When performed right, the foam roller or other self-massage tools can easily replace most massage therapists. But when used wrong, we end up tossing our roller in the back of the closet, calling it another failed product. That's why in this article, I will show you how to use a foam roller properly as well as show you the different ways it helps the body recover faster.
2 Ways a Foam Roller is the Same as a Massage Therapist
When done right, there are 2 ways that a foam roller can replace your massage therapist and provide you with quick pain relief.
Releasing Trigger Points
The first way a foam roller helps you recover faster is by releasing trigger points. A trigger point is basically a small area of muscle tissue that is hyper-irritated, which usually means there's a lot more nerve involvement within that area. So, as opposed to the whole muscle becoming active, only a small portion becomes tight and constantly active.
Now when I say active, I mean contracted, as if the muscle was "working out." So imagine performing a bicep curl and at the end of the curl, there's this very small portion of the muscle that thinks you're still curling. That would be considered active and could possibly be a trigger point.
So what does a trigger point feel like? You will know you're on a trigger point because there's usually a lot of pain associated with them from pressing on it. There’s also something called referral pain; Which is when you press on one area but feel the pain somewhere else. I will show you how to release trigger points with a foam roller in a bit.
Remove and align fascia
The 2nd way a foam roller can help you recover faster is by removing unwanted fascia and helping it line up. Fascia is a spider-web like connective tissue that weaves throughout the body and into everything from muscles, bones, organs, and even individual cells.
And every morning, when you wake up, you have a new thin layer of fascia within the body. But when you perform your morning stretch, you help spread and open up the fascia, which allows the muscles and body to move freely.
But, if you don't move your body all the time and in different directions, then the fascia begins to build layer upon layer until the fascia layers begin sticking to each other and become stiff. This usually happens when we get an injury and don't want to move the joint or muscle; Or we just avoid moving in other directions, like bending backward and rotating.
Now when we get layers of fascia built up within the body, the layers get tangled up and become dehydrated. This forms a cast-like effect around the muscle, which reduces your flexibility and may even produce more pain. I'll show you how to release fascia with a foam roller in another video, but for now, it's important you understand the basics of how to foam roll properly.
How to Foam Roll for Beginners
So many of us have seen people use a foam roller by rolling back and forth on a muscle. This is the WRONG way of foam rolling and I'll discuss why in a bit. But I just wanted to get that out of the way. Rolling back and forth fast is completely wrong.
The Correct way to Foam Roll
When it comes to Foam Rolling, the slower you go, the better. Imagine for a moment getting a massage but your massage therapist was moving back and forth fast on top of the muscles. You probably wouldn't enjoy it very much, am I right? If that's the case, then keep that in mind when using a foam roller and go slow on the muscles.
List of Steps
Find the muscle you want to work on and apply pressure to the muscle using the foam roller. You can more than likely perform this by getting on the ground and placing the foam roller on the floor between the muscle you want to work on and the ground.
Now SLOWLY move the muscle up or down the foam roller, trying to allow the muscle to relax while on the foam roller. You should move slowly on the muscle while also searching for tender spots. Once you find those tender spots, stop and remain static on those spots until the tenderness goes away. This can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
It's important to note that if you are holding your breath because the pain is too intense, then you need to back off a little bit until you can breathe while still being on the roller. It's ok if the spot is tender and a little painful as long as you can breathe while on it. Think about it this way, if you are holding your breath, then you are also contracting that muscle you're trying to release. Meaning you're making it 10x harder to release as opposed to easing into it.
How Foam Rolling helps Trigger Points and Fascia
Trigger points can be relieved by applying static pressure on the trigger point itself. This is one of the reasons why the popular "moving back and forth" method of foam rolling is wrong and doesn't produce results. How long does it take for a trigger point to go away? It can be anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. You will know the trigger point is going away when the pain begins to dissipate and lower.
When it comes to helping fascia, foam rolling used in other ways besides static pressure will help break up fascia bundles that are restricting movement. But by simply moving slowly on the foam roller, you are already helping rehydrate the fascia. Just like a car's engine needs lubrication to work smoothly, so does your fascia. You can learn other techniques for releasing fascia using a foam roller by clicking here.
Why is it Shaped in a Cylinder?
Something I always thought about and has no evidence and is completely my opinion, but if you thought about it as a process of elimination, then it makes sense. If you used a rectangle, then you would get something like a yoga block, which isn't great at applying pressure. Another shape would be a triangle, which would put a sharp point into your body. So, the most logical shape would be a cylinder, in my opinion.
To use a foam roller properly, make sure you take your time and even remain static on trigger points until the pain goes away. This is similar to how a deep tissue massage works. You can also release fascia using more advanced techniques, which you can learn by clicking here.