Foam Rolling – The Hows & Whys

Look around your local gym, athletic training room or strength and conditioning facilities and you will probably see an array of foam rollers in different lengths and materials. It is time to grab one and get to work, this important resource may become your new favorite.

Physical Therapists and Athletic Trainers consider soft tissue mobilization (variations of massage) vital for both prevention and treatment of injuries. You may have heard various techniques which fall into this category including: Myofascial Release or Active Release Therapy (ART).

Physical Therapist Mike Clark is credited by many, with the initial exposure of the athletic and physical therapy communities to the foam roller and to what he termed “self myofascial release” (another technical term for self-massage).

How Do You Use It?

Self Massage Technique

The roller is used to apply longer more sweeping strokes to the long muscle groups like the calves, quadriceps or hamstrings; as well as to more short dense muscles like the glutes.

Accupressure Technique

Use the roller to apply pressure to sensitive areas in the muscles. Move in short range or small rocking movements over these tender areas. These points are trigger points or knots (areas of increased muscle density).

When Do I Use the Foam Roll?

Coaches and therapists are not in universal agreement over all of the specifics but here are some suggestions. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it was found that foam rolling showed a short term improvement in range of motion. This is because it can help to decrease muscle density. Thus, consider use of the foam roll as part of a dynamic warm-up. However, rolling after a workout may help to aid in recovery from strenuous exercise. In the same journal, another study found that foam rolling improved perceived muscle soreness post workouts.

Try initially incorporating 5 minutes of foam rolling before and after a workout and adjust as needed.

Ouch! Is this supposed to hurt?

If this is the first time using the foam roll, or it has been gathering dust in your closet, those first few rolls may be very uncomfortable. Your goal: work a muscle group for 1 minute; however start with 10-30 seconds as tolerated and progress. If you consistently use the foam roller daily, it should be considerably less painful, and even tolerable within a week.

*Remember: never roll over bone (hip bone, knee caps, shins, etc). Instead focus on the meaty part of the muscle.