry after reading this you should feel like you have a good base knowledge for how to use the foam roller. Besides even the greatest tool is useless or even dangerous in the hands of a person who has no idea how to use it.

Foam rollers are used in a very similar way to having a massage done to you without the specificity of a human being’s techniques. Foam rollers are not as effective of a treatment as massage therapy but its a practical substitute for small jobs and maintenance until you can get a massage. Foam rollers function to target the connective tissue of the body, also known as the fascia. Fascia is found on the muscles and in its fibers, as well as under the skin, connecting muscle to muscle. In essence, fascia is the saran wrap of the human body, and just like saran wrap fascia can easily get shortened and stuck together. This is why to get the most out of a muscle, not only do you have to stretch it but you have to take care of the fascia with a massage or a foam roller on a consistent basis.

Rolling might be the only technique you think of when you hear the term ‘foam roller’ and this is fine for a beginner but if you want to get the most out of your foam roller then you have to learn the proper techniques. Some of the techniques you can use for the foam roller you can use are the following:

(1) Compression

(2)Active movement

(3)Pin and stretch

Compression is the easiest technique to do once you know how to apply and maintain pressure over your targeted area. You start by applying pressure on the muscle and roll along until you find the tightest part of the muscle and stop the foam roller right on top of it. Now once you stop moving, and pain should be at its strongest. That’s okay, now you start deep breathing, focus on your breath, taking about ten deep breaths while not moving. As you breathe deeply you should slowly start to feel the intense pain in the muscle reducing in intensity. This is good, that means you started to break up the knot just by applying sustained pressure. After you finished with your breathing you can gently just roll it out now to smooth out your work and make nice to the muscle after the pain.

The active movement technique not only means rolling your leg up and down the roller in a traditional method but it also involves other strategies. As you are rolling the length of any particular muscle, you will feel that some parts of that muscle are more sensitive than others. In this case, we can stop the foam roller over this sensitive knot of pain and begin to move the joint that the muscle is related to. Meaning that if you were rolling out your calf then you could stop over a part of the muscle and then start to perform movements at your ankle. These movements can be from side to side or flexing and extending, it doesn’t matter as long as you are moving the related joint. This will cause the muscle to move under the roller allowing you to break up and release the knot.

Pin and stretch is very similar to the active movement technique with the exception that the movement is not meant to be an active one but rather would take the muscle to as far as it can stretch and hold it. You start the same way by rolling to find a spot in the muscle to stop (it doesn’t have to be on a knot) and rest your roller on that spot maintaining the tension. At this point, you begin to stretch against the point you are compressing then hold for around 30 seconds or until you feel a release of the muscle.

However, it’s not just your technique that delivers results but also the speed at which you do it will determine whether your rolling is more of a warm-up or cool-down technique. Faster speeds without slowing down or stopping will stimulate the nervous system, cause an elevated heart rate and increased blood flow to the local area. Slower speeds on the other hand sedate the nervous system, release the muscles to point relaxation and induce a relaxation response to the entire body. Also, remember when rolling larger muscles such as the quads or calves it can be best to break up your rolling into two to three sections to make sure you fully care for the muscle.

Modern foam rollers that might come with a vibrating feature or drilling feature are not necessary at all. Also, you don’t need one that has spikes or teeth, pain is not the goal when foam rolling but rather a side effect that sometimes happens. A standard foam roller is fine, all you really need to do is pick how firm you would like your roller to be. The firmer the roller the more it will provide more resistance to your body, making it feel like a strong massage. I’d suggest if you are brand new to foam rolling then you start with a roller which is not as firm and has more give to it. This will allow you to figure out what level of firmness is right for you without getting you to overcommit yourself.

One of the final pieces of advice that I can give you when using the foam roller, is if you want to feel positive results from foam roller use than I’d advise you to be consistent. This means using the foam roller a few times a week. It could be at the start or end of your day, while you are at the gym, or even for a few minutes in your office. If you are getting foam rolling done a few times a week to your muscles than you should start to see, better body alignment, reductions in daily pain and soreness, improvements in your endurance, & movement, as well as a reduced risk for injury.


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