foam rolling

Everything you need to know about foam rolling

If you’ve visited a gym recently, you’ve probably seen someone rolling around on a large piece of foam. Foam rollers are often cylindrical-shaped and sometimes have bumps and unusual shapes on them. But the question is… why are people foam rolling?

We asked Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Harry Beresford, to give us the low down on foam rolling.

Let’s roll…

What is foam rolling?

Firstly, foam rolling is different to stretching. Stretching involves moving a limb (like your leg) to the end of its range of motion, holding this position for 15-60 seconds, and then repeating 2-4 times.

Read more: 5 reasons you shouldn’t ignore flexibility

Foam rolling is a tool for self-myofascial release (SMFR). This is a technique commonly used for promoting soft-tissue healing (like your muscles and tendons), increasing flexibility, reducing soreness, and targeting muscle knots.  A foam roller is usually a lightweight, cylindrical-shaped piece of foam, with different sizes and degrees of firmness available. Lying or pressing your body against a foam roller it creates pressure on that area which helps to perform SMFR.

What are the benefits?

The research is starting to grow on the benefits of foam rolling on the body. Whilst current research is limited, foam rolling can be more effective at increasing flexibility when compared to static and dynamic stretching. It’s often recommended as part of a warm-up to improve muscular performance.

Foam rolling after a workout can also be effective for reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is the soreness you can get after a tough workout. It can also help to improve recovery time after intense workouts. Lastly, foam rolling may be beneficial in improving blood flow to our muscles, increasing our range of motion, and simply relaxing after a tough workout.

stretching versus foam rolling

I’m sold! How do I do it?

Like with any type of exercise it’s important to make sure we’re doing it right. Here’s how to foam roll:

STEP 1. Choose a muscle or muscle group you want to focus on (see below for ideas on where to roll).
STEP 2. Use the foam roller and your bodyweight to apply moderate pressure to the chosen area.
STEP 3. Roll slowly on the foam roller and pause for several seconds when you find areas that are tight or slightly painful. After a few seconds you should begin to feel the muscle “releasing”.
STEP 4. If it’s too painful to apply direct pressure, then slowly roll the surrounding area. Foam rolling is not a pain contest!
STEP 5. If you’re new to foam rolling you may feel sore the next day. Rest that area for a day or two before rolling again.

Where should I foam roll?

If you’re not sure where to foam roll, you might want to see a health professional (like an exercise physiologist). They specialise in knowing how the body moves and can do screening to suggest particular muscles to target with a foam roller.

Alternatively, you can experiment on yourself! Explore what muscles (or areas) may be tight and would benefit from the foam roller. Follow the instructions above to help you locate important areas.

Common places you will see people rolling at the gym include the hip flexors (along the front of your leg), IT band (on the side of the leg), hamstrings (back of the leg), calves and upper back.

Some common mistakes people make…

There are a few common mistakes people make when foam rolling. Here are five to be mindful of:

Some areas are best to avoid – Foam roll above and below your lower back, but don’t roll directly on your lower back. The same goes for your neck and other joints.

Don’t just roll up and down – Foam roll in multiple directions

Don’t just roll one muscle – The body has many muscles so try not to focus on just the tightest. Instead, target several areas like your hips, hamstrings, mid and upper back, and glutes.

It’s not a race – Roll slowly and gently. It can take up to 60 seconds of rolling in one spot to get a muscle to relax.

If you would like to know more or are wanting some guidance on foam rolling, then why not see an exercise physiologist? There’s over 5,000 Accredited Exercise Physiologists around Australia. To find one near your, click here.

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Written by Harry Beresford. Harry is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.