The professionals know it as self-myofascial release, but for most of us, it’s simply foam rolling. And while it might look deceptively simple, foam rolling is a complicated, sometimes painful recovery technique that can increase flexibility, reduce movement pain, and stimulate muscle growth.
While you’ll probably need to work with a personal trainer or therapist to discover the foam rolling routine that’s right for you, the idea behind the practice is fairly simple to understand. Rolling along the foam cylinder applies significant pressure to the muscles, which stimulates blood flow and encourages healthy tissue restoration after a workout. With guidance on correct positions, you can use foam rolling to massage most parts of your body — arms, legs, torso, and back.
However, be careful not to roll your lower back or neck without professional supervision and proper, smaller equipment, such as a tennis ball. The muscles here are sensitive and improper rolling can cause serious damage. Also avoid rolling on your joints or bones — the technique only benefits muscles.
If you watch the face of someone in the middle of a foam rolling session, you’ll notice that they’re often quite tense and can appear to be in pain — it’s not as relaxing as you might imagine. This deep massage identifies parts of the muscle that are forming knots or adhesions, and proper foam rolling technique dictates that these areas should be given further attention. While beneficial in the long run, massaging these knots out is quite painful in the moment.
Slow down to achieve the optimal outcome. Roll slowly, only moving about 2cm each second. Stop when you roll onto a painful area.
Try to relax your body despite the pain, and the muscle itself should begin to loosen, letting the pain dissipate. This can take anywhere from five to 30 seconds.
If the knot is too painful, roll away slightly to apply pressure on either side of the affected area. The knot will eventually relax, but it may take a little longer.
Be warned that foam rolling can lead to muscle soreness the day after a workout. You can reduce the lingering soreness by drinking lots of water and having enough sleep.
For more muscle building activities, try a class of ballet-inspired barre a terre.