We often say things are magic, but we don't really mean magic, we actually mean excellent, brilliant, game changing etc.
But in this case I really, really mean it, foam rolling is magic...Actual magic.
Foam rolling does the following; Eliminates muscle soreness, improves alignment and flexibility, improves thoracic spine mobility, enhances recovery, eliminates trigger points.
When done in conjuction with a core and flexibility program, rolling can even do the impossible and cure Osgood-Schlatters (the growing disease that afflicts so many tall young basketballer's knees).
A roller is easily the most important tool in any athlete's gym bag. Rollers are cheap to buy and easy to use—assuming you don't mind a bit of pain in the first week!
If you are serious about your sport, or even just your fitness, rolling is a must-have component of your routine.
How it works
Rolling, or Self Myofascial Release (SMR), works on a number of levels to help loosen up and rejuvenate the body.
First, it mechanically loosens tight sections of fascia and muscle (fascia is the gristly sheathing substance that encases and links all of our muscles). This has the effect of increasing the fluidity of movement through increased range of motion at key joints as well as increasing muscle function. The concept of the fascial connections in our body is still not widely understood, but trust me it's a huge deal. Our fascial system runs from our toes to our eyebrows and it's at least as important as our muscular system.
Rolling also enables us to undo trigger points within our muscles. Trigger points or knots, are simply overactive sections of muscle that have gone into micro spasm because the muscles have been overloaded and can't cope.
Trigger points are a painful cry for help from a muscle gone into defensive lockdown. Apart from Botox (not advised!) the best way to switch off an overactive muscle (and thus allow it to lengthen and actually start working properly), is through the process of autogenic inhibition, aka pushing on the muscle until it releases.
Masseurs, myotherapists and physios are all great at this type of acupressure work as they can zero in on the exact points and force them to relax. Unfortunately most of us can't afford an entourage of therapists following us around, so the roller is our best option for releasing trigger points on a daily basis.
The third and least understood element of foam rolling is its effect on our recovery systems. People who roll and stretch become almost immune to muscle soreness and recover much more rapidly. The most likely theory for this enhanced recovery is that the various receptors embedded within our muscles are stimulating an increased healing activity in response to the micro attack of the roller. The flow-on effect from this is a chemical change within the muscles as our healing is ramped up.
So it's really a triple benefit :
- Mechanically loosening up our soft tissues and keeping them supple
- Forcing the brain to switch off our trigger points
- Enhancing the body's healing response by providing a micro attack
Regardless of exactly how rolling works, the key lesson is that everyone should roll. Then stretch. Always in that order. Read more about stretching and flexibility.
The exceptions to this would obviously be if you have sustained a muscle tear, or corky, these should be treated by a physiotherapist or left alone to recover!
There it is. Rolling, a brilliant, easy and quick way to look after your muscles, fascia and joints.
The basic routine from the video takes about 4 minutes plus a 4 minute stretch and you are good to go.
P.S. don't be put off by the pain the first couple of times, it fades to a 0 out of 10 very quickly.