The Many Benefits of Foam Rolling
How to foam roll your body into a happier, healthier, and higher performing version of yourself.
Liz wrote: “Hi! I'm a new listener, slowly working through the backlog of episodes. Has there ever been an episode that highlighted foam rolling? I'm new to that also and pretty sure I'm making mistakes. Help?”
Great question Liz, but before we get rolling (heh), there are a few things I need to explain.
Each of us humans are made up of about 70 trillion cells including neurons, muscle cells, and epithelia which generally all work in relative harmony. Fascia is the biological fabric that literally holds us together in our human meat-sack form. Fascia itself has been described as a 3-D spider web of fibrous, wet, and sticky proteins that bind us together and help us maintain proper alignment.
When your body’s fascia is working properly, it is elastic and stretches and moves in all directions with the rest of your body. But often because of hard workouts, or maybe bad posture, or some strange movement patterns, or even emotional and physical stress, and other lifestyle factors, our fascia can become tight and stiff which restricts our movement and can cause us pain.
When people feel this tightness or stiffness, they usually whip out their yoga mat and do their best to “stretch it out” but conventional stretching (and even hard core yoga) on its own, doesn’t do much to release really tight fascia.
What does work is direct pressure from a massage therapist, or a tool like a foam roller (or a lacrosse ball) and I believe all you get-fit people already know how important it is to have muscles and fascia that are supple and elastic in order to perform your best at your chosen activities in this get-fit life.
Going to a massage therapist and having them go-to-town on your abused muscles is technically a passive application of pressure. According to Biomechanist, Katy Bowman, “Whether a therapist is applying pressure (think pushing down onto your body) or creating a shearing motion (not pushing as deeply, but just enough to create traction followed by a “sliding” action) the result is a tensile load to the tissues below the skin.”
Getting a massage is most people’s favorite passive therapy. When you think of having a treat-yo-self day, I bet that day includes getting a luxurious massage. That is likely because getting a massage blends relaxation (maybe even a nap) with the magical hands of a good therapist. Sadly, the majority of Registered Massage Therapists (RMTs) have bills to pay and families to feed so we can’t always afford to splurge on their services. That is where Foam Rolling comes in handy.
What is a Foam Roller?
Foam rollers are exercise devices that can be used for both self-massage and fitness. They are usually long and cylindrical, but they come in many shapes, sizes, lengths, textures and densities. Texture and density being the two major factors to keep in mind when purchasing a foam roller. If you haven’t seen one before I encourage you to stop reading and do a Google Image search. The rest of this will make a lot more sense once you know what we are looking at.
Getting intimate with your foam roller is technically also a passive tensile treatment which comes pretty darn close to recreating the effect of a real therapeutic massage. Something that is often missed by tightly wound noobs is learning how to soften your body at will. The benefit of either a massage or a foam rolling session is a combination of what the therapist or the roller is doing to you and how you interact with the fingers or the roller. To get the most out of either you need to practice relaxing your body, especially when the pressure feels like it is too much to take. Using some deep exhalations and even thinking (or saying) the work “relax” on an exhale can really help.
Is there more to getting a massage or rolling on a foam roller than just being relaxed into a puddle of fascia? There sure is!
Some research from 2012 suggests that just 10 minutes of deep tissue massage post-workout enhances the effectiveness of the mitochondria (those tiny cellular power plants) while also creating a natural pain-relieving effect and reducing inflammation.
Sure, that study involved a measly 11 men but the scientists didn't just take the guy’s word for it, they actually stuck needles into their legs to biopsy their quadriceps muscles to quantify the findings. If you have ever had one, you will know that a muscle biopsy is nothing to sneeze at.