The foam roller is a roll of hard foam that can be found in most gyms and rehabilitative settings. You may have noticed them lying around but never really known why or how we should use them.
It’s a tool used for a type of stretching called self-myofascial release or SMR. This technique focuses on the neural and fascial system in the body and stretches out the muscles, nerves and tissue that connects our muscles. By lying or sitting on the foam roller and applying gentle force to knots in our muscles we can release the tension that is associated with them. Just think of it as giving yourself a deep tissue massage.
Our skeletal muscle tissue has two basic neural receptors, the muscle spindle and the Golgi tendon organ or GTO. The muscle spindles send information about changes in muscle length to the central nervous system, triggering a stretch reflex that shortens the muscle fibres and makes them tighten. The GTOs are sensitive to tension and get stimulated when pressure is applied to muscles, reducing the muscle spindle activity and releasing muscle tension. This is why deep tissue massages are so effective.
We all have tight areas in the body and some of us experience pain on a regular basis. Muscle tightness leads to dysfunctional movement, which causes premature fatigue and culminates in injury. These areas tend to be where we have muscle imbalance, which typically affects more than one group of muscles.
By introducing a foam rolling routine into your workout schedule it will help bring the body back to its optimal level of function. I suggest you foam roll before your workout and even during your cool down. When using the foam roller, you can find a tender spot by slowly moving back and forth. You’ll know straight away when you’ve found it! Sustain pressure for a minimum of 20-30 seconds on the tender area or until discomfort is reduced. Make sure you breathe and try to relax as much as possible.
Common areas to foam roll:
- Calf/Soleus (lower leg)
- TFL/IT Band (outside of upper leg)
- Adductors (inner thigh)
- Piriformis (buttock)
- Latissimus Dorsi (outside of upper back)
Ask a Fitness Professional at your local gym to give you a demonstration. The foam roller is not just for being on display in the stretching area!