A Lesson in Foam Rolling, part 1

Foam rolling has become one of the most used skills in the fitness and training world over the last few years. With it’s plethora of benefits, it’s expansion is unsurprising. If you’re new to working out, an average fitness goer, or an avid exerciser, check out these reasons why you should definitely be using the foam roller.

Foam Rolling and it’s adjacents are a form of myofascial release, akin to a self-massage. The prefix “myo” means relating to musculature and the suffix “fascia” indicates relation to fascia, or lining of tissue. When put together, this means to release tension from muscle and its surrounding tissue. Fascia surrounds the muscle belly and responds to stress put on a muscle (intense exercise, soreness, inactivity, etc) and once stressed, the inflammatory response can cause the fascia to constrict, creating a less than ideal environment for proper muscle function and contraction. Inflammation of fascia can lead to scar tissue or adhesions of tightness.

Foam rollers are used by applying pressure over a muscle belly or tendon using a cylindrical foam device. These can be of differing densities and should be appropriate for specific muscle tightness and pain levels. In order to find an appropriate foam roller, one should consult with a personal trainer, physical therapist or athletic trainer. Each muscle should be foam rolled for about 30 seconds to 1 minute or more, depending on the specific intent of the client or athlete. Whether foam rolling before, during, or after exercise, these are some of the many benefits of self-myofascial release.

1. Promotes Blood Flow and Neuromuscular Stimulation

Foam rolling is often used to promote blood flow and muscular stimulation prior to exercise, which is why it is such a great tool and technique to use for a warm up. The pressure applied to the muscle and fascia indicates to the brain and neurological system that a stimulus is occurring for a specific muscle and that a response is needed. The brain responds by “warming up” the muscle through increased blood flow and nerve stimulation, creating a better environment for metabolism and stretch/contraction cycles. Blood flow brings water, heat, glucose, electrolytes, and many other factors that contribute to muscle function. Without a proper warm up, the chance for injury is highly increased.

2. Stretching Tool

Stretching is the process of lengthening a joint to its outer range of motion. Stretching is a great way to improve mobility, smooth out myofibrils, and recover from intense exercise. Foam rolling is one of the many ways people can stretch. Rolling over a muscle stimulates blood flow - allowing a muscle to become less tense and increase its range of motion - smooths out the improper cross-bridging at actin and myosin junctions, and helps to release leftover products of metabolism from the muscle cells back into the bloodstream so that cellular metabolism can continue more efficiently. For the fascia, foam rolling will help to smooth out adhesions, which gives more volume for a muscle to stretch and shorten as well as expand due to blood flow. Additionally, foam rolling of tight complementary musculature can help to improve the range of motion for larger muscles!

3. Promote Proper Function of Musculature

If you have ever had a functional movement assessment, then you have definitely heard the term “compensation” or “improper function” of a certain muscle or movement pattern. Compensation can occur for many reasons, but an easy way to describe this will be due to improper length-tension relationships of the muscle surrounding a certain joint, or simply, muscle tightness which can be caused by improper neurological stimulation. As previously stated, foam rollers are used to promote muscle activation through palpatory stimulation, and thus letting the brain know that work is about to be performed for a specific muscle or group of muscles. Once stimulated and stretched/lengthened to a more efficient state, muscles can then lengthen and contract more readily and in better range of motion, essentially restoring or promoting proper function to a joint.

There are many benefits to foam rolling and many ways to incorporate foam rolling into your daily routine. Our next article on foam rolling will show you a few ways to properly foam roll for warm up and proper muscle function!

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