Foam rollers aren’t just a passing trend. Physical therapists, personal trainers, and professional athletes alike all praise the numerous health benefits of foam rolling. Foam rollers are a relatively inexpensive piece of lightweight equipment that you can use to “roll out” muscles and tissue that is sore or tight. When using a foam roller, you use your own body weight for leverage, making it much safer than using the heavy machinery you find in the gym. The most common use for a foam roller is to relieve soreness post-workout or for injury recovery, but it can easily be incorporated into your workout routine as a regular method for keeping blood flowing to your muscles and connective tissue.
Diane Allan, Fitness Training Coordinator at Golden Door Spas, weighs in on exactly how to use a foam roller. “Foam rollers are effective in improving posture, flexibility, balance, core strength, and joint mobility,” Allan says. “It is also used for myofascial release, or ‘rolling out’ muscles to improve circulation, and to relieve tension in muscles and connective tissue”.
How to Choose a Foam Roller
“Foam rollers come in different levels
of firmness: soft, standard and firm,” Allan explains.
If you’re new to foam rolling, or have an injury that you want to nurse, soft rollers may be a nice option for you. “The soft rollers are beneficial for rolling out (myofascial release) muscles that are very tight and/or sensitive,” Allan says. “They may also be preferred during core exercises for individuals who are more sensitive to pressure on the spine”.
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If you’ve done foam rolling, or aren’t scared to jump right in for your first time, pick a medium density roller. “Standard density rollers are most often used for core exercises and myofascial release,” Allan says. For just the right amount of firmness, try this option by Trigger Point Therapy.
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“Firm density rollers are preferred by a smaller percentage of people in our experience,” Allan explains. These types of foam rollers are often best left for the experts, so if you’ve never tried a foam roller before, try using these under the supervision of a personal trainer, physical therapist, or trusted class instructor. The harder nature of these rollers allows users to get deep into the muscle tissue.
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How to Use a Foam Roller
Once you’ve picked out a foam roller for your level of expertise, there are many different uses for them.
Your foam roller can be used for more than muscle release, Allan recommends a variety of core exercises that you can do. Some of her suggestions include pelvic tilts, isometric abdominal exercises, bridges and modified bicycle. These exercises strengthen the pelvic area and help increase spinal stability, resulting in improved posture.
Like with the core, the back body can be strengthened using these tools. “The foam roller can be used horizontally under the lower back to stretch by bringing the knees to the chest,” Allan explains. “You can also stretch the hip flexors by bringing one knee to the chest, while the other leg is extended towards the floor”.
The most common forms of foam rolling are those exercises used for myofascial release. Though initially awkward feeling when you’re getting into the deep tissue, releasing tissue by rolling up and down on the foam roller often provides great relief. Allan suggests rolling out the glutes, quads, calf muscles, mid-back and the IT Bands (the connective tissue from your outer hips to the outer thighs). We carry a lot of stress in our connective tissue, and rolling out the IT Bands can be a great stress-relieving tool.