Not too long ago, no one had ever heard of foam rolling.
But in the mid-2000s, we started seeing dingy white styrofoam tubes in the corners of gyms. A few people seemed to use them.
A lot has changed in the way people stay flexible. Foam rolling is now a common practice and also a household phrase. And the rollers themselves are sturdier, more specialized and more effective (not to mention better looking).
What foam rolling can do for you
It's been called “poor man's massage.” And while it won't replace a pair of skilled hands, foam rolling will help bring mobility and blood flow to a muscle or region.
Foam rolling before a workout has been shown to increase athletic performance and decrease muscle soreness. It can also decrease post-workout fatigue.
We know that pre-workout static stretching will loosen you up, but it makes you weaker in the short term. Foam rolling before a workout will increase your range of motion without a decrease in strength.
How it works
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release.
All of your muscles are covered by a layer of fascia (like saran wrap around a steak). It's a thin layer of connective tissue that provides support and protection. It also allows for mobility.
With intense exercise, prolonged sitting or poor movement patterns, the fascia surrounding the muscle can become stiff or inflamed. This can cause pain, stiffness and impaired mobility.
Using myofascial release techniques — like massage, trigger point therapy and foam rolling — it's possible to restore fascia to an optimal state.
How to do it
Foam rolling is pretty simple and straightforward. Place your body over the roller on a particular muscle, and slowly roll the length of the muscle.
When you hit a painful spot or trigger point, rest on that spot until the pain subsides by about half. With repeated rolling, you'll begin to eliminate these trigger points.
Here are some of my favorites. (Thanks to Bodybuilding.com for these videos.)
The bottom line
You can foam roll pre-workout, post-workout, or both. Or you can incorporate foam rolling into a recovery/flexibility workout on your off days from hard training.
It might hurt at first — the more you need it, the more it's likely to hurt. But after you make some progress, the pain subsides and you'll probably start to enjoy it. Listen to your body, see what feels good, and figure out what works for you. It's hard to mess this one up.
What's your favorite way to stay flexible? Let me know in the comments!