Together foam rolling and stretching can increase flexibility and range of motion around your joints, which in turn may reduce your risk of injury, improve performance and help maintain independence. You may have heard of foam rolling which helps muscles become more receptive to stretching and moving, as well as relieving muscle soreness.
So, what is a foam roller and how do you use it?
A foam roller is a cylinder of foam you slowly roll an area of your body back and forth across — like your upper back, hips, or calves. Popular areas to roll include the back, upper thighs, calves, hamstrings and hips.
Foam rolling helps release tension in the muscles, relieve muscle soreness, improve flexibility and range of motion. The sustained pressure on the muscle signals the central nervous system to reduce tension, similar to the effect of a deep tissue massage, making muscles more susceptible to stretching.
The most common foam rollers are cylinders made of firm, compressed foam. The rollers are usually 15cm in diameter and range from 30cm to 1m long.
How to foam roll
Sit or lie on a mat on the floor, place a particular body part on top of the roller, then move it back and forth until you find a tender spot in your muscle. Then hold on that spot for 30 to 90 seconds until you get a reduction in tenderness.
For example, to roll your calf muscle, sit on the mat with your legs in front of you and your hands behind you for support. Place one calf on top of the roller and move your leg back and forth over it.
Using a combination of foam rolling, followed by stretching, will help to maintain and improve flexibility.
Good flexibility of your body is important but why?
Flexibility can improve your performance in physical activities.
This can range from your ability to run faster with better technique through to simply being able to get out of a chair.
For instance, tight quadriceps (muscles at the front of your thighs) can stop you bending your knees sufficiently to get out of a chair. Getting out of a chair involves you being able to bend your knees beyond 90 degrees to give you enough leverage to stand up. So, if your quadricep muscles are tight and not allowing your knees to bend, you will find it very difficult to get out of a chair.
Another example is your ability to run fast. To run well, you need good flexibility of your hip flexor muscles at the front of the hip. Tight hip flexors impede your ability to take your leg back adequately as you stride out. Consequently, your stride length will shorten and slow you down with tight hip flexors.
Decrease your risk of injuries
Muscles work best when they can respond to change quickly and efficiently. If a muscle is tight, then its ability to change quickly is diminished. So, the muscle will not have the length that you may require to perform an activity.
A classic example of this problem revolves around tight hamstrings. Hamstrings are the group of muscles at the back of your thighs. They are the muscles that bend your knees and help you walk. Hamstring muscles lengthen and stretch out when you walk. If you take longer or bigger strides when you walk or run, your hamstrings need more length to allow your leg to step forward with a bigger stride. If the hamstrings are tight and they don’t have that flexibility to lengthen as you step out, you risk tearing the muscle – something gives, and it is usually the muscle belly of the hamstring. This is why hamstring tears often occur with a burst of running or striding out quickly.
Give foam rolling a try, and let me know how you go.