Tight muscles are not fun at all. They make us tire faster, depriving us of the benefits of effective training. Professional sportsmen and amateurs know that warm-ups before exercises and stretching after them are essential processes for better athletic performance. Foam rollers could be a great addition to your sports routine because they provide a self-myofascial release technique. In other words, you simultaneously get the benefits from the deep tissue massage and the enjoyment of your workouts. A foam roller is like your personal masseuse or masseur. It aims to relieve muscle tension and loosen muscles. At first, you may feel uncomfortable rolling over tender spots, but once you get the hang of it, it can benefit your range of motion, blood flow, flexibility, and so much more. You can use a foam roller prior to your workout and after it. Read on to find out all the benefits and downsides of foam rolling, the best techniques, and whether you can transform it into a daily habit.
Is It Good To Foam Roll Every Day?
A foam roller or also called a muscle roller, is a large cylinder made of solid foam. These come in different fitness levels and sizes. Athletes use foam rollers to massage large muscle groups (4).
Many sportsmen suffer from the myofascial pain syndrome that affects bones, cartilage tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue. The fascia is a layer of fibrous tissue that surrounds and protects your muscles (4).
80% of the population have problems with musculoskeletal pain (1). The main symptoms of myofascial pain are:
- muscle stiffness
- difficulties with sleeping
- poor posture
- fatigue (5).
The benefits of foam rolling allow you to reduce the effects of these symptoms only when you use it properly.
Question, can you use a foam roller every day?
Since the exercise roller plays the role of the masseuse during your sports routine, it brings no harm to your body. All you need to do is to understand your purpose for using a foam roller. Do you desire to release muscle tension or use a massage roll as a recovery method?
However, the lack of proper technique can lead to negative consequences. So, how to start foam rolling safely? Here are the 3 tips that can help you integrate muscle roller into your workouts:
- Use light pressure. It is not okay to feel pain during foam rolling. Lower the amount of body weight onto the roller. For instance, if you are rolling out your calves, use your arms for support and take some of your body weight off of the roller.
- Roll tender areas slowly for 10-15 seconds and then change them to 30 to 60 seconds at a time.
- Stay hydrated after foam rolling to assist with faster recovery.
Remember, if you constantly feel pain during the rolling stop the process and see a doctor.
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What Are 5 Benefits Of Foam Rolling?
The benefits of foam rollers are versatile and using them in your workouts can improve general performance. Note, soft massaging is the least of the benefits you can expect from a muscle roller. In a moment you are going to discover the top 5 benefits of foam rolling.
- You will boost your performance. Foam rolling can have a positive effect on your range of motion as well as your speed, agility, and strength. According to a small study in the International Journal of Exercise Science, researchers found that adding foam rolling to the warm-ups improves power, strength, speed, and agility better than doing a dynamic warm-up without them (2).
- You will ease the muscle pain. Foam rolling can ease sore muscles and reduce inflammation. One small study showed that foam rolling after exercise might reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. During this study, athletic men would foam roll for 20 minutes after exercise. The participants noticed a decrease in their delayed-onset muscle soreness (3).
- You will improve your flexibility. Regular foam rolling helps reduce muscle tension, making your muscles more flexible. People are advised to do foam rolling before the workout in order to promote blood flow to the targeted muscle groups.
- You will lose more weight. The benefits of foam rolling for weight loss cannot help you lose a lot of weight but the process of rolling does facilitate weight loss by improving blood circulation. When you use foam rollers during your workouts you work on your muscles more and trim off more calories.
- You will relieve your back pain. The benefits of foam rolling back can help ease tension in your back. Indeed, you should be careful while using a muscle roller on your back. You should use the foam roller on your lower back. In order to do this, put your foam roller in a vertical position and slowly roll the roller from side to side. Avoid horizontal position since it can cause you to arch and strain your back.
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Does Foam Rolling Actually Work?
Foam rolling does benefit your overall performance, improves flexibility, eliminates tension, and promotes muscle recovery. Since it provides better blood circulation it may cut more calories. Using muscle roller foam can contribute to better results.
That said, people often make mistakes, get no results and even injure their body. Here are the top 5 foam rolling mistakes to avoid in order to get the most out of your workouts.
