As we age, our once-spry muscles lose elasticity in the joints and connective tissue and lead us to develop more aches, pains and injuries. The good news is that there’s an affordable and simple way to maintain a healthy body that’s easy to take on at any stage of life.
What foam rolling actually does is this: miofacial release. By applying pressure directly to sore muscles with a foam roller, you’re able to roll out knots (or adhesions) on the muscle. This allows your body to bring blood flow to the troubled area, transporting nutrients and oxygen to the muscles for faster repair.
Here are three tips to help you foam roll more effectively:
1. Don’t roll directly onto the area of pain.
Avoid rolling directly on the source of pain, and, instead, target the muscles around the area which are likely causing an imbalance and tension in your body. By focusing your rolling a few inches away from the pain source, you’ll help muscles relax and repair, rather than bringing unnecessary inflammation to an injury.
2. Go slowly!
You need to give your brain enough time to tell your muscles to relax in order to get the maximum benefit of foam rolling. Find an area of tension that allows you to feel the pressure at about a level of eight, on a scale of one-to-10 (this is called the sensation scale).
Sit into this pressure point and breathe deeply until you settle and the sensation drops to about a four on a sale of one-to-10. After this, work down the same muscle by rolling a few inches over from the original point and repeating the process of sitting into a pressure point and allowing tension to melt away.
3. Do foam rolling for at least ten minutes, twice a week.
This will bring stress relief, improve posture, support anyone who is pregnant and help prevent injury. Here are five foam roller prescriptions to help you move better, stand taller and live a pain free life.
If you’re injured:
Let’s face it, just about everyone has experienced low back or knee pain in their lives. What most don’t realize is that this often stems from our supportive hip stabilizers like the piriformis, hip flexors, rectus femoris, or the quadratun lumborum (QL). By releasing these small, but impactful muscles, you’ll feel huge pain relief and increased mobility in the low back and knees.
You can release these muscles by laying on your side with the foam roller under the back side of your hip (stretched out horizontally, perpendicular to the length of your body) and placing your elbow on the ground for support. Using the scale of one-to-10 rule, find a hotspot that feels like an eight on this sensation scale and breath through it. Use the same principles to gently roll your hip flexors, the hamstrings and the the outside of your leg with the foam roller.
Tip: NEVER foam roll your low back! To relieve back pain the foam roller should stay above the rib cage or focused on the hips. The lumbar spine is fragile, and rolling there will cause the muscles to tense and protect, which is counter productive to pain reduction.
To relieve the body of stress:
Foam rolling is a great way to proactively work stress out of the body. It allows you to access hard to reach spots like the shoulders and hips, where many people carry their tension. View your time spent foam rolling as a physical meditation. Allow yourself to focus on relaxing the body, deepening your breath and unwinding muscular tension.
Begin by laying on your back with knees bent and your feet on the floor. Then place the foam roller horizontally under your upper back (below the shoulder blades). Place your hands behind your head for support, or if you have the flexibility, arch your back over the foam roller and relax your head on the floor. While keeping your feet on the floor, roll the foam roller along your upper spine, spending extra time on the tight spots of the shoulders.
Next, use a long foam roller that spans from your pelvis to your neck, by placing it vertically along the spine. Let your arms relax along your side. Either keep your feet placed directly on the floor with bent knees, or let your knees fall open while the feet stay together. Hold this for two-to-three minutes.
For the dancer:
I cannot tell you how often I hear women say they want long, lean dancer’s bodies. Well, here’s the industry secret: foam rolling. Think of foam rolling as a tool to iron out your muscles, allowing them to lengthen to their full potential. The foam roller is a minimalist, underused exercise tool to help you get there.
Sit on the floor with the foam roller behind you and your legs extended out in front. Place your arms behind you with your hands on the foam roller, palms down. Engage the core and slowly roll backwards, allowing your arms to move down the roller and then back up again. This reverse push-up will strengthen the core, arms and back while elongating the arm muscles.
Foam rolling is also posture correcting! Because you must maintain a strong, upright posture for many rolling positions, you are strengthening your postural muscles and improving your dancer’s physic.
For the athlete:
If you’re exercising more than two times per week, then foam rolling should be a non-negotiable part of your pre and post workout routine. Maximize your potential by activating key muscle groups before you exercise.
As much as it is a recovery tool, the foam roller is also an active warm-up tool.
Before you embark on a big cardio workout (i.e. running, swimming, cycling, hiking, etc.), use the foam roller to prime the major muscle groups. This will help the body to fire muscles correctly. Muscles will get more oxygen and be able to work faster and harder.
Sit with your legs extended out in front of you and place the foam roller under the lower half of your calf. With your hands on the floor, lift your butt and roll your calf along the roller. Switch legs and repeat. By placing both calves side-by-side, you get deeper pressure. If you want less intensive compressions, work on one calf at a time.
If you’re pregnant:
Sure, pregnancy comes with lots of excitement, but it also comes with back pain and achy feet. Foam rolling, when done gently, can help relieve pressure in the low back and help improve blood flow to the legs to prevent varicose veins.
Use a soft foam roller when pregnant, to keep pressure light. Steer clear of rolling the inside of the lower legs and any area showing signs of varicose veins or swelling. Instead, focus on releasing the pressure of the sacrum, because it carries much of the pregnancy weight and will affect blood flow to the legs.
Sit with your feet on the ground and your knees bent, with a horizontal foam roller placed behind your back. With your hands pressed to the floor behind the roller, lift your butt up and place the very lowest part of your back (your sacrum, never your lumbar spine) onto the foam roller. Once you are there, gently massage your back with small rolls forward and back, and side-to-side.
Next, release tension in your hips and increase blood flow to the legs by lying on your side with the foam roller placed under the back side of your hip. Place your elbow on the ground for support or stack several yoga mats for your arm to rest on. This will allow you to get into a supported and ergonomic position.