You were killing it in the gym yesterday, but now your body is killing you - tight, stiff, and sore. You may have heard about foam rolling as a way to help remedy the problem of sore muscles - as well as help you get rid of cellulite - but does it really work? Read on to find out.
What is a Foam Roller, and How Do You Use It?
A foam roller is basically a cylindrical piece of high-density foam that looks similar to a pool noodle, but shorter and more solid. Foam rollers can vary in size and color, and some even have ridges or small bumps to provide a little texture. The purpose of a foam roller is to help massage or stimulate your muscles by rolling your body on it in any number of different directions or configurations.
As you can imagine, this isn't always a comfortable feeling, but those who swear by the practice will tell you that the benefits far outweigh the temporary discomfort of rolling out those sore muscles.
Foam Rolling: How Does It Work?
Advocates of foam rolling often talk about what it does to help iron out the fascia, which is basically the soft connective tissue that surrounds your muscles. When you work out, your muscles go through a breakdown-and-repair process, during which time the fascia can thicken and become inflamed, causing those infamous sore spots and stiffness that you feel in the affected muscles.
Foam rolling enables you to engage in what's known as "self-myofascial release," which is a fancy way of saying that you're working the kinks out of the fascia. By rolling on those sore spots (often referred to as "trigger points"), you can release the adhesion and liberate the fascia, which means less soreness, stiffness, and tightness, and quicker recovery for your muscles.
Does Foam Rolling Really Make a Difference?
Unfortunately, scientific studies on the effects of foam rolling are few and far between, but the research that is available tends to lean in a positive direction. In a study published by the American College of Sports Medicine, a group of 20 men were split up into two groups and challenged to complete ten grueling sets of back squats, after which they were evaluated for soreness, range of motion, and electrical activity within the muscles.
One group was assigned to a foam rolling routine, while the other group received no post-workout treatment. In the results, it was noted that the foam rolling group experienced a statistically significant increase in range of motion (specifically in the quadriceps), as well as a reduction in muscle soreness.
In addition, many fitness experts encourage foam rolling as a cellulite reduction technique. Keep in mind that cellulite occurs when fat cells push through connective tissue (i.e., fascia) that has become weakened, imbalanced, or dried out. By rolling out your problem areas on a regular basis, you can stimulate, hydrate, and smooth out the fascia, making it strong enough to ward off those undesirable dimples.
Foam Rolling for Best Results
As with any other piece of fitness equipment, there's a right way and a wrong way to use a foam roller. One surefire way to get undesirable results is to try rolling directly over an injured area right off the bat. Not only will this be quite painful, but it could actually create more inflammation and tension in those super-tender muscles.
It's better for you to first foam roll away from the center of the pain, towards the muscles that connect to the affected area. Once you've worked those areas thoroughly, then you can slowly and gently make your way back to the area of pain.
Be sure to use slow, deliberate movements throughout your foam rolling session. While it can be tempting to lessen the discomfort by making a quick pass over the area, you won't really be able to release the fascia by doing it this way. Take your time and be willing to endure some of the discomfort, so you can truly accomplish your objective. Yes, it will hurt a little, but do your best to commit to the process. You'll be glad you did.