Mistake #1 You are not using a foam roller on your upper body. You shouldn’t neglect to roll your upper body: pectorals (chest), triceps, lats, and the muscles around the shoulder blades. It might be hard to reach these muscles with a big roller, so you might as well roll them out with a lacrosse ball.
Mistake#2 You are using the wrong pressure. It can be hard to choose the right pressure. If you are rolling too gently it may result in a weaker impact. If you are rolling too hard, you can injure your muscles.
You can control the amount of pressure you put on your muscle with extra support. Instead of pressing all your weight onto one spot use your leg or hand for additional help.
You can take advantage of a lacrosse ball or tennis ball when you target smaller muscles. With the ball, you can aim the smaller spots in between bones that are harder to reach with a foam roller.
Mistake#3 You roll out bone areas. Muscle rollers are intended to release tension in soft tissue. Hence, when you roll bony spots you might end up with painful feelings. Bony areas are the shoulder blades, parts of the legs and hips, and ankles. For example, instead of rolling over the shoulder blades, attempt to roll over the upper part of the spine.
Mistake#4 You keep rolling your lower back. Foam rolling the lower back can cause discomfort or even strain. This could hurt even more if you have too much extension in your lower back.
Instead of rolling, you can use a lacrosse ball to target the tight spots. Remember not to roll in the middle of the spine, but preferably along the muscles that run down either side of it. Talk with your doctor before applying pressure on your lower back if you have constant lower back pain.
Mistake#5 You tense your muscles during rolling instead of relaxing them. If you relax your muscles during foam rolling you can get the most effects. The point is that your nervous system will adapt better if you contract and relax your muscles. By doing so, you can improve your mobility as well.
Avoiding these mistakes can help you get better results during your training.
Does Foam Rolling Have Any Negative Effects?
Foam rollers are considered safe ways of eliminating muscle tightness and warming up the body before intensive training. Nevertheless, they might provoke negative effects in a couple of cases:
- When you have a serious injury such as a muscle tear or break. In this case, you need to avoid using foam rolling on sensitive areas.
- When you keep rolling over small joints like your elbows, knees, and ankles. By doing so you can damage these areas and cause injuries. Instead, when you use a foam roller on your legs, roll out your calves first and then your quads, without touching the knee area.
- When you press too hard a muscle roller on your body. This might provoke immediate pain.
On top of that, foam rolling exercises may help relieve tension during pregnancy. However, for pregnant women it is recommended to get clarity from a doctor. It is essential for her to avoid rolling out the calves in her third trimester. This might lead to premature labor.
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What Is The Difference In Foam Rollers?
Choosing the right foam roller for your body is an important task. Unfortunately, you can get perplexed with the choice of massage rollers, but at the same time you can select the roller that targets specific muscles. Foam rollers vary in size and firmness, therefore, bringing different results. You can experiment with different ones depending on your goals and needs:
- Smooth foam rollers are suitable for people who have never used them before and want to avoid tough pressure at the beginning stages.
- Textured foam rollers with grids, ridges, or knobs on them. They aim to put more pressure on your muscles.
- Travel foam rollers. Most often used for arms and calves. Due to their size, you can carry them to your office or pack them in a suitcase for the next adventurous trip.
- Vibrating foam rollers. They are loaded with various settings to deeply release muscle knots and loosen your tense muscles. Vibration can help to promote circulation and flexibility.
- Cold and Heat foam rollers. You can heat or cool them down to enhance muscle relaxation and relieve discomfort.
- Foam roller balls. They are used for specific areas that are hard to reach with larger foam rollers.
- Foam rolling sticks can be applied to the most concentrated areas.
Is Foam Rolling Good For Running?
Foam rolling is not only about warming up and stretching out. They are also vital to runners. No matter whether you are a beginner or an experienced runner, there are essential reasons for implementing a foam roller. To your attention are the top 3 benefits of foam rolling for runners:
- It can help prevent injury. The best way to prevent injuries is to practice stretching before and after a workout. Make sure you incorporate foam roller into your post-run to keep muscles healthy.
- It can assist in muscle recovery. We can get sore muscles and back pain often due to adherence in the thin layer of fascia that surrounds muscles in the body. However, we are now aware that a foam roller is a great recovery tool for self-myofascial release. It provides effects similar to a deep tissue massage on tight muscles. This is especially important for training for long-distance runs.
