Very few things feel better after a tough workout than a good massage. Working out the knots and smoothing fatigued muscles not only hurts so good, it provides many fitness benefits including a reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and faster recovery before your next gym session.
But with the exception of professional athletes, most of us don’t have a masseuse at the ready after every workout, but we can have a foam roller! While not as luxurious as massage, when used correctly and routinely, a foam roller can provide the same post-workout benefits.
Foam rollers are an excellent technique for self-applied myofascial release, the breaking up of muscle fascia through gently applied pressure on the soft tissues. Foam rolling softens and lengthens the fascia by releasing constrictions, scar tissue and adhesions between skin, muscles, and bones.
Utilizing a foam roller increases blood flow to spent muscles, allowing rehabilitating nutrients to flood muscle fibers, which can both reduce or eliminate soreness and speed up recovery.
Extremely affordable and easily accessible, foam rolling can be done right at home after every workout usually in as little as 10 minutes.
For added benefit, many foam roll fans also use it before a workout. As one of the fastest ways to warm up muscle fibers and increase circulation to major muscle groups, pre-workout foam rolling deactivates muscle fibers to increase range of motion, which can be helpful in preventing injuries and enhancing performance.
But just like massage, foam rollers come in several forms. When starting out, simpler is better. Choose the basic smooth, long foam roller and explore the way self applied myofascial release can enhance your fitness routine.
Foam rolling should be done with long, smooth strokes, ironing out the major muscle groups with the aid of your own bodyweight to remove adhesions in muscles and connective tissues caused by your workout, or possibly (in the case of your upper back) from sitting at a desk all day.
While the eventual goal should be 30-60 seconds per muscle group, don’t push yourself too hard or too long at first, or you could actually cause more soreness than you prevent. Work into it more deeply as you get used to the feel and pressure of the roller.
Like massage, foam rolling can be uncomfortable at times, but should never cause intense pain. If it does, ease off by applying less bodyweight and don’t roll the painful area directly, instead rolling into the muscles around the pain.
Once you’re used to it, foam rolling all the major muscle groups can be done in as little as 10 minutes a session, making it easy to incorporate into your regular fitness routine.