Foam rollers are gaining popularity as a tool to make exercise more challenging and to help relieve pain. Many people who have muscle stiffness opt for a massage, but with a foam roller, you can do it yourself. The roller works the same way as a massage, by breaking up the fibrous tissue that has built up so you have better circulation flow, which in turn, reduces soreness. If you use the foam roller after your workout 2 – 3 times a week, you will have less muscle tension and pain. As an added bonus, when you hold your position on the foam roller, which is an unstable surface, you’re contracting your muscles so you’re getting a strength and stability workout at the same time.
When rolling, roll slowly and avoid holding on any areas that are swollen or extremely irritated – roll near and around these areas instead. Remember that the foam roller is meant for the muscles and connective tissue around the joints, and not for the joint itself, so don’t put the joint directly on the roller. Also remember that the foam roller isn’t a substitute for a doctor when you’re injured. If your muscles or tissues are inflamed, don’t use the foam roller or you could cause more damage to your body.
Here are some core workouts and stretches to try on your foam roller:
- Instead of doing crunches on the floor, use the foam roller. Sit on the end of the roller and put your feet on the floor. Extend your arms to your sides and slowly roll down, feeling each vertebrae as it touches the roller, then roll yourself back up. Do three sets of 10.
- Lie on your back on the roller, feet flat on the floor. Hold your arms to your side and lift your right knee to your chest. Hold the position for three seconds then lower your leg. Repeat 9 more times before switching to your left leg. As your abdominal muscles get stronger, you can hold the position longer.
- Lie on your back on the roller and lift your legs so they are at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Hold your arms out to your sides and slowly lower your right foot to the floor until your toes touch then raise your leg back up to the starting position. Repeat this 9 more times before switching legs.
- Stand on the roller, feet hip width apart. Bend your knees a little and squeeze your glutes. Hold the position for 60 seconds, keeping your abdominals pulled in. If you need help with stability, do this exercise near a wall so you can reach out your hand to balance.
- Stand with the foam roller about a foot behind you. Put the toes of your right foot on the roller and slowly do a lunge, allowing the roller to roll to your shin. Pull yourself back up to your starting position and repeat 9 more times before switching legs.
- Sit in the middle of the roller with your knees bent. Put your arms on the floor behind you. Lift your right leg and cross it over so it is on your left knee. Drop your right leg toward the floor and roll the foam roller down your right outer thigh and glutes then roll back up. Turn your body and roll down your left outer thigh and glutes then roll back up. Do this 4 more times, then cross your left leg over your right knee and repeat the exercise 5 times.
Here are the 5 most common mistakes people make using a foam roller:
Mistake #1: You roll directly where you feel pain. When we feel pain, our first inclination is to massage that spot directly. However, this might be a big mistake. Instead, if you find a spot that’s sensitive, it’s a cue to ease away from that area by a few inches. Take time and work a more localized region around areas that feel sore before using larger, sweeping motions.
Mistake #2: You roll too fast. While it might feel great to roll back and forth on a foam roller quickly, you’re not actually eliminating any adhesions that way. You need to give your brain enough time to tell your muscles to relax. Go slower so that the superficial layers and muscles have time to adapt and manage the compression.
Mistake #3: You spend too much time on those knots. We’re often told that if you feel a knot, spend time working that spot with the foam roller. However, some people will spend five to 10 minutes or more on the same area and attempt to place their entire body weight onto the foam roller. If you place sustained pressure on one body part, you might actually hit a nerve or damage the tissue, which can cause bruising. Instead, spend 20 seconds on each tender spot then move on. You can also manage how much body weight you use. For example, when working your IT band, plant the foot of your leg on the floor to take some of the weight off the roller.
Mistake #4: You have bad posture. What does your posture have to do with foam rolling? A lot. You have to hold your body in certain positions over the roller and that requires a lot of strength. When rolling out the IT band, you are supporting your upper body weight with one arm. When you roll out the quads, you are essentially holding a plank position. If you don’t pay attention to your form or posture, you may cause more harm. Work with an experienced personal trainer, physical therapist or coach who can show you proper form and technique. Or, consider setting up your smartphone to videotape yourself while foam rolling, that way, you can see what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong, like sagging in the hips or contorting the spine.
Mistake #5: You use the foam roller on your lower back…don’t! You can use the foam roller on your upper back because the shoulder blades and muscles protect the spine. Once you hit the end of the rib cage, stop. If you want to release your lower back, try child’s pose or foam roll the muscles that connect to your lower back — the piriformis (a muscle located deep within the glutes), hip flexors and the main muscles in your quads.
Foam rollers can be your best friend but also your worst enemy. If you’re interested in adding another tool to your workout arsenal, the foam roller may be what you’re looking for. Not only will it help strengthen your muscles, it can also improve your stability and provide muscle relief, however, just be sure you know before you roll.
If you are looking for help with any area of your fitness and/or nutrition, feel free to contact us at 770-330-2126 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutritionist, Exercise Therapy Specialist
Bodyrich Fitness Company