These cylindrical pieces of hard foam (shown above) can be seen in almost any gym. Their main purpose is to provide the user with a self-massage or self-myofascial release (SMR). Fascia is a soft connective tissue that is found just below the skin. It surrounds muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels, and it provides the body with protection and support. Over time, the fascia and the muscles beneath can become stuck together creating adhesions or knots as they're commonly referred to, which cause numerous aches and pains as well as restricted muscle movement. By using a foam roller, you're able to break up such adhesions and lengthen muscles, ligaments and tendons that are prone to shortening.
A foam roller can be used by placing it between yourself and the floor, before using your own body weight and agility to apply pressure and roll over specific muscle groups. Despite their rise in popularity, I would like to see even more runners using this tool as their benefits are extensive:-
Increased flexibility- even if you regularly stretch, foam rolling every day ensures you are massaging away fascia buildup, leading to increased range of motion.
Reduced risk of common injuries- many typical injuries and flare-ups appear as a result of tight, tense muscles. By increasing flexibility and decreasing tension in the body, the chance of experiencing injuries such as IT band syndrome or shin splints can be lowered significantly.
Improved circulation- foam rolling can improve the blood flow throughout your body, allowing for better transportation of oxygen and nutrients to tissues. Also, the flushing out of waste by-products can become more efficient.
Stress reduction - just like a deep-tissue massage, foam rolling can be very therapeutic and a great stress reliever. Whilst you can use the roller during a warm up, many exercisers enjoy using them at the end of a session to help them stretch off and relax.
Great value for money- I do recommend regular massage, however this can become costly. A foam roller provides a similar service but at a one off price of £20 or more. They also don't take up too much room and can be used anywhere.
Whilst they provide many benefits and are readily available, there is a specific technique to foam rolling. So before you carry out any movements, please seek advice on how and when to use one from a fitness professional. Or of course, please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.
Written by Marc Brown