Once used only by physiotherapists and sports medicine specialists, the foam roller has now become an essential equipment for endurance athletes. This rather innocuous looking device, that doesn’t look too different from pool floatation devices, helps runners and other athletes work on tired and overstrained muscles in a way similar to a soft-tissue massage. Used correctly with your body weight, the process is also called self myofascial release (SMR).Apart from aiding in recovery, the use of the foam roller also helps prevent further injuries and improve muscle flexibility. In other words, it’s quite a handy tool to have around, and here’s why.
Warm up with foam
The benefits of a foam roller are a lot like stretching – it helps lengthen and elongate your muscles, increases blood flow and releases muscle tightness, getting them ready for a workout. You can use yours on the calf muscles, IT band, and hamstrings in a variety of ways to get your circulation going and piped up for a run.
Cool down roll
Using a foam roller after your run as a way to cool down helps flush out toxins and hastens recovery. Besides, the effect of the firm surface on fatigued muscles can also be a great stress reliever and help release adhesions and knots within them.
Keep injuries at bay
Foam rollers are more suited to prevent common running injuries than treat existing ones, as the roller can prove to be too harsh on already injured muscles. As a preventive measure, however, foam rollers work the same way as really effective stretching does: it prepares and strengthens your muscles for an upcoming workout and helps in increasing the range of motion. IT bands, quads, glutes, hamstrings are some areas that are prone to running injuries, and working the foam roller on these muscle groups can reduce chances of that.
For strength and performance
While its preventive and therapeutic benefits are great, the foam roller is also an effective tool for building strength, stability and adding more power to your performance. You can use it to enhance your existing strength training routines including planks, squats and push ups. It will add some additional stress on your body though, so take care to not overdo. Most experts recommend not more than 2-3 sessions with the foam roller per week if you’re using it as a workout tool.
There is something like using a foam roller too much, so go easy, especially as you start out. Here are some pointers:
1. Rolling too aggressively over a damaged muscle tissue, particularly in the first few days after the injury, can actually cause it to worsen. Consult a doctor before you work on chronic injuries.
2. The foam roller is best avoided on bony areas such as knees, and places where tendons attach. For example, if you’re dealing with IT band syndrome, focus on the middle of the band rather than the knee and hip tendons.
3. Don’t use the roller too fast; as your superficial layers and muscles need time to adapt and manage the compression. The best ways is to feel out the tender spots are with the roller, and use short, slow rolls over that spot.
4. Don’t dilly too much over one spot or muscle adhesion. Sustained pressure may damage a tendon or tissue; spend 20 seconds on each tender spot then move on.