Foam rolling is a relatively new exercise that has hit the fitness scene by storm in the last few years. It is essentially applying your bodyweight to the roller to squish your muscles. This stimulates fibers in your fascia (stretchy bands that surround muscles) which in turn relaxes them. Professional athletes and physio-therapists have known about the benefits of myofascial release for years. It seems as though we’re about to go through a foam roller revolution as rolling is no longer just in gyms, but homes as well.
With any kind of exercise you should know what you’re really doing to your body. The primary focus of rolling is to release tension by breaking down knots that build up in deep muscle areas. If that is enough science that you need to know then skip the next section! Fitness geeks continue.
Myofascial release is entirely possible because of your Golgi tendon organs’ autogenic inhibition response. These little mechanoreceptors are located in the areas where your tendon and muscle meet. Rolling applies pressure to these mechanoreceptors stimulating the fibers to relax the muscle you’re stretching.
Myo is the Latin word for “muscle”, whereas fascia is the Latin word for “band”. This is an accurate description for foam rolling as “muscle-band release” is exactly what it is doing. To expand on what I mentioned earlier, your fascia is like a tight/stretchy sweater that’s wrapped around pretty much every muscle, organ, bone, and artery in your body. However unlike a sweater it becomes tighter with use. These are the following benefits you can look forward to receiving from rolling:
Relaxation – This is probably why most people roll, and perhaps the addictive quality about rolling which keeps people doing it. While it is true that rolling can be quite painful (for beginners and sore muscles) it is this unique feeling that comes with it which makes it totally worth it. The same principals are at play during a massage; in fact it is essentially the same thing.
Injury Prevention – Foam rollers are great for injury prevention as well as curing certain muscle problems (notably IT-Band syndrome, and shin splints). Rolling your soft tissue regularly eliminates physical imbalances that make you prone to injury. This should be straightforward as it is common knowledge that you stretch before any exercise to keep your muscles limber. Try rolling with your regular static stretches as it will result in a very comprehensive stretch, thus greatly reducing your chance of injury.
Flexibility – Flexibility is a component of fitness in the same way that endurance and strength are. Rolling is an easy way to improve your fitness and gain all those benefits at the same time. You will find many indirect benefits from rolling because of this. Day-to-day tasks become easier this improving the overall quality of your life.
Circulation – Rolling improves circulation because it is forcing blood through all the different vein systems essentially cleaning them. Think of it like using a tube of toothpaste that is almost done. Now that your veins have been cleaned your body can deal more efficiently with getting rid of lactic acid deposits. Your lymphatic system, responsible for cleansing your body of toxins will also work more efficiently.
Posture – There are a few exercises which focus on correcting your spines natural shape. People with desk jobs or anyone who feels sore appreciate this benefit. When I used to work manual labor jobs during summer while getting my degree, my back would ache after every day. The roller took a lot of pressure off my back and really helped me keep my back straight.
Try foam rolling for yourself and you’ll see how these benefits add up for you!
Devin Shrubb is a kinesiology student and health enthusiast. He works on a website that features everything foam rollers. You can find more information at myorollers.com