If you have been to health clubs in recent years, you may have noticed a few people rolling and writhing around on cylindrical pieces of foam. The technique is called foam rolling and probably doesn’t look all that inviting given the grimaces on the faces of some who practice it. Despite its appearance, however, foam rolling can actually help you feel better and perform better in your workouts.
Foam rolling is also called myofascial release and is designed to work out the “knots” in your muscles. You could compare the practice to self-massage. The technical terms for “knots” are trigger points or myofascial adhesions. Fascia is a form of connective tissue that wraps and bundles muscles (myo) together. Myofascial adhesions can develop through stress, training, overuse, underuse, movement imbalances and injuries. They are essentially points of constant tension and addressing them can have a positive effect on your workouts. Ignoring them can lead to further dysfunction and may perpetuate and/or cause injury.
As you might imagine, muscles and fascia do not literally tie themselves into knots. However, the analogy isn’t too much of a stretch (no pun intended). Take an elastic band and tie a knot in the center and stretch the band. The elastic around the knot can stretch, but the knot itself will stay put and get tighter. This will result in a “speed bump” of sorts, affecting the shortening and lengthening of the affected area. This is not unlike the functionality of muscles. The area around the adhesion gets worked, but the area affected by the adhesion will not reap the same benefits. In other words, the rich part of the muscle gets richer, while the poor part stays poor.
The Bad News and the Good News
The bad news is that foam rolling is not noted for its comfort. The good news, however, is that you can and should control the amount of pressure applied and steer clear of pain. Learning how to control the amount of pressure to a mild and tolerable discomfort is important. The objective of rolling is to help the area relax, and applying too much pressure can reflexively invite the opposite response. When introducing pressure to a sensitive area, you may experience a slight knee-jerk type reflex. But if you do not go in too hard, you should experience what feels like air being slowly let out of a tire.
In highly sensitive areas, eliminating tension completely is not likely to happen following one application. However, some improvement can be noticed immediately. With consistent and diligent application applied to the peskiest areas, elimination of chronic adhesions may be possible.
Application: Ease in, Search and Eliminate
As with all things exercise related, you should ease yourself in gradually. Start with a softer roller (if available) and prioritize how to control your body on the roller and the amount of pressure you apply. It is better to be too soft than too hard, especially in the beginning. Once you feel a comfortable level of control, administer pressure to the most sensitive areas for roughly 20 to 30 seconds. As you get to know your body and how it responds to foam rolling, you may go shorter or longer as needed.
It is very possible to find several trigger points throughout your body. Spending time on each one may take a while and won’t be much fun. Therefore, you can prioritize what to focus on in two ways: 1) address the muscles you are working that day; and/or 2) address the areas that are most sensitive.
When starting out, take inventory over a couple of workouts to determine your areas of greatest need. A great way of identifying needs is to compare left and right sides. Most of the muscles rolled will be the extremities and can be rated on a sensitivity scale of 1-10 on each side. It is very common for one side to be more sensitive than the other. The more sensitive side deserves more attention and should become the higher priority. But keep comparing sides. If done well and consistently, sensitivity should decrease and left and right differences will balance out.
When to Perform
Foam rolling can be performed prior to and after your workouts. When applying prior to your workout, only focus on problematic areas. Remember, foam rolling is designed to reduce tension and relax a muscle. Doing this to a healthy muscle may relax it to the point of being less effective during your workout. But for muscles that carry excessive tension, spending time on the front end of training can help reduce poor and imbalanced movements during your workout. Post-workout rolling can focus on all of major muscles worked, with an extra emphasis on the areas that appear problematic.
Foam rolling is one strategy that can help improve symmetry in the body. By taking a few minutes during each workout (and each day if necessary) to work out adhesions, you can help prepare for, and recover from, exercise more effectively. Tension can be released from the area, while blood flow and nutrients can increase, leading to healthier muscle tissue and a more effective fitness program.
Instructions: Search the entire muscle to find one or two of the most sensitive spots. Once there, apply pressure on the spot until some tension is released. Either stay on the spot longer, or generate small movements back and forth.
The exercises below target several common areas that can benefit from foam rolling, including the calves, glutes, inner thighs, outer thighs (IT band) and lats.
Researched By :
Kátia C. Rowlands – PLETT PILATES ; SPINNING & FITNESS STUDIO – 082 513 4256 •