So firstly what is a foam roller? If you have been into a gym you have likely seen a foam cylinder shaped roll in stretch/mat areas. They come in all shapes and sizes some with bobbles (like the one in my picture). They are used as a self myo-facial release technique commonly used to ‘treat’ overactive muscles/muscle tightness.
But is it really helping us and should we be using it?
Looking at the Cause – Not a Quick Fix
Muscles do not wake up one morning and become tight. Muscles will become tight for a reason – this could be from:
- heavy training (poor nutrition)
- postural issues
- compensation to prevent an injury
- under-active opposing muscles
Now there is a difference between feeling like the muscles have worked and actual feeling of stiffness/unable to move correctly. The latter is a sign we need to address our style of training/technique and/or nutrition. When I used to deadlift and squat, I always had a bit of a stiff back the next day and in squats I became very quad dominant. As my clients, Instagram followers and friends will know a huge emphasis of my recent training has been on correcting my broken movement patterns and addressing posture. My posture from horse riding and time spent hunched over a computer (I blame Uni assignments!) meant I have tight hips and forward rolled shoulders – similar probably to those of you in office/desk jobs.
When Should I Foam Roll?
Foam rolling tight/overactive muscles is beneficial just like getting a Sports Massage – though it is only worthwhile if you then train to fix the problem of why it is becoming tight in the first place. Getting yourself a PT or if you have the knowledge, videoing your training is a great way to identify your weaknesses and muscles/areas to work on. Personally I would recommend getting a decent PT/Fitness professional to take a look as from my own experience having another pair of eyes/way of thinking is so helpful – sadly in this industry ego often gets in the way of asking for help but expert or not we can all learn something from asking the right person.
I personally use foam rolling and stretching once or twice a week on my overactive muscle groups spending no more than 10 minutes in total. Stretching after foam rolling is important as foam rolling releases the tension but only when followed by stretching will it help restore ‘correct’ range of movement. This has been beneficial in easing the tightness, freeing up my movement to then be able to perform the exercises I use in my training to help strengthen the under-active muscles I need to strengthen.
So you may or may not be pleased to hear it does not involve masses of stretching/foam rolling every body part – it is just enough to aid correct movement which is where I find often people go wrong. We either don’t stretch/do any mobility at all or we go the other way and almost over stretch/place too much focus on mobility often making the issues worse – both ways making us more injury prone.
Getting the balance and working out what your own areas of weakness are, are key here and here I cannot stress enough how beneficial a PT could be – I am wanting this to come across at all as a sales pitch but having someone else’s eyes is a huge benefit – I know for me it certainly was when Sam offered his help with my training I have really been able to pinpoint my areas of weakness and faulty movements – I still have a way to go but I am getting there!
How do I foam roll?
So now we have established it can be beneficial, next thing is how do we use it. The basics of it is to roll the length of the muscle slowly with focus on any areas of tightness – rolling slower and holding on the area for up to 30 seconds – where you should feel the muscle release off. It is important we do not rush or foam roll over the muscle quickly, as this will only aggravate the muscle fibres making it feel sore and uncomfortable. If you do not feel the muscle releasing or it feels more painful stop immediately and contact me or another fitness professional. (If you guys would like a video of how to foam roll correctly – please let me know and I will get one sorted).
What I want you to take away from this post is that foam rolling before/after every training session on every body part is not necessary. I used to do it and it may feel like you are ‘releasing’ the tension (although if you have tried it it isn’t the most pleasant experience) – but it comes back to the whole mobility vs. stability (my clients will know what I am on about here) – basically we need a balance between the two enough mobility to move correctly but not so much we become unstable. Having some tension/tightness in our muscles is a positive thing so long as we can stand and move correctly without discomfort or pain, we know we are training correctly.
If you have any questions or need any help with assessment of posture & identifying areas for you to work on contact me firstname.lastname@example.org to book your free first session! Online PT also available – contact me for more information on this. As always I love to hear your thoughts and feedback and any future posts you would like to see – after all this blog is for you guys so what would you like to see here next?
Hope you all have a great day and enjoy the rest of your week!