You know you’ve had a good workout when the next day or two your muscles are sore. However, you may feel you’ve gone overboard if your muscles are so sore that you can barely walk or lift your arms. Sometimes all you need to do is a little bit of pre- and post-workout stretching to alleviate some of the muscle soreness you’re experiencing. After all, nothing is worse than having to skip a day of working out because you’re too sore to move.
Even the most avid fitness junkies will skip the stretching portion of a workout. To many, it feels like a waste of time – after you’ve put in an hour or two of hard work the last thing you want to do is sit on the floor and stretch! But research shows that it’s one of the most important elements of a person’s daily exercise regimen. Not only does it decrease the risk of injury, but it also helps muscles work more effectively by increasing blood flow and allowing for full range of motion. Luckily, there is now an amazing tool that many fitness advocates suggest using as part of your daily stretching routine to get the most out of your muscles and dramatically decrease soreness: the foam roller.
How it Works
A foam roller is a large cylinder shaped tool used to help you give your muscles a deep tissue massage. There are several different exercises you can do to trigger different muscles. Essentially, you lay down on top of the foam roller in the location you want to massage and roll back and forth. Doing muscle concentrated foam rolling helps break up scar tissue and increases blood flow to those areas, allowing for a faster healing process after your workout. In short – you’re not as sore!
There are several different types of foam rollers on the market and they are all designed for different uses. Choosing which foam roller to use can be confusing, but using the guide below may help you determine which is the best choice for you.
A low density roller will often be lighter in color – usually white. It is great for those who are just starting to foam roll or those with injuries in which a lighter massage is necessary.
A high density foam roller is often black, and is made of a denser weight foam than lighter colored foam rollers. This is a good option for seasoned athletes but beginners in the foam rolling exercises.
Grid foam rollers are used for those persons who have experience in working with foam rollers and those who need stronger trigger point massages in their muscles. It is made of a hard plastic rather than foam and often has small grooves around the cylinder. This is a great tool for those who do intense strength training or rigorous cardio activities such as marathon running, and need intense massage on the targeted muscles.
Textured foam rollers are not for the faint of heart. These foam rollers can cause intense pain when used. These rollers are used to target smaller areas of muscle and tissue that are not easily met with traditional smooth rollers. They stimulate deeper areas of your target muscle, and they are often used for persons who have chronic pain, tightness, or injury in hard to reach areas like next to the spine or pelvis.
Once you have decided which foam roller is right for you, you will have to learn how to use it. A foam roller is a unique self-massaging tool in that it can target any area of your body as long as you can position yourself correctly. Check out some of the exercises below to learn more.
Foam Rolling Exercises
Each muscle group can easily be targeted by using a foam roller if you know how. In order to get started you will need an area that is large enough for your entire body to be able to roll back and forth over the roller. A yoga mat on a hard surface is recommended as opposed to using a carpeted area, as sometimes carpeting will cause your roller to slip out from under you.
For this exercise, simply lay on top of your foam roller and roll yourself back and forth from your hip pivot to your knees. Do this for about 30 seconds (or 5 equal inhales/exhales) for a complete stretch.
This one can hurt a bit so be ready! Lay on your side with your foam roller a little below your hip bone. Roll down and back from your hip to the top of your knee. Switch sides after about 30 seconds of stretching.
There are several different ways you can use the foam roller on your back. The picture above shows one of the most common ways for a back stretch because it is able to reach both the lower and the upper back as well as next to the spine. For this exercise, place your foam roller vertically along your back and rock side to side. Alternatively, you can place your foam roller horizontally and slide up and down, although that is somewhat harder to maneuver.
For this exercise you will have to get down on your hands and knees. Place the foam roller under the arm in which you wish to stretch. Align the muscle in which you would like to focus and use your other hand to help push the foam roller back and forth while you rock your body back and forth. A rod roller is a great tool to use to help work your bicep muscles as well.
Glutes and Hamstrings
Foam rolling both your glutes and hamstrings can be performed simultaneously. Simply sit on top of your foam roller, and roll back and forth from under your bottom down to behind your knees. Once again, be sure to perform this action for at least 3o seconds or 5 equal inhales/exhales.
This exercise is much like the hamstring and glute exercise described above, but lower on the leg. Place the foam roller under your calves and prop yourself up on your hands. Walk yourself back and forth over the roller from below your knees to your ankles for a good stretch.
Foam rolling is an amazing tool that is great to prevent injury, relieve soreness, and increase flexibility. It allows your muscles and scar tissue from intense workouts to heal faster, and creates more agility and range of motion. Next to your treadmill and your weight set, it is one of the most important tools you can have at your disposal in your fitness routine.
Most people use their foam roller after an intense workout in order to prevent injury and soreness the next day. However, many fitness experts recommend that you use your foam roller on a daily basis – even on your rest days- to continue to increase blood flow to your damaged tissue. Seeing as foam rollers can also aid in increasing your flexibility and agility, it can also be used daily to help increase your range of motion, and in turn, the effectiveness of your workouts.
Foam rollers can be used for more than stretching those tight muscles though. Many people use foam rollers to help relieve chronic pain issues such as sciatic pain. It is a wonderful tool for pregnant women who experience those shooting pains down their legs from sciatica as it can help to temporarily relieve some discomfort by massaging the nerve. Others use foam rollers to help in their exercise routines. It can be used as a balancing tool for push ups or as an elevated surface for tricep dips.
No matter your reason for purchasing a foam roller – stretching, injury prevention, chronic pain management, or exercise – it is an amazing tool that will help increase your fitness levels and bring your daily exercise routine to the next level.
Looking for more ways to get your body moving? Check out 5 Ways to Find & Maintain Your Fitness Motivation by our own contributing writer, Stephanie.
Photo credits: Lauren Lomsdale