Do you feel like you’re moaning and groaning your way through regular daily movements after a workout?
Does every normal action suddenly seem to be an uncomfortable challenge?
From walking down the steps at the office to standing up from a seated position, tough workouts can turn these mindless motions into significant struggles. And, while this may make you take pride in the effort you’ve put into your exercise, it does make daily life difficult.
Additionally, although a workout that leaves you sore can indicate that you’ve finally started using those muscle groups that have been lying dormant for a while - it can also hamper your progress when you’re unable to even put your workout gear on, let alone follow up with another tough workout…
What do you do?
The little piece of equipment you cannot go without
Forget about the machines and weights for a second, there’s another small piece of gym equipment that often lies in the corner of the room, forgotten. When you do remember it, or are finally introduced to it, it can change your workout for good.
We’re talking about the humble foam roller.
From oddly-shaped, bulging rollers, to balls, to smooth round varieties, these rollers can provide significant benefits for your workout or, should we say, your recovery.
When you’ve hit it hard in the gym, it’s common practice to stretch in order to cool down and prevent soreness - which does help1! But, foam rolling may go even deeper than a good stretch and, depending on equipment and technique, it can even have the similar effects to going for a good, deep tissue massage to ease tight and inflamed muscles - without paying an arm and a leg for a therapist every time.
A massage therapist at your fingertips
Professional athletes have massage therapists on standby when they train and compete - and, for good reason. As a result of gruelling bouts of exercise, the muscle fascia become sore and tight. Muscle fascia are the sleeves of tissue that keep muscle fibres together and connect larger groups of muscles - and, when they become tight, they can cause significant pain and restrict movement.
Additionally, if there isn’t significant time to heal, the collagen making up these fascia can develop adhesions and the muscles they hold together become unable to function optimally. This muscle tension, when left for extended periods, can actually cause the muscle to remain in a shortened position, which then reduces the range of motion of the other muscles in the area2,3,4.
Massage therapy in athletes is a means to control myofascial restriction and to eliminate these collagen adhesions, releasing the tension and, in doing so, improve the use of the muscle and its ability to keep moving as it is meant to.
The thing is, you don’t always need a massage therapist to do this - and, most of us can opt for a foam roller!
When you add this simple piece of equipment into your exercise routine, you can expect to reap these benefits:
While rolling won’t eliminate all of the pain you experience after exercise, there is evidence to suggest that when you add foam rolling to your cool down, the pain you feel in the hours following the workout can be reduced5,6.
It’s normal for inflammation to set in after you have put your muscles through a tough routine. Small tears form in the muscle fibres, which induce the repair process to begin. This damage and repair is not only what causes pain - but, it makes the muscles grow back stronger. The trouble is, as collagen builds-up once again, it can bind the layers of muscles, reducing their ability to function as optimally as they could.
Foam rolling assists with preventing this binding and, helps to push oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood into the area, which helps with the repair process.
Exercise is good for your body, but it also induces a stress response. Any significant amount of stress increases the production of cortisol in your body, and cortisol isn’t great for your health when it’s in constant and high amounts.
Foam rolling and its influence on myofascial release has been shown to reduce cortisol production after a workout and thus reduce the influence of stress on your body7! Talk about rolling your way to relaxation….
One of the most common exercise-related injuries, often associated with lower limb activities like running, is iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome. The ITB becomes tight due to overuse and, without release, can cause significant amounts of pain and restrict movement.
While a good stretch after each exercise can help, the most effective way to release this band of muscles that run from the glutes through to the knees is to roll them out using a foam roller. Releasing the ITB reduces the risk of lower limb injury - but, the same idea applies to all areas you’re going to be rolling out.
To put it simply, a tight body with restricted movement is way more prone to injury than a looser and more mobile body!
Now that you know the benefits, how do you start?
There are literally thousands of foam rolling exercises and, depending on your personal training routine and body history, you are going to want to put more or less emphasis on certain areas.
The easiest way to find what suits you is to think about what exercises you’re commonly doing or any muscles that commonly give you trouble and do a quick search of foam rolling exercises for your particular trouble areas.
By incorporating foam rolling into your routine, you’ll experience reduced soreness in the days following a tough workout, increased joint range of motion8,9,10, better muscle flexibility and improved blood flow to the areas being rolled11.
Treating an injury following exercise is always difficult; so the best bit of advice is to put preventative measures in place to avoid injuries in the first place.
Your body rocks, so keep it healthy by rolling!
- Behm, D., & Chaouachi, A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011. 111(11): 2633–2651.
- Kumka, M., & Bonar, J. Fascia: a morphological description and classification system based on a literature review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2012. 56(3):179-191.
- Barnes, M. The basic science of myofascial release: Morphologic change in connective tissue. J BodywMov Ther. 2007. 1(4): 231–238.
- Macdonald, G., et al. An acute bout of self myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in neuromuscular performance. J of Strength Cond Res. 2012.
- Macdonald, G., et al. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014. 46(1):131-142.
- Schroeder, A., et al. Is Self Myofascial Release an Effective Preexercise and Recovery Strategy? A Literature Review. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2015. 14(3):200-208.
- Cavanaugh, M., et al. An acute session of roller massage prolongs voluntary torque development and diminishes evoked pain. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2017. 117(1):109-117.
- Behm, D., et al. Massage and stretching reduce spinal reflex excitability without affecting twitch contractile properties. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2013. 23(5):1215–1221.
- Mohr, A., et al.Effect of Foam Rolling and Static Stretching on Passive Hip-Flexion Range of Motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. 2014. 23(4):296-299.
- Sullivan, K., et al. Roller-massager application to the hamstrings increases sit and reach range of motion within 5-10 seconds without performance impairments. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013. 8(3):228-236.
- Okamato, T., et al. Acute Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014. 28(1):69-73.