Foam Rolling: An Old Trick, That Takes Your Fitness To New Heights.
Are you aiming for that ultimate killer body? But maybe you also want an elite level of mobility, flexibility and range of motion? Here’s some good news for you. A secret massage technique, which professional coaches and therapists have practised for many years, is now out and available to anyone smart enough to give their workout routine this almost magical uplift.
This extraordinary technique is, simply put, Foam rolling. Or as it is technically known, self-myofascial release. If you’re from Phuket, a popular ‘happy-ending’ type massage inevitably comes to mind, and I’m sure you’re giggling already. Let me stop you right there. It’s no soapy business here. Foam rolling is an almost ancient massage technique that, until recently, was only used by elite athletes to enhance their performance through increased flexibility, mobility and a full range of motion.
Self-myofascial release or self-massage, sounds either too complicated or too simple to be something special, doesn’t it? Or perhaps you think it’s not for you. After all, you didn’t go to the gym to be rolling on some foam. And in Phuket, with a massage parlour barely a kilometre away and costing just a few hundred Bahts, why to learn it yourself anyway! Let me clear your misconceptions about foam rolling.
So… What Is Foam Rolling?
Foam rolling is an age-old fitness technique in which a thick foam tube is used to roll over and massage different parts of the body. Of course, there are other alternatives to foam which you can use, such as, Thera cane, Lacrosse ball or even your bare hands to apply enough pressure at the right points on the body. I’ve found foam rollers to be the most efficient.
In earlier times, a therapist or coach would slide a heavy load for an elongated duration over your body to apply pressure and massage the soft tissues. The idea here is to provide a deep compression to loosen tight muscles, enhance blood circulation and improve your range of motion. Foam rolling helps to achieve these and improve your fitness and performance level through a mechanism called myofascial release or in this case, self-myofascial release.
The Self-Myofascial Release Mechanism
First, let us understand, what is fascia. Fascia can be thought of as a sort of plastic wrap under our skin and running over almost every part of the body. The fascia envelops and penetrates all the muscles, nerves and even the organs, forming the surrounding tissue that fundamentally holds us together. Keeping our entire body wrapped together does take its toll on the fascia, especially after a workout session.
When the fascia gets sore, it affects and restricts the muscles to which it is connected, in turn, impairing our movement. If you’re even fairly regular at the gym, you must have experienced (or at least heard of) delayed onset of muscle soreness or ‘DOMS’ in short. DOMS is a type of muscle pain that creeps in 24-48 hours after an intense training session. The symptoms of DOMS are even more prominent if you’ve been Overtraining. If the muscles are affected, you can be sure the fascia also has been damaged. If the fascia tears but doesn’t heal properly, adhesions can develop which further restricts and causes bodily movements to be painful. In such a situation, chances of injuries also go up drastically.
A foam roller induces self-myofascial released by applying pressure to different parts of the body. When used over an affected area, the deep compression that the foam roller exerts releases the tension in the muscles and eliminates any adhesions present in the area. It also restores the normal blood flow in the affected area, thereby further aiding in muscle repair.
Performance Enhancing Benefits Of Foam Rolling
- Increases flexibility and range of motion: The significant pressure applied by the foam roller loosens and releases tension in any tight muscles and joints.
- Improves blood circulation: Foam rolling eases tension and loosens tightened muscles which can restrict blood flow.
- Prevents chances of DOMS: Foam rolling is found to be highly effective in preventing DOMS when used post-workout, to ease muscle tension and soreness.
- Reduces post-workout stress: Myofascial release helps to bring down the cortisol level, which is a stress hormone released during a workout.
- Helps with post-workout cooldown: Foam rolling flushes out old blood that has collected in the muscles during training, thus bringing in fresh oxygen and nutrients with the new blood that circulates.
- Reduces recovery time: Increased blood circulation, flexibility, the range of motion and decreased muscle soreness, etc. helps in significantly bringing down the recovery time.
- Prevents training-related injuries: The old saying, prevention is better than cure, is still very much true in this case. With the improved mobility and lack of tension in the muscles, foam rolling prevents injuries related to rusty joints and tight muscles.
Well, by now I expect you’re wondering already, why you’ve never picked up on those foam rollers collecting dust in the corner? Better late than never! Ideally, you should incorporate foam rolling as part of both post-workout and pre-workout routine. As I pointed it out above, foam rolling is tremendously beneficial in both situations. In pre-workout, foam rolling is the first thing you do. It helps to get the blood flowing, loosens joints and muscles, and prepares you for a dynamic warm-up that follows. Similarly, in post-workout, foam rolling eases you into a perfect cool-down mode. But if your schedule is too tight for both, then I’d suggest you make it a part of the pre-workout routine.
Foam rolling is a very short, simple, inexpensive and highly efficient, performance-enhancing technique.
Among all the activities you can do in the gym, foam rolling is one of the easiest and yet provides numerous health benefits. Along with its many advantages, the amount of knowledge you get about your own body and muscle structure is beneficial in better understanding your physique. When doing it yourself, you also have the advantage of knowing your body’s limits and exactly feeling what is happening, when applying the pressure. This way you can increase or reduce the pressure, keeping it hard but not intolerable. You know what I mean if you’ve ever had the fat toes of a Thai masseuse poking into your back.
Foam rolling hardly takes up any time. Even 5 minutes of this self-massage has been found to be highly effective. Compared to any professional massage centre, foam rolling is an inexpensive choice. Not to mention, the many health benefits it provides when it comes to getting the most out of your workout sessions.
Is it already a part of your routine? Great! Use the comment section to let others know how it has benefited you in your training or share this article and enlighten your peers. Not started yet? No problem. Foam rolling exercises are incredibly simple. If you’re in Phuket, come over to Nai Harn gym or give me a call. I’ll show you some very effective foam rolling exercises and get you rolling right away.
Krix Luther is a Health and Fitness Specialist and one of Asia’s leading Personal Trainers. He is an Ex Professional Muay Thai fighter and Avid Free Diver. At the same time as being a very active person he also has a passion for gaming and has his own Twitch stream. If you have any questions for him, you can contact him via his Instagram.