How many of you have used a foam roller before? Come on, don't be shy! I LOVE my foam roller but there are times at the gym when my innards recoil in horror at the vision some people give while using them. So, in the spirit of new gym memberships everywhere and people working really hard on their New Year's Resolutions (at least for the next month or so) I thought I would put this together for you:
Let's Not Mess Ourselves Up with a Foam Roller!
Ok, so it may seem simple. It's a circular foam thing. It rolls on the ground. Sometimes it hurts real bad. Sometimes it hurts so good. What else is there to know? Well, that depends on how you're using the bugger. If you're using it in the not correct way, it can cause tissue damage which - I'm assuming - you probably don't want.
The major, over-arching must for foam rolling is to figure out why you're doing it. The reason can be vast: to lengthen tight muscles, to help with trigger points, to look cool at the gym, to create better mobility, increase blood flow, etc. As I mentioned, the reasons can go on for a while. But you need to know why you're doing something and how to do it properly.
So, here goes a short list of some things to avoid:
1. Rolling your low back. This one kills me. Obviously not literally but I get too many patients in my office saying that they have absolutely no idea what they did! They went to the gym, they stretched, they even foam-rolled after! When I ask them about what they did - what did the work out consist of, what types of stretching did they do, how and where did you foam roll - the answer comes out like a cartoon light bulb being lit! The low back isn't meant for a foam roller. There's nothing to protect the spine from taking the entirety of your body weight and placing it all on a couple joints at a time. Not to mention the organs back there who don't have much protection against the hard roller and the muscle layer in between.
How to help?* Roll out your upper back - just stay within the parameter of the rib cage! If you need to roll out something lower down, hit up those glutes or quads - they usually need some TLC.
2. Using a foam roller that isn't right for you. Wait - there's more than one type of these little demon rolls?! Yup! And I've seen the gamut of them. Everything from a soft roll up to a spiny/spiky medieval-looking torture device. And you know, there's no one right roll. Sorry to get your hopes up. It depends on you. Starting out with too firm a roller or one with those big spiky bits can put too much pressure on the muscles and may actually cause them to have more pain and/or bruising.
How to Help?* Generally, when you're new to the whole foam rolling thing, you want to start with something that might be a bit softer so you can get used to it, to the movements, and used to how it feels in general.
3. Let's talk about time. How long are you spending rolling on that foam thing? Too much time? Too little? How fast are you going? Yeah - those all play into the whole experience and whether it will be a beneficial session for you or... something... else... So, what's the deal here? Alright, we've all heard it takes a bit of time for your brain to get messages sometimes? Well, same is true here. If you're spending longer than 20 minutes foam rolling, you're too long, my friend(and may be looking at some underlying issue. Better hop in to your chiropractor to have it looked at!)! However, you shouldn't be racing up and down and up and down again like pastry chef hurriedly rolling out dough!
How to Help?* Take some time with yourself. A good 30-90 seconds MAXIMUM per area (if you need to work up to that time, no problem! Better to be safe than sorry) and stretch in between rolls. If you need to make a couple passes at the area after the roll and stretch routine, by all means do! Just limit it to no more than that magic number 3 total passes.
Well, I feel like I've "talked" your ear off. Hopefully this will get you started with some tips to help you avoid injury while foam rolling. This is also not an exhaustive list. Part II of Foam-ageddon will be upcoming.
*This is not meant to be a diagnosis or treatment for your specific condition. Please ALWAYS consult your health care provider for advice best for you before starting a workout/fitness program.