How Foam Rolling Will Help Your Workouts

Foam Rollers…

You’ve seen folks in gyms using them. The highlighter orange colored cylinders with the etched out grooves in them.

The people you see using a foam roller are usually lying on the ground rolling back and forth on top of it.

Your thought when you saw one for the first time was probably, “what’s that?” 

I had the same thought go through my head, so I took it upon myself to learn what it does.

So now I will share with you what it does, and how it will help you.

In short, a foam roller is a simple device made of Styrofoam. It is used to warm-up the fascia tissue surrounding your muscles. This helps alleviate stiffness and tension in the muscles, increase mobility and flexibility, and restore alignment by applying pressure to the muscle via the user in a given pattern.

Obviously, the main function of the roller is to “roll,” so repetitions are called rollouts. Rollouts are performed in repeated bouts in a given position, just like reps on a machine or free weight exercise on a stable surface.

You may also hear the term “self-myofascial-release (SMR)” used to describe foam rolling. Some folks will use SMR to describe foam rolling because of the emphasis put on the fascial tissue caused by the rolling of the user. 

We use foam rollers to make the muscles more mobile and free because of the daily stresses we accumulate throughout the day.

Examples are irritation, repetitive use, and or a sedentary lifestyle which creates stiffness and a shortening of the muscles.

Think of your muscles like a baseball glove that hasn’t been used in over a month. What happens to it? It likely stiffens up due to not using it. So then what do you do to loosen it up?

Well, likely you put it on your hand and apply pressure by massaging the leather to loosen it and or use some light activity (e.g. throwing and catching) to break it back in to how you’d like it to perform.

Not much different than how we approach foam rolling in regards to the loosening and lengthening of your muscles.

The goal here is to help the muscles move more freely and decrease the stresses within the muscle to improve your workouts. Think of it as that “extra edge”. 

However, it is worth noting that this “extra edge” may not come to you as quickly as you might like. 

Why? Everyone has a different genetic makeup; therefore, their bodies respond differently to outside stimuli.

Foam rolling is an outside stimulus and when dealing with that there may be some drawbacks.

In this case, foam rolling may cause some initial discomfort for those of you that have more stiffness and tension, just like massage therapy would do.

However, the best part about foam rolling is that you control the tempo and pressure applied, so if it is too much, you simply reduce the pressure.

If you are someone that has a desk job or a sedentary lifestyle, you can expect some initial discomfort while foam rolling, due to shortened muscles and poor posture that is caused by your body positioning over a long period of time. Therefore, this makes foam rolling an excellent choice for improving your alignment.

Now, if foam rollers are being used within a fitness setting they are best used before a workout to prepare the muscles for strenuous exercise.

I suggest 10-12 rolls per body part, worked one time each, before a workout.

What you want is that overall good feeling in the muscle because it will enable you to perform at a higher level and decrease the risk of injury.

If more is needed then workout accordingly.

There are many areas of the body where you can perform these SMR techniques, but it is smart to perform some of the most basic ones before venturing into the more advanced ones.

A quick intro to foam rolling can be found here

Now that I’ve explained what a foam roller is, and how it can help you and your workouts, do you intend to add it to your routine? If so, what other information would you like? Tell us and we’ll send it over to you once we have your question.

Patrick Mullin

Certified Personal Trainer

Body In Balance