How To Use a Foam Roller: The only 3 reasons to foam roll
HOW TO USE A FOAM ROLLER
The foam roller is a simple, yet misunderstood object in the fitness and rehab world. I was once guilty of using this tool improperly. Have you ever rolled out your IT band? Who hasn’t? It is arguably the most common use of the foam roller…AND a complete waste of your time…bare with me.
There are uses for the foam roller, I will get to those. But first I want you to understand WHY foam rolling thick, insanely fibrous fascia is a ridiculous attempt at fixing IT band syndrome (which is really your lack of hamstring activity in a given exercise) or any other fascia for that matter.
Foam rolling is marketed as SMS (self-myofascial release). It does increase range of motion for SHORT TERM, increases blood flow and can lead to a parasympathetic (relaxing) response in the brain. THAT’S where the muscle relaxation happens, in the brain. You feel “looser” in your muscles because you have lowered your stress levels. You caused decently intense pain, your pain receptors were on high alert and now your body’s pain receptors can relax. You’ve gone from a sympathetic (high stress, high cortisol) state to a parasympathetic (lower stress, low cortisol) state. That is if you foam rolled for 30-60 seconds per muscle.
I have definitely used foam rolling or lacrosse ball rolling to elicit that parasympathetic response. I just don’t want you thinking you’re changing the state of your muscle.
See, I’m not here to bash on foam rolling. I’m here to inform you as to WHY it has the effect it has and how you can better utilize it to improve your training. You’re not changing the elasticity of your IT band with that little of pressure, for that little of time. And DEFINITELY not in the long term.
1. INSCREASE MOBILITY: IN A WARM UP
I often use the foam roller for NOT rolling, but moving and positioning my body around it in order to increase my mobility before a workout.
This is most effective in opening up the chest and increasing range of motion in the thoracic spine (T-Spine). If you sit most of the day at a desk like I do, these two drills are a MUST on the daily.
2. INCREASE BLOOD FLOW: IN A WARM UP
This one does involve rolling. Go figure.
Make sure you’re rolling TOWARDS the heart to increase blood flow through your muscles and surrounding tissues. Roll for 30-60 seconds per area. Don’t focus on tender spots during this time. Just roll to get the blood moving. I especially like doing this with my legs. Also make sure to do the foam rolling before your dynamic warm-up.
3. CAUSE A PARASYMPATHETIC RESPONSE: POST WORKOUT OR ON A RECOVERY DAY
After a workout or on a rest day, lower those stress hormones by spending 1-3 minutes in one area. Spend time in the painful spots. As you put pressure on the pain points, make sure you are also working on deep breathing through your diaphragm. This can help reduce muscle soreness and elicit a relaxing response in the brain like we talked about earlier.
DO YOU FOAM ROLL? HOW OFTEN? WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN MORE?
I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
The name's Annie & you're reading my thoughts. Let's get acquainted.
I didn’t see the link to the T-spine video but I have been needing to do this since I have a lot of chest tightness from work and roller derby.
Hello Rachelle! Thank you! The video has been added! Give it a go!
Great article but I didn’t see the video for step one.
Hey Judi! The video has been added. 🙂 Thank you!
I’m so excited to go home and try the T spine roll! I have an office job and sit at a desk all day (and also have a crappy mattress – new one is on the way!!!) so I’ve had a lot of tightness and less mobility recently. I’m really eager to see how this helps.
Also – I personally HATE foam rolling my IT band, so I’m happy to hear that it’s not the be-all and end-all! Haha.
YYAAAAASSS KATIE. YES. Try it and let me know how you feel + what you find! 🙂 Yep, focus more on muscle balance and mobility than foam rolling. FOR SURE.