Aah, massage. What a relaxing, refreshing way to relieve muscle tension. But the price of regular appointments can add up over time. In that case, consider this: The folks you’ve spotted at the gym with a foam cylinder in one hand and a mat in the other may be on to something—foam rolling, or, more technically, self-myofascial release.
Foam rolling is designed to work out the tension in your muscles before and after a workout. That tension (sometimes called “knots”) is created by myofascial adhesions. Fascia is a form of connective tissue that binds together your muscles, and the knots within fascia can develop through stress, overuse, underuse, athletic training, and injury.
Foam rollers come in several sizes, styles, and densities. They are commonly applied to the calves, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, inner thighs, and IT bands (outer thighs). To use a foam roller on any tense muscle group, use your body weight to apply pressure to the most sensitive spots and slowly move back and forth to “roll” out the tenderness.
It’s safe to foam roll before and after exercising. If you foam roll before a workout, only focus on relaxing your most tense areas. After your workout, focus on all major muscle groups with an emphasis on any problematic spots.
Benefits of foam rolling include:
Priming muscles for movement
Increasing your blood flow
Releasing muscle tension
Helping your body recover faster from intense physical activity
In fact, one meta-analysis suggests that foam rolling after exercise can reduce the perception of muscle pain. Research has also shown that pre-rolling (before a workout) helps improve flexibility and range of motion.
And although foam rolling may not always be a comfortable experience, look at it this way: It’s an affordable massage you can give to yourself, no appointment needed.
For detailed instructions on how to foam roll, along with photos, read this article from the American Council on Exercise.