Recently, I recommended foam rolling for tight muscle relief and was inundated with questions about what, why, and how. These are all the right questions to be asking. I provided brief details on why it’s beneficial but I thought it would be a great topic to share here on Just Add Color!
So, let’s start with what might lead someone to consider looking into foam rolling.
Many people discover foam rolling (or self-myofascial release) through something they’ve seen on Pinterest or some form of social media, or perhaps their gym recommended it. Whatever the source, the details behind the technique are often a bit unclear.
I need details....
Time to dive into the nitty gritty of foam rolling by starting with the cause of those tight, sore, inflexible body parts.
A chronic tight feeling in muscles is quite possibly not a tightness in the muscle(s) at all, but rather in the fascia surrounding that muscle or muscle group. Wait, fascia? What is that?
(Click here to learn how to pronounce it.)
Fascia is a thin membrane of connective tissue that basically holds all your innards in place within your body. It is like that shoe organizer that hangs on the inside of your closet door, only significantly more detailed.
Uninhibited fascia is stretchy and will respond as typically desired, moving smoothly along the desired path. However, fascia can be damaged as a result of injury, chronically shortened or lengthened muscles due to poor posture (anybody reading this while hunched over their phone?), inflammation, or some other type of trauma.
Damaged fascia often becomes tight and inflexible. This can lead to added pressure on the muscle or muscle group the fascia is encasing. Added pressure on a muscle can feel like tightness, pain, or soreness as blood flow can be restricted. Tight fascia may also be why you’re not able to achieve the flexibility you’ve been working so hard on and it might also be why your muscles are not recovering as quickly as you’d like.
So what is to be done?
Add foam rolling to your list of healthy habits and you’ll feel the benefits!
Foam rolling is a technique where a foam roll (pictured above) is used to apply pressure along the tight fascia/muscles. Body weight is used to determine the level of pressure of the area being rolled but foam rollers also come in varying levels of firmness. If you’re new to foam rolling and want to start off gently, then a softer foam roller is a good choice.
Applying 30-60 seconds of pressure on a muscle activates a response called autogenic inhibition, which basically means the activation of tension within that area is stopped. This activation allows the fascia and the muscle that is beneath that fascia to stretch further. Rolling an area of 2-6 inches or finding a tight spot and allowing your body weight to create pressure will release tension within fascia and the muscle group that it contains.
Consistently foam rolling after workouts and on recovery days can provide many benefits, including relief from muscle soreness by restoring normal blood flow to tight areas, realignment and release of restricted fascia, as well as development of a greater range of motion in that strong body you’re building.
Where’s the science you may be asking. Well, at this point there isn’t much scientific data about foam rolling. However, the science behind the detriments of muscle tension is readily available (Muscle Tension, Stretching). If you consider a deep tissue massage to be beneficial than foam rolling is a great option for you. If it’s something you’re interested in exploring - just give it a try! See how it works for your body.
Disclaimer - If you have pain that feels like it may be part of a serious injury don’t foam roll until you’ve spoken with your doctor. It’s always better to be safe than sorry if you are dealing with more than simple workout recovery soreness.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Start slow and gentle. A soft foam roller and moving over sore areas rather than holding pressure is a nice way to introduce your body to the foam roller experience.
Don’t use the foam roller on your lower back. If your lower back is tight or sore try rolling out your hip flexors and glutes. You can also try some gentle stretching. Child’s pose, or lying on your back and bringing each knee to your chest while breathing deeply are both good options for lower back relief.
Foam roll when your body is warm. Cold muscles are tight so foam rolling isn’t going to do too much good. Warm muscles are more flexible and willing to stretch. Foam rolling warm muscles is ideal to really feel and see the benefits.
Do a full-body foam rolling routine to ensure you’re not creating additional tension in opposing muscle groups. It is really important to breathe deeply and relax while foam rolling. Tensing muscles while you cringe through the process of foam rolling will most certainly counteract the benefits.
Consider adding foam rolling and a full body stretch after your workouts to help your body slowly cool down as blood returns to it’s pre-workout flow.
Recovery day foam rolling is great for relieving that delayed onset muscle soreness and will assist with maintaining flexibility as you rest those hard worked muscles.
If you have any questions please let me know! And if you give foam rolling a try let me know what you think and how you feel! I’d love to hear from you!