A foam roller is an amazing tool to add to your exercise arsenal. If you are needing to alleviate knots in your muscles or relieve delayed muscle soreness (DOMS), then foam rolling is an excellent self-massage technique that you should include in your daily workout routine. Foam Rollers can be used to preform self-myofascial release, which is similar to a deep tissue massage (but less expensive!). By incorporating form rolling in your daily routine, you can help to relax your muscles, allow for deeper stretching, and improve your range of motion. You can also improve the circulation and blood flow to your muscles, which will allow fast repair of the muscles. Do not be alarmed if your muscles are sore following a day that you foam rolled. Remember that you are basically giving yourself a deep tissue massage. For many, deep tissue massage is a commonly known process that may be uncomfortable and at times painful. Self-myofascial release allows you to control your own deep tissue massage while controlling the healing and recovery process through the application of pressure to precise locations (sore muscles, knots, stiff areas), and only you will be able to feel what is happening.
Self-myofascial release can be done on any muscle that needs attention due to soreness, knots, or stiffness. You can even use smaller objects such as a lacrosse ball or soft tennis ball to reach areas such as your deltoid in your shoulders (which may be hard to reach using a big foam roller). For best practices, you should preform foam rolling exercises after a workout or on your rest days.
The following are 5 of the best regions to foam rollers.
The hamstring muscles can benefit from a deep tissue release since they are chronically tight muscles for the majority of us. There are several ways for you to foam roll your hamstrings. You can roll both legs at once by sitting your hamstrings on the foam roller and supporting yourself with your hands while you roll back and forth, massaging the hamstrings and allowing your bodyweight to apply more pressure for a deeper tissue massage. For tender spots, remain on it and apply pressure using your body weight. You can move slowly over the area for a deeper massage, or you can apply pressure and release knots as your push deeper into the tender spot. Try to image a physical therapist giving you a deep tissue massage by applying slight pressure at first and slightly increasing that pressure, getting deeper into the muscle and release the knots. This is a similar application that you should take with foam rolling, specifically when you are “sitting” on a tender spot, alleviating the soreness. Single leg foam rolling will elicit a deeper massage. You will cross one leg over the other, keeping the leg you wish to massage directly on top of the foam roller. You can also manipulate the regions you are foam rolling such as the inner and outer hamstring regions. You will simple turn your leg to target the inner or outer regions of the hamstring and search for tender spots that need more attention.
Foam rolling the quads can be a painful and uncomfortable experience, but it’s incredibly effective at breaking through stiff muscle in the quad region. Facing downward with your stomach towards the ground, lay your hips on top of the foam roller. Roll back and forth over the tops of your quadriceps first and progress down the femur (upper leg between hips and knee). You can rotate your torso slightly to hit inner and outer regions of the quadriceps muscles. Foam rolling can also be done on your IT bands, which stretch along the outermost edge of your legs from your hips down to your knees. Lay sideways with your hip on the foam roller and roll up and down the outer leg in order to target the IT bands. This can be quite painful, so it is important to listen to your body and not overdue it.
Having an inflamed piriformis muscle can cause sharp pain through the middle of the glute, which can in turn compress the sciatic nerve causing sciatica. Foam rolling of the glutes can relax the muscles around the sciatic nerve. Therefore, it is very beneficial to foam roll the glutes in order to avoid sciatica. By sitting on top of the foam roller with your weight on one of your glutes you can apply pressure and “sit into” the roller to get deeper into the muscle. To apply additional pressure try crossing one thigh onto the other. Do not to roll directly on the center of the glutes as this may further compress the sciatic nerve. Roll gently back and forth over the most sensitive spots to work sore areas and alleviate the knots.
For many runners and those of us who engage in some amount of cardiovascular conditioning, shin splints or shin pains may be experienced from time to time. Foam rolling to work the shin splints out can be done by kneeling on the floor with one shin on top of the roller. It is important to make sure that you are targeting the muscle and not the bone. The starting point will be just below the knee. You will roll downward towards the ankle, finishing the exercise just above the ankle to full massage the entire shin muscle.
For calve muscles, sit your buttock on the floor with the calve of one leg directly on top of the foam roller while the other leg is placed on top of the leg you wish to massage. Use your hands to lift yourself slightly off the floor, keeping the calve muscle on the roller and apply pressure using your body weight. Roll the calve muscle up and down the foam roller, spending extra time on particularly painful areas. To target specific area, you might want to stop on the tender spots and “sit into” the area, using your body weight to apply more pressure and workout the knots.
With your head behind your head for neck support, lay down on top of the foam roller with your shoulders being the starting point for the massage. Use your feet to walk yourself back and forth over the roller to release knots in the back muscles. You will roll from the upper back to the lower back and then up again to full target the back. Lean over to one side to target the latissimus dorsi of the left and right sides. You can also perform a spinal stretch by laying down on the roller length-wise, having the roller parallel to your spine. You will NOT roll, but just lay down and enjoy the stretch!
It is very important to work on your breathing during self-myofascial release. Do NOT hold your breath at any point during these exercises. You want to make sure that you’re breathing properly throughout the exercises. Breathing will help to prevent the muscles from tightening up during the rolling and stretch. It will also allow for a deep muscle release and relaxation. You will find it to be less painful if you breath in and out during the foam rolling exercises.
You need to make sure that you are not compromising your proper spine alignment during the exercises. If your form is poor during foam rolling you are at risk for injury.
You need to make sure that you are giving even attention to EVERY sore muscle group and not just focusing on one. For example, after a leg workout, you should foam roll over all the lower body muscles and not just one group such as the quads. Foam rolling over only one muscle group can aggravate those muscles and do more harm than good.
Think about it this way… Would you want the massage therapist to quickly massage over the sore areas or would you rather they apply the appropriate pressure and give proper attention to the sore areas. If you are trying to roll fast over sore areas you will miss giving those muscles the attention they need.
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