Meet Your Personal Masseuse: The Foam Roller
Meet the new best friend you’ll love to hate and hate to love.
You see it. The gym, the big box store, or in the pile of exercise gadgets gathering dust under your bed. The foam roller is now considered an integral part of health and fitness. But is it a part of yours? Here’s a primer from the experts to get you rolling the proper way, regardless of what you’ve seen in the gym!
First of all, why do you need a foam roller?
Ever find yourself waking up and wondering where that new ache came from? Or, just feeling creaky or stiff navigating the stairs or getting into the car? Unfortunately, as we age, we lose muscular flexibility which then dominos into a myriad of physical issues.
Adding to that stress magically manifests itself in our bodies where, especially as women, our “stress containers,” are shoulders, lower back and hips. Lifestyle, hours-on-end technology, injuries, over-use and/or inactivity all play a part in our aches and pains.
To combat this, we must focus on increasing flexibility and decreasing muscle tension. Improve mobility through exercise such as yoga, Pilates, stretching and flexibility exercises, and then decrease damage done through massage techniques, such as myofascial release.
What is Myofascial Release?
“An alternative medicine therapy that claims to treat skeletal muscle immobility and pain by relaxing contracted muscles, improving blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles.” Wikipedia
Basically, by applying pressure to tight muscles and fascia, pain is relieved in your ‘trigger points.’ Since most of us don’t have a massage therapist to follow us around all day, enter Self-Myofascial Release, SMR, a form of slow and controlled self-massage.
What is fascia anyway?
Fascia is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs. The goal is to de-excite the surrounding fascia and the painful muscle bundle.
What’s a great do anytime anywhere way to do this? The foam roller.
But here’s the thing: To get the desired result, decreased pain in a tight muscle, it must be done effectively and correctly, slowly with a long pause. In the beginning of the hold, this may feel like an eternity! You will quickly learn why it’s earned the moniker ‘new best friend you’ll hate to love.’
Already rolling? Chances are high you’ve not only seen it done incorrectly, but that you are doing it wrong.
A great visual to understand is to imagine a tight sore muscle spindle or bundle as an upset aggravated toddler. An aggressive reaction (fast or intense rolling) is NOT going to calm the situation. The goal is to de-excite; a calm gentle demeanor and slow touch allows calming to begin.
CAUTION: Do not roll prior to consulting your physician if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or varicose veins, as such health issues could worsen.
- Choose a smooth non-ribbed roller for a more comfortable experience. Rollers come in a variety of styles and sizes and can be bought online or at any sports or retail big box store.
- Sit on carpet or a yoga mat for extra comfort and stability.
- Engage your core pull your belly-button to backbone (feeling as though you have shrink-wrapped your abs) as torso stability must be maintained as you move.
- Roll slowly, moving only about 1 inch per second. When you find a muscle bundle, trigger point or ‘hot spot’, you will know it.
- Pause and gently hold for 30 to 90 seconds. THAT IS THE CHALLENGE. Go easy, and with practice you will be able to hold longer with pressure. The longer the hold, the more effective the release.
An easy place to begin and to practice core stability is on the calf muscle. Workouts and high heels do a number on us and your calves will thank you for it.
According to the American Fitness Association/NASM:
- Begin by seating on a flat surface with the foam roller placed just above the ankle.
- Cross the non-working leg over the working leg to increase compression if needed.
- Place the hands near the hips with fingertips pointing away from the body.
- Raise the hips and slowly begin to roll the body down (so the foam roll comes up) towards the knee.
- Roll at a pace of about 1” per second until a tender spot identified. A tender spot should be something classified as 6-9 on a scale from 1-10.
- Hold on this spot for 30 seconds or until the tenderness begins to decrease.
- Identify 1-2 of these spots in the calf before switching to the opposite leg. For the posterior, tight hips, and glutes.
- Sitting on the roller, being cautious to engage your core to maintain balance, slowly roll until you feel a tender spot.
- Pause for at least 30 seconds. With your hand firmly planted to one side, lean until you find another and pause. To go deeper, cross one ankle over the other leg above the knee and pause. Uncross return to center and repeat on the other side.
This is one relationship, although contentious at times, you will want to keep!
Primer from an expert: National Academy of Sports Medicine
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