In this article, I'll be going over the wrong way to foam roll, the right way to roll, and the science behind it, for all of those who are curious.
The Wrong Way
The wrong way to foam roll is how most of us have seen it or been taught ourselves. We find a muscle we want to relax and help recover. We then roll up and down on that muscle, hoping to helps it release and relax while we hold our breath and tense up from the pain.
Does it make sense to tense up the same muscle you're also trying to relax? No, it doesn't.
The best way to think about a foam roller is to think of it as a mute massage therapist. Would you want your therapist to massage fast up and down on your sore muscles? No, you want them to take there time and slowly release it. This is how you should think when it comes to your foam roller.
The Right Way
At the beginning of a massage, the therapist should usually do a few passes on the body or muscle to not only warm up the tissues but also to look for any tense/tender spots that need to be released.
This is how you should be thinking when it comes to rolling on your muscles. Don't roll as fast as you can. Roll up or down the muscle SLOWLY until you come across a tender/tense spot. Once you find it, Hang out on that spot with the foam roller, trying to let the muscle relax.
Again, just like a massage therapist who performs deep pressure, they go down and stay in that same spot for 30-120 seconds, sometimes longer. This is what you should be doing when it comes to the foam roller. Hanging out on that tender spot, slowly increasing pressure by letting your muscle sink into the foam roller.
How to properly Release Recap:
- Use the foam roller to locate tender and tense spots within the muscle you want to release.
- Once you locate a spot, stay on that spot for 30-120 seconds to help it release or until you feel the tender spot ease up. Make sure you're not holding your breath.
- Repeat up or down the muscle or on other muscles.
What's happening within the body
There are 3 things that are happening within the body when we perform a proper release using a foam roller.
Releasing Trigger Points
Within the muscles, you have trigger points, a tiny bundle of hyperactive muscle tissues that creates pain or restricts movement. Trigger points are more common in muscles that are overused on a daily basis. This could be things like trigger points in the forearm from clicking on a mouse to trigger points in the quads from sitting to much.
Trigger points can also be found in muscles we clench or get tense from emotional stress.
Trigger points are not the most comfortable thing to release, but chances are if you're foam rolling and find a tender/sensitive spot, it's probably a trigger point.
The easiest way to release trigger points is to apply static pressure to the trigger point for 30-120 seconds. Again, think about a deep tissue massage. This kind of massage doesn't go deep and then moves all over the place. It hangs out on the tender spots until the pain goes away, aka. The trigger point is released.
There can be multiple trigger points in one muscle, and some trigger points can refer pain elsewhere. Meaning if you find a trigger point in your Calf Complex, you may feel pain within your lower back as well Wink Wink for Lower Back Pain. This is very normal, and if you pay attention to the pain and where it is, you will notice it move and disappear as well. It just takes some time.
Breaking up Fascia (Not Scar Tissue)
One thing most people get wrong is thinking a foam roller is used to break up scar tissue. This is NOT what it's used for. If you look back to when the foam roller was introduced, you will see that it was made for releasing fascia! In fact, it was "Physical Therapist Mike Clark during the 1990s who helped spread the message of foam rolling under the guide of what Clark termed “self-myofascial release.”
SELF MYOFASCIAL RELEASE is the keyword!
A foam roller is used to break up the fascia that naturally builds around the muscles, tendons, bones, and more. Not only is it used to help improve range of motion, it can even help straighten out the fibers within the fascia, meaning you get a greater and more permanent range of motion.
What exactly is fascia? To keep it simple, it's sticky, spiderweb-like connective tissues that build continuous layers of around our body. Meaning every morning, you wake up with a new layer of fascia within your body. But if you don't stretch and move in different directions on a regular basis, then you end up having increased layers sticking to each other. When this happens, the layers will form a cast like an effect, restricting movement and becoming harder and harder.
Fascia restrictions tend to happen around injuries and areas in the body that doesn't get a lot of movement. What's interesting though, is fascia restrictions can easily be found just like trigger points because fascia also has sensory nerves that feels pressure. This means a tender spot within a muscle could be a trigger point or a fascia restriction. Regardless, you release them the same way with a little extra movement on the muscle. Meaning you're performing micro movements only on the tender spot.
The biggest difference is Trigger points tend to be in the same area in most people, which is why there are available charts for it, but fascia restrictions can be anywhere within the body.
Rehydrate the Tissues
The tissues around muscles we don't move often will tend to "dry up," creating hard, immovable tissues. (When I say don't move, this can also apply to muscles that only move in 1 direction when they are capable of moving in multiple directions. An example of this would the quads being used only in one direction but never stretched the other.) When we foam roll on the muscles and release the trigger point, the muscle will act like a sponge, pulling liquids into the spot that was just pressed, re-hydrating it.
So again, by rolling on the foam roller back and forth, you're not giving the tissues enough pressure to pull fresh liquids in while pushing stagnant liquids out—another reason to hang out on tender spots.
What to do with this Information
Now that you know how to properly foam roll and get results, it's time to put that information to use. And to do that, you have 2 options.
- You can go on your own and start releasing the muscles you need.
- Or, you can join me in my new program for Relieving Sciatica using a foam roller, stretches, and more. All guaranteed to help you feel less pain and see an improvement in your life. Click here to check out the Sciatica Solution 4-Week Program.