I find that many athletes think they need to use the foam roller as intensely as possible to produce the maximum amount of pain. After 30 seconds of pure agony, they put the foam roller back in the closet and consider themselves sufficiently “rolled” for the month. What a shame! If this describes you, you need to read on. Effective foam roller use can prevent injury, maximize performance, and improve your general well being. Episodic 30 second torture episodes will....well...only make you really hate foam rolling. Let's create a healthy foam roller relationship full of mutual respect and understanding.
I think it helps to first understand WHY foam rolling is helpful. Consider this- a muscle is not a single rubber band that contracts uniformly. Rather, a muscle is a series of small units which can contract somewhat independently of each other. These units are called sarcomeres. Due to overuse, poor body mechanics, posture, etc a cluster of sarcomeres can stay contracted forming a trigger point. Colloquially, most people call these a “knot”. A knot will shorten the length of the muscle as a whole, causing further deterioration of flexibility, joint mobility, and movement quality. A knot also has the potential to radiate pain to a different area of the body, similar to a nerve. A knot is NOT what you want! (you're welcome Nash Harris, lover of puns)
Addressing these specific areas of muscle tightness with a foam roller can effectively prevent such symptoms. Furthermore, foam rolling BEFORE stretching may allow you to stretch further and more comfortably. Personally, after a 2hr run or 5 hr bike ride the LAST thing I want to do is bend over and try to touch my toes. But if I preface stretching with a gentle roll-sesh on my friendly foam roller? Heck yeah, that's recovery at it's finest, baby!
Now that you know why foam rolling is all the rage, you should familiarize yourself with The Foam Roller Kamasutra. There are multiple positions and techniques to address just about any muscle on your body...know as many as possible! I'm a loud proponent of foam roller use and I'm constantly learning something new. If you are totally in the dark on how to use your cylindrical friend, Garret McLaughlin and I have teamed up to provide instructional courses on various mobility topics, including foam roller use. In fact our next course is at Nashville Running Company on December 3rd. Word to the wise, we sold out 2 weeks in advance last time- reserve your spot early. Register HERE
So roll shamelessly in the middle of the gym floor! Embrace the weirdness of contorting yourself in your shortest running shorts! FOAM ROLL ALL THE MUSCLES!!!
If you have questions or specific injuries that you would like to address, contact your physical therapist.