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The Benefits of Foam Rolling

Updated: Jul 11, 2020

So, you haven’t been working out for a while and suddenly start again… Or you changed your training style, increased the intensity, etc – it’s quite normal for you to suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

DOMS is the pain and stiffness that you feel in your muscles after you have done workouts that your body isn’t used to. DOMS usually sets in approximately 24 to 72 hours after you have done the exercises.

So, what does DOMS have to do with foam rolling? Well foam rolling is also known as the poor man’s massage. We’ve all heard that foam rolling is an excellent way to speed up muscle recovery, etc – but why that’s the case, not everyone actually knows.

I think we could all agree, if you’re regularly foam rolling already – it’s because you have been told to do so by your personal trainer, biokineticist or physio. And you would possible be able to agree that you can feel a positive difference when you do foam roll compared to when you don’t – so you keep doing it for a while. Until your muscles feel better and then the foam roller gets stored away until the next serious case of DOMS comes up – right?

But have you ever wondered what foam rolling is actually doing? Or what is actually happening inside your body when you do foam roll?

During lockdown, I took some time to do a foam rolling online CPD (continuous professional development) course. And here’s what I have learned – based on the course I did and some other research I have done prior to the writing of this blog!

When we talk about foam rolling, you will hear words like myofascial release come up. Relax, it sounds more dramatic than it actually is. Myofascial release is simply a type of physical therapy that is used to treat myofascial pain. Myofascial pain is caused by tightness of myofascial tissues. Okay great – but what does that have to do with fitness?

The answer is – everything! Myofascial tissue is a dense, tough tissue that surrounds and covers the muscles throughout your body! The outer fascial layer is very strong yet very flexible. It is highly intertwined with your nerve system and plays a vital role in joint stability or kinaesthetic awareness. Your myofascial tissue moves independently from your muscles and thus ensures that your muscles remain aligns and as a result – it limits stress on your joints. The myofascial tissue consists of three different layers that all differ in density of collagen fibres. These tissue are mostly composed of water and it thus allows the different layers to smoothly glide over one another.

The pain you suffer after completing as strenuous workout, usually can be pointed out in specific areas of your body, also called trigger points. Thus – myofascial release is simply the practice of easing the stiffness/tightness and pain in specific areas. It is often difficult to pin point the exact origin of the pain or stiffness that you are experiencing – and that’s why you treat a broad area around the actual trigger point.

Now that we’ve covered that – who should be foam rolling? Studies have shown that anyone who sits, walks, runs, lifts or breathes could benefit from foam rolling! Does than answer your question? Haha

Foam rolling improves overall circulation, movement and helps the body to remain pain free. Thus foam rolling can be beneficial to everyone – regardless if you are partaking in fitness activities or not.

Foam rolling is an easy and effective way to “untie the knot.” When muscles become stiff & tight (like a rope with a knot in it) – the muscle loses its ability to lengthen and contract – and thus your muscle is less effective. You will often feel that your body is stiff – especially if you exercise on a regular basis. Ie – after a heavy lifting session you might not be able to reach your toes with your hands. And this is exactly where foam rolling comes in! By incorporating self-myofascial release techniques – such as foam rolling – you can help your body to improve blood flow, elevate oxygen consumption (improved VO2 Max) and reduce scar tissues on muscles – which will help your muscles to return to the previous levels of elasticity.

Researchers say that for optimal health benefits, you should foam roll twice every day! Things like sitting at your desk during working hours affect your muscles’ movement abilities. Limited movement or ROM (range of movement) will increase our risk of injury and decrease our strength and power abilities. Incorporating foam rolling into your daily routine will allow your body to repair itself on a daily basis and avoid the above!

Sadly, in a world as busy as ours (well as busy as it was before lockdown of course) – we tend to neglect the aftercare of things. Including foam rolling before or after sessions – because it takes to much time we usually use as an excuse. Let’s fast forward a few months down the line, and now you’re asking your trainer or your friends for a good physiotherapist’s number. Usually we wait until our bodies brings us to a halt before we start giving attention to the little things such as foam rolling.

In the ideal world, researchers suggest that you foam roll twice a day. Once before your workout session and once after your session.

What are the benefits of foam rolling before training?

· Increases muscle tolerance;

· Enables more muscle efficiency – thus improved performance;

· Increase the muscle tissue force output (ability of your muscle to do what it is designed to do);

· Decreases the heart rate.

What are the benefits of foam rolling after training?

· Releases tension through flushing (due to improved blood circulation);

· Starts recovery process faster;

· Creates more pliability/flexibility.

We spend most of our days seated, which results in a lot of tightness being developed in our calves. Also, I think it is pretty safe to say that we don’t keep proper posture when we are seated for hours at end. You have probably just moved yourself into a proper seated position after you’ve read that without even realising. Did you know, that foam rolling your spine is not only beneficial for your posture, but scientists also say that it will improve/ enhance your breathing? Pretty cool if you ask me! Another result of being seated for long hours at once -even lying on the couch with pore posture for that matter, results in tightened pectoral (chest) muscles. Releasing the tight chest muscles by foam rolling them, will also aid in enhancing your breathing.

Our quads (quadriceps aka the front part of your thighs) are a very functional and powerful muscle group and is used for almost every movement that includes your legs. Thus, du to their over activity – the quad muscles get shortened and tight.

Also, due to being seated or lying in a cradled position for long periods of time – our glutes become over stretched and as a result – muscles that are inferior to our glutes become tight and have to work harder during exercises.

Did you know that your sides/torso is placed under pressure when your glutes are not functioning as they should? For example, when the glute muscles are weakened, you might start to feel pain or discomfort in your latissimus dorsi (sides).

Studies have shown that regular foam rolling improves overall flexibility significantly. And as a result, a better range of motion is developed. Furthermore, studies have also shown that even though foam rolling does not directly improve performance, ie being able to lift heavier, etc – it has shown to significantly improve recovery. And thus, the body can perform better in general due to the ability to recover faster and more efficiently from workouts as well as everyday life!

Foam rolling is an inexpensive yet valuable part of your fitness journey!

If you are unsure or unfamiliar with foam rolling – watch this space! We have a another blog post coming up on Wednesday - on the muscles you should be foam rolling and how to foam roll them correctly, with illustrations and cues – the works!

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