What is Foam Rolling?
Foam rolling is a type of Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). SMR is a way to address soft-tissue by breaking down adhesions, lengthening muscles, increasing blood flow, and decreasing pain, without needing a therapist. In repetitive task such as distance running, a person performs the same repetitive motion for minutes to hours at a time. Over time some muscles may become overactive from this repetitive activity and form adhesions as they remain in a shortened position. If we continue down this road it is only a matter of time until we alter our normal biomechanics and become injured. Sports aren’t the only activity that cause unfavorable changes to the soft-tissue. Sitting behind a desk for 8-hours a day can also cause the chest, and hip flexors to remain in a shortened state. When implementing foam rolling in addition to your exercise routine, you can positively address the soft-tissue and restore it’s natural properties. Static stretching alone is beneficial, but incorporating foam rolling before stretching can further increase gains in flexibility.
When Should You Foam Roll?
Great question, and it can be debated either way. Personally, foam rolling should be placed before you even begin your workout. It is essential to put the tissues in the best state possible prior to applying them to the stress of exercise. If we can correct or make improvements to the soft-tissue and then work out while in this state, it will allow for longer lasting results. In terms of flexibility and increasing muscle length I would recommend foam rolling followed by static stretching and then beginning your dynamic warm-up. By doing so we not only address muscle texture and tension but the nervous system, which will have the final say whether or not muscles remains lengthened. On the flip side, foam rolling after exercise can enhance recovery, and decrease muscle soreness. Foam rolling is a great activity to be done on your recovery days as an adjunct to flexibility/mobility work. It may be the best $25 you can spend.
How Do You Foam Roll?
Foam rolling is actually pretty simple, but it does take a little practice to become comfortable with. By placing the specific muscle you are treating against the foam roller, roll at a slow and controlled speed down the entire length of the tissue. If you feel any tender areas, try to slow down or stop over them and hold for several seconds. It is essential to breathe deeply throughout the process because breathing has a great impact on our parasympathetic nervous system, which can further cause relaxation/lengthening of the soft-tissue.
Below you will find several videos on how to foam roll different areas of the body. The areas treated are typically ones that are shortened and overactive, but these principles can be applied to anywhere on the body. Please note that SMR is not only done with a foam roller. If you feel you need more of less pressure you can utilize tools such as a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, golf ball, vibraroll, etc. Some of these alternatives can provide a more localized treatment to tailor the treatment to your specific needs. Check out some self-myofascial release tools on the Perform Better website.
Piriformis/Hip External Rotators
Garrett McLaughlin is a licensed athletic trainer, personal trainer, and certified active release techniques provider who works at in Nashville. He enjoys creating fitness and rehabilitation programs for athletes and the general population. For more information on foam rolling, contact Garrett.