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Have you ever wondered why you see people using foam rollers at the gym? What are foam rollers and why are so many people starting to make use of them? There is a method to their madness, the foam roller is simple to use and most importantly, it works!

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling, while not always a pleasant experience, does help to increase blood flow, which tends to help your muscles recover faster in between training sessions. It is intended to help one perform self-myofascial release over tight areas such as one’s hamstrings, glutes, hips, quads, calves and more. Fascia is the thin tissue that connects one’s muscles, it has been described as the body’s “internal packaging”. Fascia helps muscle groups cooperate as integrated units. Fascia is considered healthy when it flexible, supple and glides smoothly over your muscles. However, binding in one’s fascia less than desirable, this can occur for a number of reasons, such as muscle injury, inactivity, disease, inflammation or trauma. Even being permanently seated at a desk can get one’s fascia “gummed up” and stiff.

A foam roller which is simply just a cylinder-shaped tool, usually made of foam or flexible plastic is used to release built-up tension in one’s fascia and helps re-establish the integrity (and optimal performance) of muscle tissue. This can be achieved by placing one’s body weight on said foam roller and putting focused pressure on affected muscle groups by rolling.

Why is foam rolling beneficial?

Foam rolling is seen as very beneficial for endurance athletes. When participating is highly repetitive movement such as running, swimming or cycling, certain muscles are being overexerted whilst other muscles are not – especially if there is not perfect balance. The muscles that are overexerted tend to tighten up, which leads to that muscle not being able to function properly. However, when you foam roll, you help improve symmetrical (ideal) muscle function by “resetting” tight areas. By setting aside a few minutes after each workout to foam roll (or when necessary), injuries and imbalances can be prevented.

How to foam roll

It is better to be too soft rather than too hard, it’s likely to feel tender when rolling through the tissue but it should never be agonizing. To keep it as simple as possible, it has been suggested that one should divide the muscle into three areas – top, middle and bottom. Give each section a few passes up and down with the foam roller and then finish off by giving the entire length of the muscle a pass over with the foam roller.

When to foam roll

Foam rolling can be done before or after a workout, foam rolling before exercise will increase tissue elasticity, range of motion and blood flow. Foam rolling after a workout is a great way to enhance recovery, focus on all the major muscles worked during a workout and spend extra time on the areas that feel problematic. By stimulating blood flow in affected areas, it will drastically increase oxygen to sore muscle fibres and reduce recovery time.

Areas to avoid foam rolling

  1. Avoid rolling your lower back (spine).
  2. Stay clear of your neck.
  3. Joints and other bony areas (such as elbows, knees etc.)