Foam rolling is a great tool for increasing flexibility and improving recovery.
I was reminded of this while at the health club a few days ago. I was halfway through the stretching routine used after running or cycling. It includes stretching and foam rolling to loosen the muscles and tendons.
The lady next to me was also using a foam roller. After finishing this portion of her routine, she asked me “Is it possible to use the foam roller too much?”
I answered with my experience, that my body tells me when I had rolled enough. My muscles either felt loose or one or more of them hurt when I continued to use the foam roller.
She told me that near the end of one of her sessions with a personal trainer a few years ago, she asked the trainer if he ever used a foam roller. He had replied “I foam roll after every one of my workouts.”
Of course, she wondered why he had never introduced her to the foam roller.
Now, she was using foam rolling without the benefit of knowing how to get the best results.
What is a Foam Roller?
Foam rollers are cylinders of solid foam like those pictured below. They come in various lengths. They also come in various densities (hardness) of foam. Some foam rollers are smooth, while others have ridges. The ridges concentrate weight to apply greater pressure during use.
The foam roller is a convenient, at-home alternative to a massage for loosening muscles, tendons, and the myofascial tissue surrounding them before and/or after a workout to prevent injury or eliminate soreness and stiffness.
My introduction to foam rolling came when treating an IT (iliotibial) band tightness that was creating pain in my left knee while running. After some painful sessions with the foam roller, both IT bands became loose, and the pain disappeared. I have not had a recurrence of this pain since continuing foam rolling.
What Type of Foam Roller is Best for Flexibility?
If you are new to foam rolling, I suggest you begin with a medium hard roller (like the gray one pictured above). This length covers the width of the body. You will be able to roll the upper back and the hamstrings and quadriceps of both legs.
As flexibility improves, you can use the same roller on one leg at a time to get a deeper massage.
How Can You Improve Flexibility by Foam Rolling?
My routine includes rolling the full length of the quadriceps, hamstrings, IT bands of both legs individually, and glutes individually. You may also choose to roll your upper or lower back, though I stretch these in other ways.
As you are rolling, try various positions searching for any areas that are sensitive and therefore need stretching. When I find a sensitive area, I typically hold the position until the sensitivity goes away or tears form in my eyes. I don’t really wait until tears form, but almost, to get a deep massage.
I then try to remember to go back to that area the next time I am stretching.
Final Thoughts About Foam Rolling For Flexibility
There are two main reasons I continue with triathlon training. The first reason is to maintain a healthy heart, maintaining a reasonable aerobic fitness so I can move around easily and maintain acceptable blood pressure. The three sports of triathlon provide a whole body workout and whole body fitness.
The second reason is to maintain and even improve my flexibility. I love to move about without pain. And, as I have learned recently, this flexibility is also good for the golf game I have been reintroduced to since moving to The Villages, Florida.
Be patient but consistent and, within a few weeks, the improvement in both fitness and flexibility will amaze you.
What Has Been Your Experience?
Do you use a foam roller as part of a post-workout stretching routine? Why?
What has been your experience with foam rolling?