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Ah, foam rolling. One of those things on my fitness plan that hurts so good but is so good for me. I’ve recently gotten back into a fitness routine. When you’ve been out of a regular routine for a while like I have, working out can certainly leave me uncomfortable at first. My husband calls the aches and pains of getting back into good shape, “knocking off the rust.”
And I think he’s right. I’ve definitely felt a bit like the Tin Man from time to time lately.
It can seem like the aches and pains can outweigh the feel good aspect of returning to fitness, but it doesn’t have to. Instead, foam rolling to the mix to help alleviate some of the discomfort. I’ve recently started to foam roll, and it’s really making a difference.
So The Awesome Muse turned to fitness enthusiast, Cory Yeakel, for some tips on foam rolling for beginners. Cory has incorporated foam rolling into his regular routine for several years. He swears by foam rolling to relieve sore muscles and workout pain.
Foam Rolling 101 – a guest post by Cory Yeakel
I think it’s safe to say everyone in the world has experienced muscle soreness at one point or another. Whether you’re a regular in the gym or you simply run on occasion, we all know what it’s like to wake up the morning after a day of activity to find that we can barely move. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a personal massage therapist on standby to rub out those tight, irritated muscles and get your body back to normal? Well, that’s exactly what a foam roller can do.
What is foam rolling?
For those just hearing the term for the first time, a foam roller is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a big cylinder made of foam that you roll back and forth on your body to massage your muscles. It might not look or sound like much, but it works wonders to relieve muscle tension and soreness. But how does that work? Why would simply rolling on a foam tube get rid of your muscle soreness?
The technical term for the process is called self-myofascial release. This involves applying pressure to certain areas of your body to help loosen up and relax your muscles. After strenuous exercise, your muscles are torn down into a damaged state, which is why you feel pain and tightness; this is also partially how knots develop. By rolling your foam roller back and forth across those damaged muscles, you are applying pressure to them. This helps them to relax and return to their normal, healthy state, which consequently reduces your pain and tightness.
Imagine having a #massage after every workout. When you #foamroll, you help relax your tired muscles by applying pressure to them.Click to tweet
You can also use other wellness products to accomplish the same thing, including massage balls, a Thera Cane, or even some type of vibrating massager. The main takeaway is that you have to use something to apply above-average pressure. Think of it like how a massage therapist uses their hands to dig deep into pressure points and manually facilitate myofascial release.
“Massages can be painful – is foam rolling supposed to be painful?”
Unfortunately, foam rolling is known to be a little painful. Since you’re applying pressure to muscles that are already damaged and in pain, it’s going to slightly amplify the pain while you’re on the roller. However, your efforts will not be in vain! Spending just 15-20 minutes on the roller will significantly improve your recovery time. You’ll be back to your normal active self much quicker than if you had done nothing at all.
With that said, it’s also important to note that there is a point of “too much” pain. A normal level of foam rolling pain is usually described as discomfort. However, if the pain is sharp or excruciating (I’d say anything over an 8/10 on the pain scale), you should find a way to decrease the pressure or hold off on foam rolling until the pain is reduced to a more manageable level.
Six benefits of foam rolling
The most obvious benefit of foam rolling we’ve discussed thus far is that it helps to alleviate muscle soreness through massage and release. But that’s not where the benefits stop! Here’s a quick list of benefits that you can get by including foam rolling in your regular routine:
- Increased range of motion (aka better flexibility)
- Better circulation
- Correction of muscle imbalances
- Reduction of the effects of muscular stress
- Increased pain tolerance (told you the pain was worth it!)
There are 6 benefits to #foamrolling. Pain relief, increased range of motion, and better circulation are 3 of them.Click to tweet
When to foam roll
Most people recommend foam rolling when you’re sore to help your muscles recover. However, you can foam roll when you want! Regularly foam rolling each and every day will yield the most benefits in terms of a strong, healthy, relaxed body.
For more great fitness and tips for healthy living, check out these articles:
- Does it ever feel like you’re too unhealthy to go to the gym? It can if you have chronic health issues. Layne Bruner discusses what you can do if you feel that’s your situation.
- Fitness and good nutrition is an important part of our overall health, but so is treating ourselves from time to time. Sometimes you just need a cheat day.
- When you’re making healthier choices, looking for ways to reduce your sugar intake can really help you get results. Here are some great reasons why you may want to consider breaking up with sugar.
- You don’t have to wait for the new year to start a new diet and fitness plan. Check out these great tips from Cristy “Code Red” Nickle to help you get started.
Proper foam rolling technique
While foam rolling is a relatively simple practice, it does take time to nail down the proper technique. Technique is important to make sure you’re massaging the right areas and muscles, thus getting the best results from your efforts. Below are a few general tips to keep in mind while foam rolling, plus a few example moves for beginners:
Do’s and don’ts
- When positioning yourself on top of the roller, make sure the majority of your bodyweight is focused on the muscle you’re trying to target. For example, if you’re trying to massage your quads, most of your body weight should be on the tops of your legs.
- As noted above, a little bit of pain is normal. However, if the pain is unbearable, try shifting your body so that less of your bodyweight is focused on the target muscle. This should help reduce some of the pain and make the movement more manageable.
- Most people and fitness trainers recommend rolling back and forth on each muscle for about 20-30 seconds for proper massage.
- Foam rolling is intended specifically for muscle massage. Make sure you don’t try rolling over joints (like your elbow or knee) or your stomach. Unfortunately, this will do more harm than good.
Legs are arguably the most popular muscle group to foam roll, so let’s start with quads. To roll out your quads, start by placing your foam roller on the floor. Then lie down on the floor so that the roller is directly under the tops of your legs. Plant your hands on the ground and use your arms to prop yourself up. Make sure the majority of your bodyweight is focused over the roller (and therefore on your quads), and then begin rolling your body back and forth so that the foam roller moves from just above your knee to just below your hip.
Rolling out your hamstrings is another easy beginner’s move. They are a popular area given the fact that hamstrings get sore so easily! Start by sitting on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Slide your foam roller under your legs beneath your knees. Using your hands as a base, prop yourself up and move slightly forward so that the roller is resting beneath the backside of your legs. Just like the move for your quads, roll back and forth so that the foam roller moves from just above the backside of your knee to just below your butt.
Most people don’t realize that your hip flexors can be a major source of leg soreness, hip soreness, and even lower back soreness. If you’ve got lower back pain, this is the move for you! This is a slightly more advanced move, only because the muscle is smaller. But with some practice you should be able to pick it up very easily.
This move will start just like the quad exercise, with you lying on the floor and the roller under the tops of both legs. Using your forearms as support, slightly twist your body and lift one of your legs off the roller so that just one leg is resting on it. Moving slowly, roll back and forth at the top of your leg by your hip. This is where the hip flexors lie, and carefully massaging this area can go a long way in terms of hip and back mobility.
Foam rolling is worth it!
Foam rolling isn’t something that can be easily learned overnight, but with time and dedication, you’ll reap the benefits of this incredible practice. Not only will it accelerate your recovery time to get rid of muscle soreness, but it will help you become more flexible, increase your balance, and make you tough as nails (thanks to the increased pain tolerance). Foam rollers are cheap and can be picked up online or at any local sporting goods store, so get to rolling!
About Cory Yeakel
Cory Yeakel is the founder of ProductAdvisor.com, a research website that tests and reviews consumer products. He’s also an avid sports and fitness enthusiast who’s been heavily involved in the fitness industry for almost 10 years, meaning he has an equal amount of experience with foam rolling and understanding the body’s needs when it comes to muscle tension and mobility.