The Importance of Foam Rolling in a Fitness Program

Foam Rolling-What is it?

If you are a member of a gym, chances are you have seen foam rollers lying around the functional area.  They are the cylindrical tubes that range from soft, spiky to rock hard.  When foam rollers first made its way into the gym floors, many were unsure of how to use them or even what they were.  Now, they are a staple in most fitness fanatics program.  Foam rolling, also known as SMR or self-myofascial release involves applying the right amount of pressure to specific trigger points on your body.

What are the Benefits of Foam Rolling?

The benefits of SMR are a plenty.  First, SMR increases the blood flow throughout your body.  One of the unexplained issues that people face these days is poor circulation.  So before you buy every compression sleeve out in the market, give SMR a try to see if the issue lessens.  SMR also helps to increase your range of motion, thereby improving your all around movement.  Additionally, SMR can decrease risk of injury and help to recover through intense training sessions quicker.

When is the Optimal Time to do SMR?

One of the most common asked questions from clients is, “when should I do my SMR/Foam Rolling, before or after the workout?”  The answer is both.  Prior to your workout, its ideal to foam roll the trigger points and then go into your dynamic stretching routine.  A post-workout cool down foam roll is also beneficial, but if time is short at the gym, opt to do it prior to your workout.

What Causes Trigger Points/Tight Muscles?

Another common question from clients is why do they have these specific trigger points and pain areas when they foam roll?  This is a question that be different for each individual.  So many factors go into why we get these pain areas and tight muscles.  As we get older, our fitness level and flexibility can decrease which can cause tight muscles, but some of the most common factors to consider are:

  • Amount of training and intensity involved
  • Flexibility
  • Posture
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Stress
  • Rest (lack thereof)
  • Other Lifestyle factors

    How Does SMR Work?

When putting pressure onto the foam roller itself, the deep compression helps to break up or relax the tight muscles that can form between the layers.  Below you will see some photos of the most common foam rolling techniques.  After determining your trigger areas, roll carefully over those areas for 20 to 30 seconds until you start feeling the pain dissipate.  SMR is a technique, similar to training, that takes time to improve upon.  Focus daily on those areas that are the most painful, and soon a huge improvement on fitness, flexibility and wellness will be apparent.

Typical Foam Rolling Movements

  1. Gastrocnemius (calf muscle)
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Gastrocnemius

One of the most common places for tightness is the calf area, especially in women.  Posture and high heels can exacerbate the pain but ensuring that the muscles break up, squat technique will improve drastically.

Place the roller just underneath the top part of the calf muscle.  Push yourself up for the maximal pressure and roll back and forth until you feel the tightest part of the muscle.  Then either roll over it or keep it static over the tight muscle until the pain lessens.  Repeat on the other side.

2.  TFL/IT Band

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TFL and IT Band

The TFL (tensor fascia latae) located at the top part of the hip is connected to the IT Band (iliotibial band) further down towards the knee.  This is another area that can get extremely tight and painful adhesions develop.  This again, can affect the way you squat and perform various other exercises as well.

Lying on your side, place the roller under your hip.  Use your elbows to push yourself up and start slowly rolling from the TFL all the way down the IT Band.  It is advisable that when starting this roll, a softer roller is used until flexibility improves in this area.

3.  Adductor/VMO

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Adductor and VMO

In a prone position, place the roller on the inside of the thigh.  Prop yourself up on elbows and placing pressure, roll from the top part of the adductors (inner thigh) to the top part of the inner knee (vastus medialis oblique).

4.  Piriformis and Glutes

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Piriformis

 

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Glutes

The piriformis is a small muscle located deep within the hip joint near the gluteus maximus.  As this muscle lies close to the sciatic nerve, when its tight, it can cause the nerve to flare up and spasm.

Sitting on the roller, cross one leg over the other, lean back and roll back and forth until the pain eases.  This move will also help ease the tightness in the glutes.

5.  Lattisimus Dorsi

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Lats

The latissimus dorsi, also known as lats, is one of the areas that are most overlooked in SMR.  The lats are a large muscle group, and if tight, can cause an array of problems.  Its the origin of the most common problems: tension in the neck, shoulder pain and dysfunction and overall back pain.

Lying on your side, place the roller between the armpit and upper back.  Lift the hip up and roll back and forth until the tension starts to ease.

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Back Muscles

Its not always recommended to foam roll your back shown in the photo above as the roller does not tend to get the difficult tension areas.  But if your back just needs an all round stretch, this position can be quite a relief.  If there are specific areas around the back that need a bit more detail, a tennis ball or massage ball would be better suited for this.

6.  Quads/Thighs

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Quad Muscles

The quadriceps are also quite a large muscle group and have the tendency to build up a lot of lactic acid from training.  No doubt after sabotaging the leg extension machine this is fantastic to stretch out the muscle and provide much needed relief.

With the foam roller on the group, lie carefully on top making sure that the roller is at the top of the quad muscle.  Propping up on elbows, roll from top to bottom slowly until the tension eases.

Conclusion

SMR is an extremely important technique to add to your current training and fitness program.  Not only will it enhance your technique and performance in the gym, it will work to prevent injury and decrease recovery times.  So make sure you perform your daily foam rolling.

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