Why You Should Foam Roll (and How)
Do you like massages but it’s too expensive to do on a daily basis? Have you ever seen a person rolling on the ground with a cylinder and wonder what it is, or what she/he is doing?
If your answer to either one of these questions is yes, you definitely don’t want to miss this article.
The answer to the questions is a Foam Roller.
What is a foam roller?
A foam roller is a cylindrical tube of compressed foam. It can be used in many different ways, which includes increasing ROM (range of motion) and flexibility, decreasing sensation of DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), and even help muscles become longer and leaner.
Foam rollers come in different degrees of density – soft, medium and hard. A beginner would want to start with a soft foam roller first, then advance to a medium or even a hard one. There are different types of surfaces you can choose – a smooth surface, a bumpy surface with small knobs and/or ridges, and a bumpy surface with big knobs. They also come in different sizes – smaller sizes for targeted areas and bigger sizes for big muscle groups.
The action of using a foam roller is called foam rolling. It is a method of self-myofascial release, or self-massage, using your body weight.
Why you should foam roll?
1. It is super convenient and fairy cheap compared to hiring a masseur!
A smaller size foam roller, which is 12 inches (30 cm) long and 6 inches in diameter, allows you to do self-massage at the gym or just at home. This saves you time going to a massage place, as well as your money spent on hiring a masseur, which averages $75 per hour! Not to mention some of you might care about personal hygiene so much, and don’t like people touching your body.
I used to do Chinese or Thai massage once per week. 3 years ago, since I started using a foam roller, which was a smooth soft one, I haven’t felt the need to do one anymore. It is because I have been using my foam roller 3 to 5 times per week before and after workouts. Plus, you not only know and decide which part of your body needs more attention, but also control the strength when you are foam rolling. Total autonomy.
If this is a half-kidding argument, the next one and the one that follows are definitely serious.
2. Foam rolling increases ROM and improves overall training performance.
Have you ever felt your muscles stiff after a day of sitting in front of a computer, or a long car drive home? It is because you stayed in a position for too long and your muscles contributing to that position became tense, which then led to restrictions in mobility. Stiff muscles and immobility will have a negative impact on your future exercise and cause potential injury. In this case, you can use a foam roller as a warm-up tool.
A few studies have shown that foam rolling improves ROM of knee-joints, plantar flexor muscles, and passive hip-flexion. Another study showed “an acute warm-up bout of foam rolling in addition to a dynamic warm-up improved performance testing results when compared to an acute dynamic warm-up without foam rolling”.
A short foam rolling session before warm-up, instead of static stretching helps to prevent injury, improve subsequent power, agility, strength and speed.
3. Foam rolling decreases sensation of DOMS after exercise.
Have you ever felt your muscles are so sore and painful after an intense workout? It is because when you exercise harder or in a different way, it causes microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. This usually peaks 48 to 72 hours after an intense workout, which is what we call delayed-onset muscle soreness. In this case, you can use a foam roller as a recovery tool.
“Foam rolling effectively reduces DOMS and associated decrements in most dynamic performance measures” stated in a 2015 article.
It is advised to do foam rolling followed by static stretching after exercise to improve muscle tenderness and enhance the recovery of muscular performance.
How to foam roll?
Learning how to foam roll is much easier than learning the theories.
Generally, it is suggested to foam roll first, then warm-up before workout. After workout, it is suggested to foam roll first, then stretch. Start foam rolling from toe to head, that is from your calves, quads, IT band, glutes, mid-upper back, lat, to neck. Spend 20 to 30 seconds on each part.
It can be painful sometimes, but don’t stop rolling if you hit a tight spot, instead, stop and sit on that spot for a few seconds, even try rotating or bend to loosen that spot. If you find it not intense enough, try to put more or your full body weight on the foam roller. In the meantime, remember to keep breathing.
DO NOT foam roll any of your joints or directly on your lower back. DO NOT rush the process. Keep yourself hydrated after.
Foam rolling is such a fun practice. It doesn’t take much time, and you can incorporate it into your warm-up and cool down session easily. You can do it at the gym, or at home while watching TV. And it’s beneficial both in the short and long term, including improving muscle performance, preventing injuries, decreasing DOMS, and helping muscles become softer and leaner.
Hope this article helps you in some way. If you are looking to get a foam roller, I recommend checking out our 3D Foam Roller. It is a hollow roller with unique bumps that simulate massage balls made of EVA foam and an interior made of ABS plastic. It is not as hard and tough as one of those rumble rollers but just as durable. Hollow design with a cap on each end allows you to put small items like a towel inside. You can also take the caps away, put a carrying strap through and carry it on your shoulder to save some space in your workout backpack or suitcase.
Bradbury, S.D.J., Noftall, J.C., Sullivan, K.M., Behm, D.G.,Power, K.E., and Button, D.C. (2015). Roller-massager application to the quadriceps and knee-joint range of motion and neuromuscular efficiency during a lunge. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(2), pp.133-140. [PubMed]
Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Button, D. C., Andersen, L. L., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 92. [PubMed]
Mohr, A.R., Long, B.C., & Goad, C.L. (2014) Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 23(4), pp.296-299. [PubMed]
Peacock, C.A., Krein, D.D., Silver, T.A., Sanders, G.J., von Carlowitz, K.P.A. (2014). An acute bout of self-myofascial release in the form of foam rolling improves performance testing. International Journal of Exercise Science, 7(3), pp.202-211. [Link]
Pearcey, G.E., Bradbury-Squires, D.J., Kawamoto, J.E., Drinkwater, E.J., Behm, D.G., and Button, D.C. (2015). Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(1), pp.5-15. [PubMed]