*Content courtesy of Ace Fit (acefitness.org)
Look around any fitness facility’s gym floor and you are bound to see a long, Styrofoam-looking cylinder called a foam roller—there may even been someone rolling around all over it, usually with a grimace on his or her face! While the process does not look immediately appealing, foam rolling—also referred to as trigger point or self-myofascial release—has become an important part of any fitness program. It’s an excellent method of melting away muscle tension to make your general stretch routine more effective. Other results include improving your overall performance in the activities you love and keeping you moving pain-free through your workouts.
So what is it all about? Fascia is the layer of tissue that encapsulates your muscles like a sheath (think of a layer of vacuum sealing over your muscles just under your skin). Things like stress, injury, overuse or even a sedentary lifestyle cause your fascia to tighten and become stiff, which can make you less flexible and limit your mobility around a joint, leading to pain and discomfort. You can release fascial tension by applying pressure to the muscles—it is similar to getting a professional massage, but is much more cost effective. In this post, I’ll break down proper foam-rolling technique, show you how to reach common tight spots in the lower body, and offer tips to help you roll your way to relief.
There are many ways to approach foam rolling, but I have found the safest and best results by following these guidelines:
- Roll over the muscle slowly, feeling for areas that are tight or “hot.” When you find a “hot spot” your instinct will be to roll away from it. Instead, support more of your body weight with your arms or opposite leg and breathe deeply as you gently apply pressure.
- Focus on small areas. Move incrementally rather than in large repetitive movements that cover the entire muscle, which can lead to greater inflammation.
- Stay on one spot for one to two breaths and then move an inch higher, lower, right or left. If you do not find anything in that direction, move an inch in another direction and repeat this process.
- Avoid rolling over the joints. Keep the foam roller on soft tissue only.
The greater the amount of body weight you put on the roller, the more intense it will feel. For example, in the first photo below I am using my opposite leg to support my body; therefore, I have less weight on the roller and the massage is not as deep. If you are new to foam rolling, this is a good place to start. In the second photo, I am using my opposite leg to add weight and increase the pressure of the massage. The more often you roll, the fewer hot spots you find and the more pressure you will be able to apply.
When it comes to foam rolling, it is especially important to listen to the feedback your body is giving you—use it as a guide for when to go deeper and when to back off. Initially, rolling will most likely feel uncomfortable, so start with small doses–10 minutes a day, for example. Ease into the process to prevent excessive soreness or injury.
Here are five of the most common tight areas in the lower body, simple directions for how to roll them out and a complementary flexibility move you can do immediately after rolling to get the most out of your stretch routine.