A Beginner's Guide to Foam Rolling

A Beginner's Guide to Foam Rolling

One of the things that professional athletes and weekend warriors alike have taken to is recovery. A big part of recovery is foam rolling.

It's also incorporated in warm-ups and in fitness routines. Would you like to know more about foam rolling? Read on to learn how to choose a foam roller and use it. 

Why Is Foam Rolling Important?

In our day to day lives, we spend a lot of it sitting. We sit in the car. We sit at work. We sit in the car again. We sit at home.

For athletes of all types, you may emphasize certain muscles when you perform your sport. You may be a baseball player that has a very strong throwing arm and your other arm is pretty weak by comparison.

In either case, you have muscles that are stronger than others in the body. What happens is that muscle imbalances occur in the body. These imbalances through your body out of alignment.

For example, people who sit all day will have tight hip and core muscles and weak glutes and hamstrings. These imbalances can rotate your hips and put pressure on your lower back.

Foam rolling can help relieve these muscle imbalances by lengthening the tight muscles while you work to restore strength in the weaker muscles. It’s called self-myofascial release, which is a fancy way of saying self-massage.

A foam roller can help you work out tight muscles and trigger points. Foam rollers can also help you relieve tight muscles that happen with activities, like tight calves shortly after a run. They’re great for helping you restore the integrity of the muscles.

Types of Foam Rollers

For beginners, you should know about the different types of foam rollers.

Different types of foam rollers have different densities. That could make your foam rolling experience comfortable or very painful if your muscles are tight and sensitive.

There are also other considerations when choosing your foam roller. Here’s what you need to know.

Should You Start with a Soft Foam Roller?

You’ll find that some foam rollers have a bit of give in them. They’re soft, but your muscles can get a good release with them. Beginners should start with a softer foam roller. If you’ve never done any type of massage or self-release work, you’ll want to start off with a softer foam roller and then work your way up.

Your muscles are likely to be tight and very sensitive. A high-density foam roller will probably be too much to tolerate at first.

For people with more experience with foam rollers, you can use a higher density foam roller. These will be more durable than the softer rollers.

If you’re buying a foam roller online, it can be hard to tell if a foam roller is dense or soft. Usually, colors can give you the answer you’re looking for. Black tends to be high-density while blue is softer and white is softest.

This will vary by brand or manufacturer, but this can give you a good guideline.

Foam Roller Sizes

They also come in different sizes, from a long 36” foam roller to about 12”. Beginners can benefit from both mini foam rollers and long foam rollers. Mini foam rollers are easy to manage and store. Longer foam rollers can give a little bit more stability.

Smooth or Textured Rollers?

You’re going to come across all types of foam rollers. These will be smooth foam rollers to spiky-looking foam rollers.

These textured or spiky foam rollers are really meant to be similar to an actual massage. There’s a wide variety of textures, but these are likely going to be dense and may be too much to work with at first.  

Smooth rollers are very basic foam rollers. These are the ones that you’re likely to see at the gym. These tend to be a little less expensive, and the basic design will give you what you need as a beginner.

Best Times for Foam Rolling

You’ve probably seen people at your gym rolling before and after their workouts. Is there a specific time that’s best for you?

It depends. If you want to warm up before your workout, foam rolling has been shown to get the body prepared for exercise.

It’s also been shown to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (that 1-3 day period when you’re really sore after a workout). You can also foam roll tight muscles on days when you don’t work out. This can help you lengthen problem muscles that are notoriously tight.

Fitness professionals are always learning, and more and more studies are being done all the time about the benefits of foam rolling. Keep in mind that this answer can change and evolve as the science behind foam rolling evolves.

How to Use a Foam Roller

When you’re at the gym, chances are you’ve seen a lot of crazy ways to use a foam roller. Some of them may be correct while others aren’t.

Here’s how you can use a foam roller.

Start by deciding which muscles you want to target with your foam roller. In this instance, let’s start with your calf.

What you’ll do is to sit on the ground with your legs straight. Position your lower leg on top of the foam roller. You’ll want to roll about 2 to 6 inches until you find a tender spot. That’s a trigger point that can use some loosening.

You can hold those spots or roll very slowly for 30 to 60 seconds, depending on your comfort level. At first, you may only be able to tolerate 15 seconds. Go as long as feels comfortable. 

When you foam roll, you want to avoid rolling joints and bones, especially directly on your lower back. What you can do is use the foam roller parallel to your spine on either side of the spine, not directly on the spine.

Get Started Foam Rolling

Your body takes a regular beating whether you’re a professional athlete or a professional couch surfer. You’re likely to suffer from muscular issues and imbalances that can throw your body out of alignment.

Foam rolling can help you relieve some of that pressure and get your body ready to take on your next workout.

Want more fitness tips? Check out this ultimate core workout guide.

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