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Beginners Guide to Foam Rolling

Foam rolling has gained a lot of popularity as of late in the fitness industry. For good reason too because it is great for recovery and myofascial release of muscles. When done properly you are simulating a deep tissue massage which gives a lot of benefits such as delivering improvements in flexibility and range of motion, muscle recovery, movement efficiency, correcting muscular imbalances, and pain reduction and soreness with just minutes of application.

First you have to understand why you’re foam rolling and if it’s right for you. Just rolling muscles out because that’s what you always do or because someone told you you should do it is not very smart. You should clearly outline your fitness goals and if foam rolling will help you achieve those. People that foam rolling are not recommended to are people with “congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or any organ failure, bleeding disorders, or contagious skin conditions.(3)” As well as extremely overweight and elderly people that might have problems getting up and down off the ground and moving around on the ground.

Picking the proper roller is important to start off with. When you are first starting off it will be better to pick a softer or less dense roller. This is because it will apply less stress to the muscle and not be as uncomfortable. When you become more advanced and are looking for deeper massage you want a dense roller with little to no give so you can push in deep. Another option is to get a textured roller that are a little more aggressive on your muscles and better for experienced athletes.

Many people make the mistake of rolling to fast. Like I stated earlier rolling is like getting a massage. When you get a massage is the masseuse blowing through all the muscle groups or do they take their time and get really deep? They always take their time so you should do the same when you foam roll. People have the tendency to go quickly because foam rolling will be painful if your doing it correctly. However what you need to do is find those really painful spots and really work on them slowly because that's how you see the benefits. When you feel that tender spot that's where all the tense and knotted up fascia is and your trying to release that. Going too quickly will only slightly increase blood flow to those areas and you will not get the full benefits of the roller.

Frequency of foam rolling is often a point of contention for many. Some people believe you can roll as much as you want and others think rolling to much can actually counteract what you’re trying to achieve. The argument for not doing it every day is once you break down scar tissue and release the fascia, you need to give your body time to heal. Like when you lift weights you let your muscles rest for a day or two. So if your foam rolling everyday your actually aggravating the area and causing more inflammation and pain. The argument for doing it frequently is there is no downside to rolling your muscles and it will only help to reduce inflammation and tightness in the muscles. This is what I agree with so personally I foam roll just about every day I go to the gym and sometimes I might even do it at home if I’m feeling especially tight.

When rolling you need to make sure to get all parts of the muscle. For example with the quadricep there are three major muscle groups that you can reach with a roller but often times people only roll the front side which is only a third of the muscle. This may be due to a lack of education or poor posture possibly due to fatigue. Correct posture will help with not wearing yourself out completely while you roll and put more or less pressure on certain points when needed. As we talked about breathing is a key component to rolling which works together with your posture similarly to yoga. While breathing deeply, it’s important to keep your core stable. You can do this by using the drawing-in maneuver to keep the lumbo-pelvic hip complex stable which will in turn will allow you to roll from all angles.

SMR is normally used at the beginning of a workout before doing static or dynamic stretching because it improves range of motion and muscle lengthening which is beneficial for stretching. When used before your workout you can do as a warmup or to inhibit overactive muscles. However because the foam roller is so versatile you can use it at the end of your workout as a cooldown.

“SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements.(3)” These mechanically stressful actions are recognized an injury by your body which initiates a repair process called the cumulative injury cycle. “This cycle follows a path of inflammation (from the tissue trauma), muscle spasm, and the development of soft tissue adhesions that can lead to altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalance.(3)” The adhesions in the soft tissue can cause permanent changes in the structure which is known as Davis’s Law. The ultimate goal of SMR is to alleviate these adhesions colloquially known as trigger points or knots to keep proper muscle function. It does so by utilizing autogenic inhibition which is “The process by which neural impulses that sense tension are greater than the impulses that cause muscles to contract, providing an inhibitory effect to the muscle spindles.(3)” When pressure is held against the roller on a trigger point the GTO will inhibit the muscle spindles allowing for the muscle to stretch and unknot.




Clark, Shannon. “6 Foam Rolling Mistakes You Might Be Making.” Bodybuilding.com, Bodybuilding.com, 19 May 2017, www.bodybuilding.com/content/6-foam-rolling-mistakes-you-might-be-making.html.

McCoy, Jenny. “Foam Rolling? Do It Right by Avoiding These 10 Mistakes.” Runner's World, Runner's World, 25 May 2018, www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention/foam-rolling-do-it-right-by-avoiding-these-10-mistakes.

Penney, Stacey. “Foam Rolling- Applying the Technique of Self-Myofascial Release.” NASM Blog, NASM, 16 May 2018, blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-release/.

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