3 Reasons Why You Should Be Foam Rolling Your Muscles
You have probably seen those people at the gym with the weird cylinder looking object that they roll up and down various parts of their body. You’ve probably also seen the looks of pain which could be mistaken for constipation, who knows. And you’ve probably thought to yourself, nope nope nope. My body is a temple, and I will not subject it to torture, right? Well, that’s called foam rolling and guess what? Foam rolling your muscles is good for you, and I’m going to tell you exactly why.
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling aka self-myofascial release is a form of self-massage professional athletes, runners and lifters have been using for years to release muscular tightness and trigger points. Foam rolling works by massaging the fascia, which is a sheet of connective tissue that surrounds every muscle fiber, organ, nerve fiber and bone in the body.
- Superficial Fascia which lies directly beneath your skin.
- Deep Fascia which is related to your muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels.
- Visceral Fascia which is related to your internal organs.
Deep Fascia is the type of fascia we are targeting with foam rolling. It is the connective sheet that encloses individual muscle fibers and muscle groups.
So what are trigger points and adhesions?
Adhesions all start with a knot. Knots are created when your body tries to fix micro-tears in your muscle fibers. Instead of creating a smooth surface, your body forms a patch that’s similar to a bird’s nest. Due to the knot, your fascia is unable to move freely, it gets stuck and creates adhesions. This shortens the muscle which leads to reduced mobility and pain. Trigger points on the other hand also develop like knots; however, they refer the pain to another part of your body. For example, a trigger point at the base of your skull will refer the pain to the front of your head. The most common causes of trigger points are repetitive movements, poor posture, trauma, and muscle overuse.
How does foam rolling benefit you?
It reduces tightness
When you foam roll, you are moving the muscles which makes them more pliable and therefore helps to separate and relax the fibers. The muscles physically don’t change; it is more of a neurological response. Whaaaaat? Yes, our brains are rather wonderful (except of course when you’re trying to remember where you put your keys?!) So how does your mind help to reduce tightness in your muscles?
The pressure from foam rolling your muscles stimulates receptors in your nervous system which unlocks or releases the tight tissues. Essentially, your brain is telling your muscles to loosen up. This is what leads to a decreased tightness in your muscles.
How does this help you?
Tight muscles prevent you from performing exercises correctly and could cause pain even when you aren’t lifting. Foam rolling helps to reduce the tightness which will improve your movement and may reduce the pain related to muscle tightness.
It helps with recovery
A study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling your muscles after a workout can help to reduce DOMS or delayed onset of muscle soreness. DOMS is usually at it’s highest at day two after training. Foam rolling is beneficial because it reduces the muscle soreness which then leads to better performance in subsequent workouts. If you have ever had a leg session where your legs were so sore afterward that sitting down on the toilet was as daunting as climbing Kilimanjaro, then you’d understand why it’s such great news for lifters.
How does this help you?
If you use foam rolling as a recovery method, you will recover from heavy lifting sessions better. This means you won’t have to skip sessions because you’re to sore to move. For example, if you have completed a heavy back workout, then you can foam roll to help you recover in time for your next back day. Can I get a hell yes?
It improves range of motion
The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that foam rolling promotes short term increases in range of motion. They reported that if you foam roll regularly, you could improve muscle flexibility.
How does it help you?
If you read this article on muscle growth, you’ll know that full range of motion is imperative for muscle growth. If you are unable to perform your exercises with a full range of motion, you’re leaving “gains” on the table. Although occasionally performing exercises without a full range of motion could be beneficial.
It should be noted that all these studies were conducted with a small number of participants and are by no means conclusive. Research has not yet caught up with the foam rolling trend to provide definitive evidence on the effects of foam rolling. However, foam rolling is still recommended due to what researchers have observed foam rolling can do in clinical settings.
What does foam rolling not do?
It does not break down scar tissue
There have been some claims that foam rolling your muscles can help break down scar tissue. This is not true or even possible.
The term soft tissue is deceiving because the tissues aren’t soft at all. Soft tissues are in fact very strong, and it is difficult to try and alter the shape or structure of these tissues. Furthermore, there are multiple layers of skin, and for most people a fair amount of fat, covering the soft tissues. It is impossible to break through all these layers to try and alter a tissue that isn’t as soft as its name implies.
It does not improve mobility much
There have also been claims that foam rolling helps with mobility. And as with everything in fitness, the actual effect of foam rolling has been overstated. A lot of people have sold foam rolling as your one-stop shop to better mobility. This is not true. Mobility involves much more than just your soft tissues. Soft tissues are only a small part of mobility. Joints play the most significant role in your mobility and functionality, and foam rolling is not going to do anything for your joints. Now I’m not saying foam rolling doesn’t improve your mobility, but it does very little to improve your mobility. You’re better off incorporating a good stretching routine coupled with foam rolling if mobility is a concern.
Why does foam rolling work?
Researchers are still conducting studies on the effects of foam rolling, and most of the current studies available were performed with a small group of participants therefore, the current evidence is not final. However, researchers do have some theories as to why foam rolling works.
1: The mechanical pressure and heat caused by the rolling causes the fluid by the joints to become runnier which decreases the resistance that would be caused by friction
2: By applying pressure along the direction of the muscular pull, you are aligning the collagen fibers into a more uniform direction. This leads to increased lymphatic drainage and less resistance.
3: When you stretch a muscle for 15-30 seconds the muscle eventually relaxes which allows a greater range of motion. The direct pressure from foam rolling shows the same response as stretching by relaxing the muscle enough to increase the range of motion.
When is the best time to roll?
Some coaches and trainers use foam rolling as a warm-up for their clients. However, foam rolling your muscles after a workout as a recovery method is the best option.
Why is it so useful as a recovery method?
- It helps to drive blood into the muscles- your body needs blood in the muscles to recover because blood delivers nutrients to your damaged muscles.
- It helps to clear out metabolic waste (lactic acid)- during weight training your body requires more oxygen than what is available. The lack of oxygen in your body triggers the production of lactic acid as your body must use glucose as fuel for energy production. Lactic acid is what causes that burning sensation during training.
- It helps to clear out lymphatic pooling- lymphatic pooling is a natural result of exercise, and it is the pooling of blood and the fluid that surrounds your cells. Although increased blood flow to your muscles is beneficial, too much pooling could hamper recovery.
These are all necessary for recovery to occur.
Foam rolling is a great tool to decrease tightness, encourage recovery and to improve your range of motion. However, it should not be used in isolation. It is essential to develop a good stretching routine which can be paired with foam rolling to get the best results.
Now that you know how foam rolling can benefit you and how it works, check out the FREE foam rolling guide below. The guide contains the various foam rolling exercises and how to perform them to help you get started.
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