FatSense

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO FOAM ROLLING​

Foam Rolling – Sounds relaxing huh?

Have you ever walked into the gym and seen overly enthusiastic gym goers face down on the floor, gyrating and rubbing themselves.

I did, and before i ran for the door (thinking what kind of perverts come here!), i stopped to see what they were actually doing.

This is the phenomenon known as Foam Rolling.

I have had this conversation with several of my friends, so it seemed a good topic to write about.

a guide to foam rollers and muscle massage

Let’s start by summarising – what is foam rolling?

In a nutshell, it is using a roll of foam (Yeah i know – captain obvious!) and manoeuvring around to self massage muscles.

This process, also known as Self-myofascial release (SMR), is used to relieve soreness, tight spots and tension (referred to as trigger points).

I use a Foam Roller to give myself a deep tissue massage, and too help with back pain i have had since a C-Section.

My Husband actually uses it too, he sits at a desk all day. Over the years this has given him tight hamstrings and consequently lower back pain.

A foam roller eases back pain for him (when done correctly).

help ease back pain sat at desk muscles

The Benefits of Foam Rolling

Before we talk about whether Foam Rolling works or not – Let’s remember, everyone is different!

You will hear me say this a lot! It is true though, we are all unique.

Obviously, unless you’re from another planet then we are pretty anatomically similar, however we all have different lifestyles, fitness interest, injuries, body shapes, and so on….

Me…..I like Foam Rolling. I would much prefer a massage every week but alas my bank account can’t manage that.

(All donations welcome lol)

So instead of massages, I “foam roll”, as it’s convenient and a quick win.

Generally, enthusiasts and athletes will use Foam Rollers and practice Self-myofascial release in order to try and achieve benefits such as:

  • Muscle Relaxation: Reduce stored tension and alleviate aches, pains and soreness
  • Increase Flexibility: Help prevent injury by utilising a roller for stretching
  • Improved Circulation: Oxygen is able to reach muscle and tissue
  • Enhance Recovery: Reduce post workout muscle soreness (that 24 hour later feeling!)

What are the Risks of Foam Rolling?

Self-myofascial release can be attempted by almost anyone. Use common sense though, if it hurts like hell, STOP..

There is always a degree of risk with fitness and exercise, though personally i think the chances of hurting yourself foam rolling is pretty minimal.

However, if you have brittle bones or your pregnant then i would definitely avoid.

Start off slow and build slowly, improving your technique.

15-30 seconds foam rolling a specific area is about right for me, especially on an injury or trigger point.

If you are using a foam roller on an injury then just take more care around that area. If you bruise or the pain is excruciating then change your pressure/timing etc.

In my opinion it shouldn’t be comfortable but it shouldn’t hurt either. You want that mid way point.

If you are bruising, then you’re damaging the tissue rather than reaping the benefits of foam rolling.

Roll slowly, and little. You don’t have to move much at all to apply enough beneficial pressure. A couple of inches is generally adequate.

If you have any doubt, then speak to an expert first (Doctor, Physio etc), always listen to your body and what it’s telling you.

a guide to foam rollers and muscle massage

How do I use a Foam Roller?

You know when you go the gym for the first few times. You have to awkwardly watch people and how they use the machines. Too afraid to ask.

If your like me, you have probably sat the wrong way round on a weights machine before!

Too embarrassed to go near it again when someone points out your mistake…..eeeek!

One of the advantages of using a foam roller is its simplicity.

Hit Youtube for some ideas on specific area exercises, then pretty much build yourself up slowly depending on how you’re using it.

I use a roller whenever i have a free 10 minutes. I actually find it mentally and physically relaxing.

My husband, on the other hand, will use a foam roller for back pain caused by sitting down all day, so each night he will have a roll around and try and loosen up his back and hamstrings.

Be CAREFUL with the lower back though.

Upper back is fine but foam rolling the lower back is not recommended as pressure on the spine could cause nerve damage.

In terms of time spent. Aim for 5 – 15 minutes overall.

