Originally published on YOGANONYMOUS — May 10, 2016
When I first heard about foam rolling, I'll admit, I was a little skeptical. How can rolling around on this long tube really do anything?
“Give it a try,” my father said. He has had a foam roller for years now and often gave it a toss in my direction. So finally, after years of of rolling it back in his direction, I conceded. I have terrible scoliosisthat gives me back pain every, single, day. I do yoga and I stretch—it offers some relief, but still—I have pain on a daily basis.
Enter: the foam roller.
The first time I laid out on it and rolled it was that kind of blissful “pain”—yes, it hurts a little bit, but in agood way. It gave me an exceptional stretch and put pressure on points that hadn't received treatment like that before.
Facts About the Foam
Looking for a foam roller proved more difficult than I imagined. There was—to my surprise—a lot to know about the actual foam, the color, and the length of the roller.
Not just for looks, the color of a foam roller can actually be pretty telling. Ranging from light to dark, the color is indicative of the firmness and density of the foam roller. So, if you're a beginner looking to add foam rolling to your regimen you might want to opt for lighter colors, or white in particular.
According to WikiHow: “White foam rollers are often made of a piece of polyethylene foam and they are the least dense, so they will allow some movement between the muscles, bones, and the roller.”
A quick perusing of foam roller options online will bring up shades of white, blue, green, purple, and black. WikiHow explains that the “medium” colors (blues, greens, and purples) are the middle of the road. Those that fall in this medium color range are “for advanced core-stabilization or a medium amount of massage pressure.”
Length and Style:
Foam rollers also come in a number of lengths and styles. You can purchase half-round foam rollers that offer more stability on the ground, or ones that are fully round. Foam rollers generally come in lengths from 12 inches to 36 inches. What you intend to use your foam roller for will determine the size you choose; WikiHow suggests if you're focusing on your back to opt for the 36-inch roller so you can roll with abandon without fear of falling off. A roller of longer length can also help you maintain proper alignment.
How to Roll
It's tempting to just slide around on a foam roller because, well, it's a bit fun. But slow and steady is the name of the game here. Health recommends hitting sore spots for about a minute: “Start rolling out very slowly and when you come to a sore spot, roll over it in slow, short motions for 60 seconds.”
While it may look like a series of simple stretches, foam rolling actually is a bit of an exercise in itself. Using the roller requires (and builds) good posture, stability, balance, and core strength.
If you're a beginner, or looking to try out foam rolling without the guidance of a personal trainer or physical therapist, consider looking to fitness websites and credible YouTube channels for instruction. According to Huffington Post: “If you don’t pay attention to your form or posture, you may exacerbate pre-existing postural deviations and cause more harm.” So don't roll mindlessly: Check your posture against those in informative videos to avoid unnecessary pain and injury.
Why You Should Roll
From your back to your neck, your glutes to your calves, and even your hands to your feet, foam rollers are the gift that keeps on giving, as you can use one on just about any muscle in your body (though you may want to spare your face).
Enhance Your Workout:
Using a foam roller as an enhancer for your workout is another way in which this piece of equipment is so multipurpose. As Shape explains you can use your foam roller as a yoga prop, much like you would use a block. To make your workout just a bit harder (and why wouldn't you want to challenge yourself?!) you can try adding your foam roller beneath your toes when doing pushups, or under your hands when in plank.
According to Shape, using the roller puts you on somewhat of an “unstable surface,” which is a “surefire way to engage more core muscles and make total-body exercises like planks or pushups even more challenging.” Next stop: Better balance—just be present and mindful when giving it a go as to avoid injury.
Warm-Up and Cool Down:
While there are certainly many reasons why a foam roller is great post-workout, it can also be used as a warm-up for your workout too. Loosening up muscles before hitting the pavement, gym floor, or mat can actually improve the quality of your workout. In fact, according to Runner's World, research showed that athletes found “the squats, jumps, and shuttle runs they did after 10 minutes of foam rolling felt easier than doing the identical workout unrolled.”
Conversely, foam rollers are a great post-workout, cool-down aid. Stretching and releasing muscle tension and tightness after a tough workout can help to avoid soreness days after and help your muscles recover. Health notes the positive impact that foam rolling has on circulation, stating that: "Foam rolling works as a sports massage,” and “like any massage, the pressure of the roller improves your circulation by stimulating blood flow to your soft tissues.”
Do you use a foam roller? What has your experience been like? Share in the comments below.