- It can help improve your form. You can’t run with proper form when your muscles are tight. With the help of a foam roller, you can alleviate muscle tightness. This can help you build a better form.
What Are Foam Rolling Exercises?
There are many foam rolling exercises that aid to relieve pain and tightness in your back. You can do them three to four times per week by using them prior to and after the workout.
Prepare an exercise mat for cushioning and remember to properly position your body on the foam roller. Make sure you relax for 1 minute after each rep or set. Check out the following 6 effective foam rolling exercises that can be easily done at home or at the gym.
Hamstrings is a great exercise for people who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Using a foam roller will increase circulation to the needed area to get your blood flowing to these muscles. Moreover, rolling can loosen stiff muscles.
Here is how you can use a foam roller for your hamstrings:
- Sit on the floor with extended legs.
- Lift yourself up and back, then make sure the roller touches the back of your leg between the knee and hip.
- Move forward and back slowly along the length of your thigh.
- Continue the activity for 30 seconds (4).
Different movements can put extreme pressure on our back and shoulders. Foam rolling the muscles can lower minor spasms that provoke pain. With better flexibility and loosened muscles, you can improve your posture.
The usage of the foam roller for your upper back:
- Lie on the floor with bent knees and rest your shoulders against the roller.
- Lift up your hips and with your feet, push your upper body back and forth along the roller.
- Continue the activity for 30 seconds (4).
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The Iliotibial Band
IT band is a strong band tissue that moves down the outside of your leg from your pelvis to your knee. IT bands can cause knee and hip discomfort. Rolling out the tension in the iliotibial band can reduce the tension.
The best way to roll it out:
- Lie on your side with your legs extended.
- Place your outer thigh on the roller.
- Rest your top leg on your bottom leg and cross your top leg across your bottom leg.
- Support your upper body with your arm.
- Move your foam roller down the outside of your leg and back.
- Continue the activity for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side (4).
Lats reduce tension in the area below your underarms. This can improve your posture and mobility in your upper body.
How to do it:
- Lie on the left side with the foam roller under your shoulder.
- Hold your left leg on the floor for support and keep your right foot firmly on the floor.
- Start rolling below your armpit and softly roll down toward your mid-back.
- Continue for up to 1 minute. Then switch to the opposite side.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This stretch trains your core and makes it stronger. A strong core benefits good posture and eliminates back pain.
How to do a core foam rolling:
- Lie with a foam roller vertically along your spine in the way it supports your head and tailbone.
- Place your arms alongside your body. Keep your knees bent and feet pressed to the mat.
- Press your low back into the foam roller, engaging your core muscles.
- Raise your left hand and right knee toward the ceiling.
- Lower your back to the starting position.
- Switch the side. This counts as 1 repetition.
- Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 repetitions.
Foam rolling helps relieve tension in your glutes and support the strength and stability of your lower back.
- Sit on top of the foam roller keeping it under your sitting bones.
- Support your hips by placing hands behind them.
- Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor.
- Place your left ankle to the outside of your right knee.
- Position your right hand on your ankle or thigh, and gently lean to the left.
- Roll from side to side and focus on your sensitive areas.
- Hold each area for up to 20-30 seconds. Then switch to the opposite side.
The Bottom Line
Foam rolling benefits can make your workout more effective and safe. Foam rollers are used to reduce muscle tension, improve flexibility, cut extra calories, relieve back pain, and boost performance.
There are many types of exercise rollers, depending on your needs.
Neglecting the proper muscle roll technique can negatively affect your experience. In order to avoid pain during foam roller exercises use the support and skip the body spots.
Foam rollers for running may improve form, assist in muscle recovery, and prevent injury.
Foam rolling exercises can be used alongside with warm-ups and cooling down. People who have chronic pain in their muscles should consult a doctor before using any muscle roller.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A comparison of the clinical manifestation and pathophysiology of myofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia: implications for differential diagnosis and management (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release in the Form of Foam Rolling Improves Performance Testing (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How To Use a Foam Roller (2021, webmd.com)
- What to know about myofascial pain syndrome (2022, medicalnewstoday.com)