Each spot that is knotted or tight, spend say 15-30 seconds on it. Slow and short strokes, moving up to slightly longer strokes.

Use your arms to take some of the weight off and reduce pressure where required.

If it’s very sore or the area has a previous injury, then maybe work slightly indirect from that spot. Encourage the blood flow around the area before moving directly on to it.

“It is fine to use a foam roller on the upper back, because the shoulder blades and muscles in the upper back will protect the spine. There are no structures in the lower back that can help to protect your spine from the pressure. If you use a foam roller on your lower back, the spinal muscles could contract and cause more damage than good, especially if your back pain is caused by a condition in the lumbar spine. When using a foam roller on your back, you should stop at the end of the ribcage. Instead, focus the foam roller on your glutes and hip flexors to alleviate lower back pain. Tightness in those areas often contributes to lower back pain.”

When should you Foam Roll ?

Up to you!

Which of the benefits described are you most trying to achieve?

Are you looking at this as part of a workout routine or to alleviate knots in problem areas?

I have friends who love to run, they use it as a pre run warmup. Massaging their calves and hamstrings before they hit the road.

A good foam roll before running, or cycling, can be a great way to loosen up those muscles.

My colleague, Fiona, also uses one in her Yoga class, to roll and work her core at the same time.

does foam rolling work and how do i foam roll

What makes the perfect Foam Roller?

Let’s be honest, there isn’t that much in it. It’s not a technological miracle.

It’s a SIMPLE and AFFORDABLE solution.

I actually know of one person who uses a PVC pipe they had laying around the garage – really!

Most Foam Rollers are differentiated in Size, Density and Pattern.

SIZE:

I own a longer roller (36 inch) as it works best for my back. In our house we also have a shorter one too for calves and arms (we don’t have a lot of floor space).

You can get a smaller diameter too which allows you to be closer to the floor, possibly better off if your elderly or an existing injury requires it.

DENSITY:

The general advice is….if your a Foam rolling beginner, then start off with a Soft Density Roller. Allow your muscles and tissue to get used to the rolling, maybe look at a firmer density in future.

The firm rollers are tougher and less comfortable. However they do last longer and potentially when used right have a better impact on achieving your goals.

For those of you that are hardcore and have decided “Foam Rolling is Life” then look at the Pyramid Roller or Trigger Point Grid X Roller for the creme de la creme. (Too tough for me!)

PATTERN/TEXTURE:

Smooth is the easier of the options, and provides even pressure across the roll. Personally i much prefer a textured pattern. One with lumps and bumps to mimic a massage.

Recommended Exercises

Ok, so i hope that helps explain what Foam Rolling is?

How about some sample exercises for Foam Rolling?

I have tested quite a few and these are my favourites.

For those of you looking to reduce back pain with foam rolling, I have included sample exercises my Husband follows. Although they help HIS back they may not necessarily be best for yours.

So please tread slowly and carefully and consult a physician if you want medical advice.

Recommended Foam Rolling exercises for Bad Backs

My Favorite Workout - Ashley Borden

Summary

So that is my simple explanation of Foam Rolling for newbies, or SMR (Self-myofascial release) if you want the fancy term.

A Quick, EASY and Affordable way of relieving tensions and relaxing muscles.

I love it because it’s so easy to fit this into your day and i genuinely do feel MUCH better for it.

One other personal tip for you, from experience, when you have had far too much Wine and Gin….do NOT try and surf on a foam roller.

Trust me, it only ends one way!

So to finish off, here are my recommended Foam Rollers, depending on different scenarios.

The Best All Rounder & LONG Roller (& Amazing Colours!)

The Best All Rounder - SHORT Version

Best for Beginners & Cheapest

The Future of Foam Rollers

Special Note!

I needed to add this as i have never seen it before, you learn something new each day eh.

A plugin vibrating Foam Roller.

What the heck!

Please note that this isn’t a recommendation as such as i have never used it, but i am very intrigued! If you have one then please comment and let me know how good vibrating Foam Rollers are?

Electric Foam Roller