Foam rolling is a self-massage/myofascial release technique. It can be used to help relieve muscle tightness and soreness as well as to mobilise joints which can lead to an increase in your joint range of motion. You can also use a foam roller in some exercises that can help build strength.
Foam rolling can be an effective tool to add to your pre-exercise routine to loosen off tight areas before a session or post- exercise to aid in recovery. It can also be used daily for a more consistent method for muscle release and treatment.
Foam rolling works by releasing trigger points, which are taut bands that occur in a tight muscle. This is achieved by the pressure build up from the roller increasing blood flow into the targeted area. For this to be effective each muscle group needs a total of 1 minute minimum.
You can use a foam roller on most parts of the body and the key is to roll with the direction of the muscle. The other important thing to focus on is to cover the whole length of the muscle, segment by segment. Break the body part/muscle into multiple segments and work each one for a set amount of time before moving on to the next. The more time each segment gets the more effective rolling will be.
To foam roll effectively:
- Break each body part/muscle into thirds: upper, middle and lower.
- Roll back and forth on each third for a minimum of 10 seconds with an aim to build to at least 60 seconds on each.
- When first rolling start with minimal body weight. Slowly increase the weight you put through the roller as your body gets used to it.
- Start slow and gradually build to a moderate tempo of rolling only, a fast tempo does not mean it will be any more beneficial.
Overall, well performed foam rolling can be a great tool to relieve muscle tightness and soreness as well as increase joint range of movement. Exercises and rolling performed to reduce stiffness and soreness is done on any muscle of the body. Whether it be the quadriceps, the hamstring, the iliotibial band, the calf, back and so on, rolling can be extremely beneficial performed correctly.
In another way, foam rollers can be used to help improve balance and strength. The following can be a challenging and different circuit to test athletes in different ways. Each exercise should be performed 10 times each and progress through the eight exercises. Have a short rest and then repeat the circuit either one or two times. These exercises are not necessarily performed at speed but controlled, slow and stable.
Foam rolling is an exercise that I encourage the athletes in my squad to do as a regular routine. Whether it is before or after exercise or both, or even during exercise, I cannot state its benefits enough. What I am going to explain now is a unique circuit here which involves foam rollers.
For this circuit you will need a couple of rollers – they should be about the same size if possible but I hope you give this a go and it is as challenging as it is beneficial for your balance and core strength.
- Plank to pike. With both feet on one roller and hands on another roller (you will probably be about 1 1/2m apart. Start in a plank position, with feet on roller still and roll the roller your hands are on towards your feet until the body becomes a pike position. Repeat 10 times. If this is too difficult, just start with hands on the roller and feet on the ground.
- In a side plank position with one hand on a roller, stretch and extend the free arm as high as you can (expanding chest). Then bring it back to about elbow height of supporting arm. Repeat this 10 times right and then do the same on the left side. Ensure that the body is straight and the legs are parallel to each other.
- Lying in a prone position (on stomach) with arms extended so that elbows are on the roller in front of head. Slowly inhale as you roll the roller towards you pulling your shoulder blades down letting your head, chest and upper back rise (in other words, arch your back). Slowly exhale and lower your body to the starting position.
- Mad cat – Place roller under your knees and a second one under your hands in a kneeling position on the floor. Inhale and pull your belly button in to round your back. Then exhale and slowly arch your back, letting your head rise last.
- Pointer balance – In the same position as above, once stable and still, raise your right arm and left leg at the same time to balance. Hold slightly then lower and repeat with left arm and right leg. If this is difficult, just do alternate arms and alternate legs only and as you improve move to doing both at the same time.
- Standing squat. Stand with your back to the wall and place a foam roller horizontally between you and the wall around the level of your lower back. Slowly bend your knees to lower yourself halfway to the floor. The roller will roll up your back so try to maintain body contact with the roller at all times as well as the wall. Then return to standing.
- Squat with ball (swiss ball or med ball, or any ball or small weight). Stand on foam roller ensuring that balance is good. Place the object in your hands with arms straight out in front of you. Keeping your back as straight as possible, slowly squat down with ball in arms to a level you feel comfortable and then return to standing. Be careful! If you are having trouble balancing, try performing this against a wall to start with and then progress away from the wall.
- Push ups – starting position is in a push up position with hands on the roller under shoulders. Perform your push ups while balancing hands on the foam roller. If this is TOO easy – try to balance both feet and hands on rollers so that the push up is performed while balancing on rollers.
Circuit developed by Glynis Nunn with All Sports Physiotherapy