What is foam rolling? And, why should I want to do it?
Updated: Mar 9
Foam rolling is also called Self-Myofascial Release. A fancy term for giving yourself a therapeutic massage.
The Cleveland Clinic describes foam rolling as the following. "Considered a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique, foam rolling is when you use a foam tube to alleviate muscle tightness, soreness and inflammation. It can also help improve your range of motion."
The National Academy of Sports Medicine, through which I received certification, describes some of the types of rollers. "SMR can be done with a variety of tools beyond foam rollers, such as medicine balls, handheld rollers or other assistive devices. Foam rollers vary in density, surface structure, and even temperature modifications. Whatever the tool or variation selected, SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements."
I have at times used a PVC pipe and I often use my ab wheel for rolling.
Foam rolling helps keep muscles long and release tight areas.
Tight, contracted, muscles will restrict movement and possibly lead to injury.
Also in the Cleveland Clinic article, they note: “Foam rolling primes the muscles and gets your neuromuscular activation going,” says Kuharik.
“Which means it helps to strengthen the connection between the brain and muscles.” "And that connection not only helps your brain key in on which muscles to focus on, but foam rolling also helps lengthen your muscles." “You want as much length as you can when you’re exercising so you don’t compensate and use other muscle groups in place of what you’re trying to target,” explains Kuharik.
I have been foam rolling consistently since I started training for marathons in September 2021. Foam rolling has helped me break down the tightness in my legs. Then, I follow up with stretching. I have had good luck with rolling and stretching nearly every day and every work out. It takes a very short amount of time and has been worth it for me. I have turned an injury prone pattern into an injury prevention pattern.
Tom Brady's book The TB 12 Method also gave foam rolling and stretching a lot of credit. The idea is to break down tight areas to soften the tissue and elongate shortened or contracted muscles by stretching. That is echoed throughout sections of his book and helped Tom Brady repair and reduce injuries and extend his career. We can also think of this as maintaining full range of motion by going to those maximum ranges.
Rolling should be done by repeated rolling along the full length of muscles for at least 30 seconds to alleviate the tightness. Also, it can help to maintain pressure on a particularly tight spot.
Below Cleveland clinic describes how to roll a few popular muscle groups.
Sit on the floor and extend your legs in front of you. Place the foam roller under your hamstrings (the back of your thighs) on your right side.
Using your arms, lift your body so your weight is on the foam roller. Keep your right leg extended but bend your left leg to help stabilize your body.
Slowly roll back and forth over the area. Repeat this move for about 30 seconds.
Move the foam roller under your left hamstring and repeat.
Lie on your back and place your foam roller under your upper back. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground.
Cross your arms across your chest and lift your body into a bridge position.
Slowly roll back and forth down to the middle of your back and up to your lower neck.
Repeat this move for about 30 seconds.
Sit on the floor and extend your legs in front of you. Place the foam roller under your calves.
Using your arms, lift your body and cross your right leg over your left leg.
Slowly roll back and forth on your left calf using your arms to move you.
Repeat this move for about 30 seconds.
Switch legs and repeat.
Get into a plank position and place your foam roller under your quads (the front part of your thighs).
Slowly roll down until your roller hits your knees. Then, roll back up in the other direction until your reach your hip area.
Repeat this move for about 30 seconds. "
The National Academy of Sports Medicine list the following benefits of SMR.
"SMR benefits include:
Correction of muscle imbalances
Muscle relaxation (1,2)
Improved joint range of motion
Improved neuromuscular efficiency (1,3,4)
Reduced soreness and improved tissue recovery (1)
Suppression/reduction of trigger point sensitivity and pain (2,6,7)
Decreased neuromuscular hypertonicity (1)
Provide optimal length-tension relationships
Decrease the overall effects of stress on the human movement system (1)
An article published on Pub Med notes the following, "in conclusion, this meta-analysis illustrates that pre-rolling seems to be an effective strategy for short-term improvements in flexibility without decreasing muscle performance." And, "the positive effects of alleviating muscle soreness" with a larger body of evidence endorse the utilization of post-rolling." Also, "almost complete absence of side effects might favor recovery-supporting FR intervention."
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6465761/ , Thimo Wiewelhove,1,*Alexander Döweling,1Christoph Schneider,1Laura Hottenrott,1Tim Meyer,2Michael Kellmann,1,3Mark Pfeiffer,4 and Alexander Ferrauti1