MUSCLE RECOVERY: THE FOAM ROLLER

The fitness industry churns out all manner of items to help make our bodies fitter, stronger, bendier (…the list goes on). Amongst the current trends is ‘foam rolling’ – a post-exercise rolling device designed to aid muscle recovery.

Foam rollers come in many shapes and sizes from spiky tennis balls to giant rolling pins, each one tailored to target specific muscle needs. The multitudinous benefits of foam rolling on muscles litter social media, where you can also see them in action. Foam rolling for runners, cyclists, swimmers…you name it, they’re an effective muscle-soreness banisher for all athletes. Runners and cyclists are particularly keen users of the foam roller and I too have succumbed to the trend.

WHY FOAM ROLL?

The key question is: does it work? In a word, yes. How so? The action of rolling massages out the ‘knots’ in your muscles post-workout, eliminating build up of lactic acid and therefore avoid stiffness and potential damage, including the dreaded DOMS – Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (here is where my inner GCSE PE student escapes). But here’s the thing I wasn’t prepared for – it hurts. Certainly to begin with, the pain of rolling my body weight over a roller was not dissimilar to walking over a floor strewn with lego in your bare feet. I took to calling them my ‘torture devices’.

WHY DOES FOAM ROLLING HURT?

Eventually, my pain threshold extended to allow me to ‘roll’ without the yelps of pain and wincing cries that punctuated my early ‘rolling’. It became that kind of ‘satisfying pain’ that perhaps only fellow athletes understand, the kind of pain you endure gladly because you know it’s doing you good (just like gulping down slimy green juices or tackling sweaty HIIT circuits).

FOAM ROLLER TECHNIQUE

The trick to foam rolling is to imagine you are ‘melting away’ the stiffness in your muscles. If there’s an area that’s particularly painful, don’t solely focus on it. Instead, roll the surrounding areas, slowly working your way towards the site of pain. A mistake I and probably lots of other foam-rolling novices have made is to be a little too ‘slap-dash’ when it comes to rolling. Going over areas many times with slow, deep actions is how you’re going to gain the most from your rolling efforts. Once you find that ‘sweet spot’, hold for 20-30 seconds to allow it to be released.

TYPES OF FOAM ROLLER

When it comes down to choosing your foam roller, generally, the more knobbly it is, the deeper massage it’s going to give your muscles. The little spiky tennis ball rollers are brilliant for getting into particularly troublesome areas such as feet. The larger ones can be used pretty much everywhere else, and provide you with an overall rolling experience. I’ve included some of the rolling I do – usually post-run – to equip you with a few ideas on how to roll.

CALVES/ HAMSTRINGS

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IT BAND

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PIRIFORMIS (GLUTES)

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UPPER BACK

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