About two months ago, my husband and I started working out with a trainer. While we’ve engaged in plenty of lose-your-breath burst workouts and killer stability movements, perhaps one of the most profound exercises we’ve done – and continue to do – is foam rolling.
I know, probably not what you were expecting, right? But hear me out. Foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release, is downright game changing. Here's why.
WHAT IT IS
Let’s start with a little context, plus an anatomy lesson: Myofascial release is basically a fancy phrase for a deep tissue massage. Fascia / myofascia is the dense, tough tissue that surrounds all of your muscles and bones. When it’s healthy, it is soft and relaxed; when it’s inflamed or injured, it tightens up and loses its all-important flexibility. This tightening can come about from a myriad of ways, some of them dramatic (such as a trauma or injury) and some of them downright mundane (sitting all day at a desk).
WHY DO IT
Foam rolling, then, is basically giving yourself a massage. In doing so, you are breaking up the knots and “trigger points” formed in fascia, which can occur both through overuse or lack of use. In the process, you’re enhancing flexibility, increasing blood flow, lengthening muscles, alleviating pain, reducing soreness and even preventing injury.
You might be thinking, “Okay, but I’m not a serious athlete – why should I even care?” I get that. Prior to my adventures in foam rolling, I absolutely saw no value in adding an extra 10-15 minutes to my time in the gym to dig a foam roller into my leg. But I’ve learned that those of us who work desk jobs and/or have to be seated for long periods of time are plagued by serious muscle tightness and a lack of flexibility. My hips, in particular, were incredibly tight. Since foam rolling, I’ve already seen a huge improvement in my flexibility and generally feel less pain and discomfort.
HOW TO DO IT
If you’re all ready to go, take note: The activity of foam rolling is probably not what you think it is: It doesn’t involve taking a foam roller and absentmindedly rolling your body back and forth over it. In fact, most people are foam rolling incorrectly. This is because foam rolling is all about being intentional, going slowly and finding the areas that really need to be worked on. In fact, at some points you shouldn’t even be rolling at all: You should be really leaning into a trigger point. If this sounds sort of painful, I’m not going to lie – it can be. Within reason, that’s a good thing – think of it like stretching a sore muscle.
Another quick piece of advice: You can’t massage a flexed muscle. (There’s a reason why we’re totally limp when we get a massage.) So as you foam roll, you need to let whatever part of your body you’re working on be as relaxed as possible – something which many people neglect to do. But don’t just listen to me. There are plenty of helpful resources online for foam rolling, including this stellar workout from Ashley Bordon.
ONE LAST NOTE
I’m no doctor. You should absolutely speak to a medical professional if you have serious injuries or are dealing with chronic pain before foam rolling.